In 1965 David Lett planted the first Pinot Noir vines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Fifty years later the region is home to more the 400 wineries producing some of the best of this varietal worldwide along with other cool climate wines such as Chardonnay, sparkling and Syrah. But while Pinot Noir is certainly what put Willamette Valley on the wine map, it is their experimentation with some surprising ones that makes visiting this area truly intriguing for wine lovers.
Only an hour’s drive from Portland, the Willamette Valley is very accessible with plenty of accommodation options to suit every budget. And, like all wine regions, it is farm country which means direct access to fresh, local and organic food that translates into a fantastic foodie scene. With so many quality wineries and restaurants to choose from, here are some ideas for a weekend well spent in the Willamette Valley that will definitely leave you thirsty for more…
Approximately 60 minutes drive from Portland and in the heart of the Willamette Valley sits the charming town of McMinnville. With its turn of the century buildings and genuine local atmosphere, you get a great feel for both the area’s history and a sense of the people who call it home.
Hotel Oregon is right in the centre of town in a building that has stood there since 1905. Part of the McMenamins group, its storied past includes life as a greyhound bus station, a restaurant, a soda fountain and beauty parlor. As with all McMenamin Hotels, live music is a staple and guaranteed something will be happening in one of its 4 pubs on a nightly basis. Do not miss the opportunity to enjoy a glass of wine or a pint of the local brew in the Rooftop Bar which offers unparalleled 360 degree views.
Nick’s Italian Café
Right next door to Hotel Oregon is Nick’s Italian Café, a McMinnville must. This legendary restaurant is widely known as a winemaker hangout and was recently recognized as an “American Classic” by the James Beard Foundation. Featuring wood oven pizzas, handmade pastas and a phenomenal local wine list, there’s a reason locals and tourists alike flock here.
Black Walnut Inn
For a truly exceptional wine country stay, head to the Black Walnut Inn in Dundee. Just a short drive from McMinnville, you’ll feel as if you’ve driven miles into the vineyards themselves as you sit perched on top of a hill overlooking the property’s 42 acre vineyard. The Inn itself is comparable to a Tuscan villa providing a luxurious touch without stiff formality. And with more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms within 20 minutes, the location is ideal.
Is there a better way to start a wine tasting day than with bubbles? Argyle Winery in Dundee has consistently produced world-class sparkling wine, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir since the late 1980’s. An historic farmhouse serves as the venue for their tasting room while the old barrel room and cellars are being transformed into a new wine hospitality center and tasting room set to open to visitors this summer.
ROCO Winery owner Rollin Soles is a local legend who has been making wines for more than thirty years. He is the only Oregon winemaker to have produced wine ranked among the Top 100 Wines of the World by Wine Spectator an incredible 13 times, and in 2012 was named one of the top 20 most admired winemakers in the U.S. by Vineyard & Winery Management magazine. Having met him in person, we’re not surprised. His tradition of making outstanding Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and sparkling wine continues at ROCO where his generosity with both his time and knowledge were additionally remarkable.
Leading the charge in bringing innovative and unpredictable wines to the region is Remy Drabkin owner and winemaker at Remy Wines. Her small production winery specializes in single vineyard Barbera, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, and Lagrien. If you’re scratching your head wondering what Lagrien is you’re not alone! But the results are impressive and her following is loyal, largely due to her unique wines combined with her approachable personality. Her tasting room sits in a warehouse with a garage door serving as her front entrance, resembling more of a neighbourhood public house than a tasting room which apparently becomes a popular local hangout Thursdays through Sundays.
One of the most prominent wineries in the Willamette Valley, no trip to the area would be complete without a visit to Cristom Vineyards. Their Pinot Noir has consistently rated among the world’s best and is a brilliant example of how well the varietal can be produced in this region.
The Painted Lady Restaurant
To enjoy the absolute finest in Willamette Valley dining, look no further than the Painted Lady Restaurant. This is in no way an ordinary restaurant. Besides being located in a historic building, you are literally made to feel as though you are at a guest at a friend’s exquisite home experiencing a meal, not just eating it. Their reliance on seasonal produce from local farmers means a continually changing menu to ensure that only the best ingredients available are used daily. They also have one of the most extensive wine lists in the area, highlighting the Valley’s offerings but also providing for a truly international selection. To genuinely appreciate the Painted Lady at its best, we highly recommend the Chef’s tasting menu paired with wines thoughtfully chosen by their sommelier.
Ask your Flight Centre Travel Agent today about the Wines & Waves 4 day all-inclusive tour for group bookings of 2-10 people happening in early June.
*This same itinerary can be run as a private tour anytime between April and September subject to availability.