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.

Grape Escape Tour

A Grape Escape Tour

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.

Wineries

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.
Red Hills Market Pizza and Beer

Lunch at Red Hills Market

  • Lunch: Stop for lunch at one of these two incredible spots:
    1. 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.
    2. 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!

 

Drinking Now: 2012 Cornerstone Willamette Valley Chardonnay

Chardonnay is a white wine varietal, originally from the Burgundy region of eastern France, like Pinot Noir, and is actually now grown all over the world from England to New Zealand to Oregon.

Chardonnay, perhaps one of the most enjoyed yet snubbed varietals to date. It is now coming back with vengeance due to the efforts of the Oregon Wine industry. Chardonnay is quickly becoming the other wine varietal that Willamette Valley is becoming known for.

The Chardonnay grape itself tends be quite neutral but can be heavily influenced by terroir and oak. It can be vinified in various styles, from crisp and lean mineral wines of Chablis, France to the New World style with oak, butter and hints of tropical flavors.

2012 Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay

2012 Cornerstone Oregon, Willamette Valley Chardonnay

Tasting Notes: 

Today, I am enjoying a 2012 Cornerstone Willamette Valley Chardonnay on a hot summer day in Portland, Oregon.  I held onto this Chardonnay because I knew it would evolve beautifully with time.

Color: Pale hay color

Nose: Citrus, pineapple, apricot, touch of butter, and green apple

Palate: Lemon lime, mineral, vanilla, green apple with a nice long finish. Medium plus acidity.

Overall: Classically styled yet modern Chardonnay with the right amount of acidity, touch of butter and diverse palate (it is sourced from great regions of the Willamette Valley from Yamhill- Carlton to Chehalem Mountain AVAs). It has the minerality of Chehalem, yet the body you would expect from Yamhill- Carlton.

 

Basics:

Appellation: Willamette Valley

Vintage: 2012

Aging: 15 months in French Oak barrels, 28% new, 100% Malolactic Fermentation.

Vineyards: Carabella, Gran Moraine, Willakia

Bottled: February 2014

Pairing: With the light touch of butter, this would pair wonderfully with a cold shrimp cocktail and crab legs. A perfect summer lunch wine.

Price: $40

Cases produced: 300

Tales From: Press Gang Cellars

I had the honor of being a part of this awesome dinner at the Hitching Post in Buellton, California for the Wine Bloggers Conference. We all decided to take a break from the festivities to enjoy a somewhat impromptu Winemaker Dinner with our new found friend, Kyle, winemaker of Press Gang Cellars.

While I am not a surfer, the minute you meet Kyle, you want to go surfing with a guy like this. He has the swagger and laid back attitude of a person who embodies the world of surfing…and now winemaking. His style of winemaking is practiced, passionate, and deliberate, which I would imagine is how he surfs.

He only produces 300 cases of his mostly Rhone varietal wines, which is tiny, yet perfect for someone who is working as an assistant winemaker to one of the most respected wineries in Paso Robles. I personally fell in love with his 2013 Press Gang Cellars Savanna Rhea Grenache Rose, which retails at $20. I only wish I had a glass right now to celebrate this sunny Labor Day Weekend in Portland! For more information on this great winemaker and his wines, visit http://www.pressgangcellars.com/ .

Special thanks to my dear friend and #WBC14 buddy, Jeff, the Drunken Cyclist, for this great write up, as he captures the moments we all shared with Kyle perfectly. Enjoy and Happy Labor Day!

the drunken cyclist

Last month, as most of you now know, I attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Buellton, California. On Saturday afternoon, a bunch of my fellow bloggers and I decided to skip out of the second installment of Live Wine Blogging as well as the awards ceremony (since none of us were finalists this year–yeah, bitter grapes–pun intended) and head into town for dinner. After nearly a solid week of tasting over a hundred wines a day, we decided it might be a good idea to go grab a beer before dinner. I am by no means a beer drinker, but it does serve to wipe the wine-soaked palate clean.
 
The ringleader of our little troupe was Chris Taranto, the Communications Director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. We met Chris a few days earlier on the pre-conference excursion to Paso Robles, and he came over to Buellton for a few days of…

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