Last updated on February 27th, 2017
Discover Wine series focuses on regions of the world where wine reigns supreme. If you’ve ever considered traveling for wine, and even if you haven’t, we want to introduce you to wine regions you may or may not have already heard about, so you can expand your knowledge or wine and learn more about what makes a particular wine region unique.
One thing all of these wine regions have in common is their hospitality and genuine interest in welcoming visitors to their wineries. Whether you go to this area specifically for the wine, or you just add on a wine tour while you’re there, you’ll find it easy enough to stop by the wineries for a tour and tasting (even if many of them require advanced reservations). They will welcome you with open arms and a glass of wine!
In this edition, we explore Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region. It is one located just a few miles south of Portland and extends through many small towns. Get ready to taste some really good Pinot Noirs, because that’s what the Willamette Valley wine area does best.
Willamette Valley Wine Region
Located not too far outside of Portland, is Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region, which is the premier wine region in Oregon, where Pinot Noir grows so well. If you love Pinot Noir, this is the place for you, as the cool and temperate growing conditions of the Willamette Valley create the perfect environment for Pinot Noir grapes. The Willamette valley is home to more than 400 wineries and stretches north to south for 100 miles, encapsulating dozens of small towns along the coastal mountain range. Being such a large area, this wine region is really fun to explore. There are pockets of Willamette wineries in at least 10 different towns where you can stay and explore without having the same experience twice.
How to Get There
If you’re flying in, the nearest International airport is in Portland. From there, you’ll need to rent a car and drive east toward Hillsboro or south toward Newberg to begin your wine journey. The vast majority of wineries are located in and around the towns of Dundee and Newberg. If you’re driving, it’s about a 3.5 hour drive from Seattle and about a 9 hour drive from San Francisco. Many people enjoy the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway that passes through some really stunning scenery along the coast.
Most of the wineries in Willamette Valley have tasting room hours from 10 or 11am to 5 or 6pm on the weekends and you can usually just walk in whenever you want, so there’s no need to plan ahead much. The winery locations are really well-marked along the road, so all you really have to do is point your car in the right direction and be prepared to pull over when you see a sign. We like to take Route 99W and stop all along the way.
Where to Stay
The best place to stay will depend on which sub-region of the area you’ll be exploring. As I mentioned, we like to take 99W through Newberg and Dundee, so Newberg is a great place to base ourselves from. On the high end is the Allison Inn & Spa, which is the area’s top spa resort in Newberg. There’s also a typical Best Western in Newberg. The Black Walnut Inn in Dundee is a small, comfortable Inn surrounded by vineyards, in the moderate price range.
Another popular area for wineries is Hillsboro and Forest Grove off Route 8 heading East. In Forest Grove you’ll find McMenamin’s Grand Lodge. In Hillsboro, The Orenco is a comfortable and convenient place to stay, and for the budget-conscious, there’s a Holiday Inn Express, too. In McMinnville, you’ll feel right at home at the 3rd Street Flats. Each room is decorated exquisitely with a different theme and below the apartments you’ll find dozens of cute shops, wineries, restaurants and cafes to keep you busy.
Where to Taste
Newberg and Dundee are our go-to towns for a convenient and fun wine tasting experience. Along 99W, you will find dozens of wineries to choose from. When you see the signs pointing in every direction, however, you may quickly become overwhelmed. Where to start? Here are two 5-winery plans that will take you to some of the best wineries in the area. Each is an easy route with not too much driving in between each. Just remember to be responsible with driving if you’re going to that many wineries in a day. We like to share a tasting and pour all but one sip, or hire a driver for the day.
Newberg: Make your first stop at Archer Vineyards, then head on to Chahalem Winery. Rex Hill Winery has a sensory experience that might help you identify flavors and aromas, while you’re tasting their small-production Pinot Noirs. If you want to get away from the bustle of Highway 99, escape to the hills for a stop at Adelsheim, Arborbrook, Bergstrom and Penner Ash. All have beautiful tasting rooms and views.
Newberg now has at least ten wineries (this number is constantly growing) within walking distance in the downtown area. If you’d rather not drive at all, this can be a good way to taste a lot without going anywhere. Just stop by these downtown tasting rooms.
As you drive into Dundee, you’ll pass by Duck Pond and The Four Graces, then Dobbes Family Estate and Argyle, where only sparking wines are served. At this point in the tour, we like to stop at Red Hills Market for a sandwich to refuel before heading out again. Just outside of town are some great wineries with views like Sokol Blosser, Archery Summit Winery and De Ponte and Erath.
McMinnville is the next town you’ll come upon while driving down Highway 99 and is the next best area for wine tasting in Willamette Valley. In the downtown area, the place to be is on NE 3rd Street, where there are dozens of tasting rooms, restaurants and wine bars to walk to. You’ll find Willamette Valley Vineyards, Eola Hills and Terra Vina Wines.
Another area we like a lot is near the town of Forest Grove. You’ll find Plum Hill Vineyards, A Blooming Hill Vineyards, David Hill Winery and a sake producer, SakeOne.
Where to Taste
In Newberg, you don’t want to miss a chance to eat at The Painted Lady, where you’ll find some of the finest French cuisine in Oregon. Try the multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings. Recipe is another great choice for wine-country cuisine and a great local wine list. They even have their own herb garden. On the casual side, visit Storrs Smokehouse for some delicious BBQ in a relaxed setting.
The restaurant at the Allison Inn & Spa, JORY, features an open kitchen, bar, and lounge where guests can enjoy wines by the glass and creative cocktails, plus they have an extensive wine list to go with your meal.
We love Red Hills Market in Dundee for a quick lunch stop while wine tasting. They have cheeses, charcuterie, craft beer and wine to pair with your seasonal and creative sandwiches and salads. Plus they have wood-fried pizza if you aren’t planning to take your lunch to go. For us, it’s hard to pass up an opportunity for a winery picnic.
Thistle in McMinnville is an award-winning restaurant on NE 3rd Street that utilizes local ingredients to make . There’s a suprising number of International restaurants that have great food. Try Nick’s Italian Cafe, La Rambla for Spanish cuisine or Pura Vida Cocina for Cuban.
If you ever have the chance to visit this part of Oregon, be sure you have enough time to explore the wineries and see what all the fuss is about. The Pinot Noir in this region is highly celebrated and once you’ve done a wine tasting at a couple of these wineries, you’ll start to see why.
Have you already been to the Willamette Valley wine region? What are your favorite Willamette valley wineries? Tell us about your experience there in the comments.