An Insider’s Guide to the Willamette Valley
Having worked in the Willamette Valley in Oregon since 2012, I am often asked, “Where would you go if visiting the Willamette Valley?” My answer generally will include places that I know that person is likely to enjoy. However, if it were up to me, I would have some specific, special recommendations. Here are a few of my top recommendations.
Tour companies: Either select a designated driver or take a tour. While tours aren’t cheap, they generally are cheaper than a DUI ticket, and they are much more enjoyable because everyone can drink. Tours also generally include the tasting fees (depending on the winery, $15-$20 per person), but check with the company when you are booking your tour.
- For groups of 4+: Grape Escape – Ask for Ralph, and he will take great care of you. This is probably one of the best deals out there. Furthermore, if your group isn’t big enough and you don’t mind going with others, it will likely be even cheaper. The tour guides are very knowledgeable. While you will be riding in a large 10-passenger van, they pay the tasting fees and include small snacks such as meat and cheese plates for you to enjoy at one of the winery stops. Let Ralph know where you would like to go and let him know what places I recommended. He’ll do his best to set everything up in advance for you. I consider this a no-nonsense tour with great staff and service. They will also pick you up from your hotel in downtown Portland.
- For couples 2-4 people: Oregon Select Wine Tours – Ask for Jeff. Jeff has been giving tours for a very long time, though you wouldn’t guess it since he’s a young entrepreneur. With Jeff’s beautiful SUVs with leather interiors, you will be riding around in style. Jeff works with a lot of the hotels in wine country, so if you are staying outside of Portland and at the Allison Inn and Spa or the Black Walnut Inn, I would recommend contacting him. If you are looking for a nice anniversary or couple’s weekend with class, Jeff is the way to go. He also said he would honor a six hour tour at the price of a five hour tour, so make sure to mention that I sent you.
- For younger groups of 6-12: Wildwood Adventures – Ask for Maria. Maria and her husband started this company this past year and have seen tremendous success with the younger, more active demographic. It probably helps that they both came from Nike before they decided to drop everything and follow their dreams. They have a winning combination of wineries to which they like to take their folks, but if you specifically want certain places, let them know.
Here are some of the wineries that I traditionally recommend visiting whenever people ask me. Picking my favorites is always so hard, since so much depends on the person who is asking. Following are places where I would spend my day with my dearest friends. I generally like to stick to four wineries maximum as more than four becomes too much and I’d rather enjoy each winery than rush to the next and to the next. Wineries these days are opening earlier and earlier; some open now at 10:00 a.m. Make sure to check their hours, and, if possible, book a reservation. Avoid Mondays because most wineries are closed then. Some wineries also have limited hours during the fall season. Generally, I prefer to visit when there is less of a crowd, so I recommend visiting on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, or Thursdays, if at all possible. Your doing so is generally not expected, but it is appreciated, and you will also get the best service if you do this.
- Bubbles: Always start with bubbles. Argyle Winery in Dundee is always my first stop, I love their Pop tasting menu, which features all sparkling wines. You are sure to enjoy them.
- History: Try a few Rieslings and Pinots from one of the most historic vineyards in the valley: Hyland Estate. Brady, Michael, or Hannah will take incredible care of you. Let them know I sent you, and they will honor a two-for-one tasting.
- Lunch: Stop for lunch at one of these two incredible spots:
- Red Hills Market for some stone-fired pizza and a beer on tap, and, at the same time, rub elbows with winemakers and vineyard managers from nearby wineries.
- Enjoy a Pinot Burger at Dundee Bistro with some truffle fries!
- One-on-one with a view: Enjoy an incredible view and top-rated wines, with a private one-on-one tasting, at either the Dusky Goose (closed Tuesday and Wednesday) or Soter. Both have world renowned winemakers and have some of the most beautiful views in the valley. Make sure to call ahead to set this up; you won’t be able to get in by showing up.
- Traditional and on the way back into Portland: Visit one of the most established wineries in the valley: Ponzi, Adelsheim, Archery Summit or Bergstrom. Be aware that these are well-visited places, and a phone call to them the day before will go a long way. Also, tasting fees may be higher depending on the location. Sometimes the fees are waived with a purchase, but each place is different, and this shouldn’t be expected.
While there are so many more that I could visit, reducing this list to only a select few wineries can be hard. These are my personal recommendations and generally where I personally would take my friends visiting from out of town. Every year there are new wineries opening up and this list may change over time but it serves as a good base to plan your trip. Visiting during the summer can be a busy time to visit but the weather couldn’t be better. Spring and Winter may be wet but you have less tourism traffic and have a chance to do more one-on-one tastings. I personally prefer to go in the middle of the week and in the Spring or Winter time as this gives me a great opportunity to learn as much as I can from the staff and have a more dedicated tasting.
Shipping Wine Home:
At the end of the day, if you haven’t already purchased a case of your favorite wine but instead picked up a few from each location, The Newberg Mailroom is where you’ll want to stop and drop your wine off to have shipped to your final destination. Sometimes you can ask your tour operator when scheduling your tour that you may want to do this at the end of your tour and perhaps to do this quick stop for you. I would recommend filling a case of 12 bottles because it won’t matter whether you send 6 bottles or 12—the shipping cost will generally be the same.
If you are flying with Alaska Airlines, there is a special program called Oregon Wines Fly Free. You can see the details at: http://www.oregonwine.org/oregon-wines-fly-free/. If you are planning your trip, take this into account, because sometimes shipping wine can otherwise be expensive; thus if you can just take it with you, I would recommend it. If you do decide to ship your wines yourself, just make sure you get the right packing material, either from a winery or from the Mail Room in Newberg.
General Overview of the Valley:
For a map of the Willamette Valley and links to a number of other places to visit: http://willamettewines.com/
You can also pre-order a brochure to help you finalize your plans by filling out the form at this link: http://willamettewines.com/brochure/
To learn more about Oregon wine, make sure to check the Oregon Wine website which is full of events and promotions in the state.
Enjoy! If you enjoyed my recommendations, feel free to share them with others, and let me know if you enjoyed your tour. Cheers!