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: 2013 Corallina Rosé of Syrah by Cornerstone Napa

Every now and then, I have the amazing luck of being a blogger that gets wine sent to them. While you aren’t required to write about it, there is this unspoken rule in the wine world that if you receive a bottle of wine and like it, you should write about it.

Simple enough but sometimes you grab a bottle and enjoy it with so much relish that you forget to write about it.

Such is the case for not just me but also my thirsty German husband who attacked the bottle and then called me later to ask if it was ok. As you can see from the bottle, I was left enough to enjoy on this beautiful Oregon day.

I’m starting a short series of blog posts dedicated to those wines I am currently drinking and thoroughly enjoying. In my opinion, if I haven’t written about them, it’s simply because 1) I honestly haven’t gotten around to them yet, or 2) I’d rather write something positive or nothing at all.

Some of the wines, or rather, most, are wines I have purchased myself, others have been gifted to me by the wonderful UPS or FedEx man who asks for my signature and asks if I’m over 21.

Yes!

I say, and gladly sign as I’m as excited as a child to rip open the box like a gleeful school child waiting to see what is wrapped up in those square-shaped amazing cardboard boxes!

All silliness aside, please enjoy this wine as much as I have. And, yes, this is a GoVino glass, as we are in the middle of packing our home up for an upcoming move and it’s the next best thing to a regular glass. Plus, it won’t break and you can still enjoy the wine as it should be. Enjoy and cheers!

Cornerstone Napa Valley 2013 Corallina Rose of Syrah:
Color and Nose: Pale melon color with light cantaloupe & strawberry nose
Mouth: Medium acidity with a candied watermelon and cherry finish

Great on a warm, sunny day with a view! Cheers!

20140608-165202-60722624.jpg

The Unique Oregon Wine Industry: R.Stuart & Co., McMinnville, Oregon

There is a reason why I love Oregon wineries. and it isn’t simply the wines but the people behind the wine. From time to time, I meet people who really shine in this industry, not only in overall quality of their wines but in their personalities. Today was such a day. I had the chance to experience the amazing hospitality and kindness today from the R. Stuart & Co. wine family.

Rob Stuart, Owner & Winemaker of R.Stuart & Co.

Rob Stuart, Owner & Winemaker of R.Stuart & Co.

Today is a Monday. Mondays are generally not known for being great wine-tasting days since most tasting rooms are closed. Monday closings are common because most tourists come on Saturday and Sunday.

Having said that, I still saw it as a unique day to visit some wineries in McMinnville, Oregon. If you haven’t been to McMinnville, it’s time to visit this pleasant and unique town with many attractions. It’s located about an hour south of Portland and 30 minutes north of Salem.

If you make the trip, it will be well worth the visit. McMinnville is situated in the heart of wine country, with Yamhill-Carlton wine country to the north and Eola-Amity and McMinnville AVAs to the south.

Today, I decided to stop by and visit R. Stuart & Co. Wine bar in downtown McMinnville. Tasting room staff, Hunter and Rebekah greeted me with open arms. They offered me a mixed tasting of a number of wines, including two sparkling wines and finishing with a Cabernet Sauvignon Tawny port called the “UnPort”.

This isn’t your normal kind of tasting. Not many places in Oregon can offer you sparkling wine, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tempranillo, and a finish with a lovely Tawny.

20131118-182349.jpg

One of my favorite new wines:  2008 Autograph Pinot Noir

R. Stuart & Co. produces about 16,000 bottles of wine, split between two separate labels: R. Stuart & Co. for single vineyard wines and reserve; and Big Fire for easy drinking, day-to-day every-day kind of wines at a price point that won’t break the bank. While R. Stuart & Co. does not own the vineyards they source from. it works closely with the growers, enabling the company to pick the very best.
This is where I will take a short break and give you some background on Rob. A New York native, Rob initially started his professional career in biochemistry and went on to start his wine-making journey first in Napa, California, and then as a winemaker in Yakima, Washington, and finally, in Oregon. After twenty years of working for others, he decided it was time to make the wine he loves. R. Stuart & Co. was founded in 2002.

After my initial tasting, I was then invited to barrel-taste the brand new 2013 vintages with the charismatic winemaker and owner, Rob Stuart at their winery, a converted Granary in downtown McMinnville.

We tasted through Pinot Gris, Pinot Noirs from all over the valley, Tempranillo, and finally three separate non-vintage Ports made from Cabernet Sauvignon ranging in age from 1991 to 2007.

Rob actually climbed up four levels of barrels to get our amazing last tasting of 1991 Port. A stunning and wonderful port if you can get your hands on it.

A special thanks to Rob and his team for their amazing hospitality and kindness. I couldn’t have asked for a better hosts.

Thank you!

Visit R. Stuart & Co. Wine bar in McMinnville, Oregon, Sun.-Tue.: 12 p.m.- 6 p.m., and Wed.-Sat.: 12 p.m.- 8 p.m. They are located at 528 NE 3rd St. McMinnville, OR 97128.

Make sure to ask them to tell you about the Three Clowns story of their Cabernet Sauvignon wine, it is full of twists and turns, Delta flight attendants and Texas.  As Rob states, “it’s like a fishing story, it becomes more embellished as time goes on.”

Side note: I heard that if you join the wine club, Maria Stuart, Robs’s lovely wife, pairs every new club release with a recipe. What a great benefit! For more info on their wine club, click here. 

Planning a trip to McMinnville?

Here are some downtown tips I’ve heard from the locals.

Place to stay: 

Hotel Oregon is one of  McMenamins renovated classic hotels. This hotel, built in 1905, has quite the history from being a Greyhound bus depot to a Western Union and finally soda fountain and beauty parlor before McMenamins took over.   It is a four-story restored building with 42 rooms complete with a pub on the ground floor and a great summertime rooftop bar.

Great food at a great price:

Like Thai? I certainly do, especially when it’s reasonably priced. Try Thai Country off of the main street of NE 3rd Street.  According to one Yelp! reviewer, “This isn’t the best Thai food in town, it’s the best in the state.” I certainly enjoyed their green curry!

Prefer Italian? Try Nick’s Italian Cafe. I’ve heard it’s stellar! It’s right across the street from R.Stuart & Co. Wine Bar. on NE 3rd street.

Have a wonderful, happy and safe Thanksgiving! Cheers!