The living room is seen in the upper winery suite at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner.ANNA REED / Statesman Journal
The dining area is seen in the upper winery suite at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner.ANNA REED / Statesman Journal
The towering oak tree at Stoller Family Estate has been the spot of a lot of marriage proposals.Mike Haverkate
The Stoller Family Estate house is newly renovated and perfect for a small group, complete with vineyard views and within walking distance of the winery and estate tasting room.Courtesy of Stoller Family Estate
Natural light fills the tasting room as guests sample wines at Sokol Blosser in Dayton.DANIELLE PETERSON / Statesman Journal
Guests stay cool in the tasting room on a warm summer day at Ponzi Vineyards in Sherwood.DANIELLE PETERSON / Statesman Journal
Christopher Czarmecki is chef and owner of the Joel Palmer House, a restaurant specializing in wild-foraged mushrooms and truffles in Dayton.TIMOTHY J. GONZALEZ / Statesman Journal
Ed Gans, left, of The Eyrie Vineyards, gives a tour of the winery to Steve Morgan, center, of Chicago, Illinois, and Adam Tuck, of McMinnville.ASHLEY SMITH / STATESMAN JOURNAL
Ali Hartman, left, and Rory Flanagan, both from Baltimore, Maryland, taste the Ara Riesling at Brooks Wines in Amity.DANIELLE PETERSON / Statesman Journal
Carly O’Connell, right, talks with customers in the Argyle Winery tasting room in Dundee.ASHLEY SMITH / STATESMAN JOURNAL
A view is seen from the Presidential Suite at The Allison Inn and Spa in Newberg.ASHLEY SMITH / STATESMAN JOURNAL
Oregon pinot noir has been riding a rising wave of popularity in the U.S. as well as around the world, and there’s no better time than now to invite your friends and family to visit America’s new wine destination: the Willamette Valley.
“Unless you are completely new to the world of wine (in which case, welcome, it’s going to be a fun ride), you will of course know that the offerings from the state of Oregon and in particular the Willamette Valley are rising rapidly in the world rankings,” said Food Network star Simon Majumdar of “Cutthroat Kitchen,” “Iron Chef America” and “The Next Iron Chef.”
“But, it is not until you actually visit the place and add terroir to taste that you realize quite why this area is so special,” said Majumdar, who was recently in the Willamette Valley to promote his new book, “Fed, White and Blue.” “It’s beautiful, of course, but then most wine areas are. However, it is the people who really make the Willamette Valley so appealing, combining their considerable winemaking skills with the down-to-earth nature of the Pacific Northwest and a friendliness I have found in few other places around the globe. It’s a mixture that is as heady as some of their most potent vintages and enough to have me already planning my return visit.”
Oregon has been called new American home of pinot noir.
The region also is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first planting of pinot noir grapes this year.
The valley stretches from Oregon’s largest city, Portland, in the north, all the way down to Eugene. And dotting the valley are more than 400 wineries and close to 650 vineyards that draw tourists from all over the country, and increasingly the world, to their tasting rooms. The wine industry in Oregon contributed $3.35 billion toward the Oregon economy in 2013, the latest years that statistics are available, according to Michelle Kaufmann, communications manager for Oregon Wine Board.
The state’s biggest wine region, the Willamette Valley, attracted 5.2 million visitors in 2013, according to Linea Gigliano with Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism commission.
The atmosphere in the tasting rooms are friendly and casual, and you’ll often rub elbows with winemakers or owners who are glad to explain their operation and their winemaking philosophy to you.
Another boon to the Willamette Valley is that beside the claim-to-fame, pinot noir, the climate and soil also is suited to many other cool-weather grape varietals such as chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling, pinot munier, gamay noir, gewürztraminer, viognier and grüner veltliner.
With all this in mind, here are my recommendations for the top spots to wine, dine and recline in the Willamette Valley:
5 must-visit wineries
From wine-country chic to contemporary, tasting rooms across the Mid-Valley offer a variety of atmospheres for the visitor with one common denominator: friendliness. Wine is not served with a side of attitude here. Smiles rule.
Here are the top 5 to put on your visitors’ must-visit list.
1. The Eyrie Vineyards: Jason Lett now carries on his father’s legacy with outstanding wines that showcase terroir, with organically certified vineyard principles and minimal intervention in the wine-making process. What you taste is truly an expression of the vine. History was made at this tasting room and winery located in an old building that once housed a food-processing facility. Lett’s father, David, is widely credited as being one of the founders of the Oregon wine industry, planting his first 3,000 vines of pinot noir in the Willamette Valley in 1965. Lett, who died in 2008, earned the nickname “Papa Pinot” because of those first vines. In 1979, it was an Eyrie Vineyards 1975 South Block Pinot Noir that stunned the world in the Wine Olympics in Paris and again the following year Beaune. With these two tastings, Oregon won its first recognition as the New World home for pinot noir. The Eyrie Vineyards’ hours are noon until 5 p.m. daily, with a $15 tasting fee. Find Eyrie at 935 NE 10th Ave., McMinnville, (503) 472-6315, eyrievineyards.com.
2. Ponzi Vineyards: A fantastic destination, this winery is now run by the second generation. With Maria Ponzi overseeing business operations and her sister Luisa Ponzi as winemaker, the duo are carrying on the work started by their parents, also pioneers in the Oregon wine industry. Visitors can sip newly released wines and take in the beautiful views with food pairings and relax on the terrace or try a game of bocce ball. Open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily at 19500 SW Mountain Home Road, Sherwood, (503) 628-1227, ponziwines.com. Taste featured flights for $15 to $20 per person or make reservations for a progressive tasting and tour and explore the state-of-the-art, gravity-flow winery and sample Ponzi wines as you visit each stage of production for $30 per person (by reservation only).
3. Sokol Blosser: Another Oregon wine industry pioneer, Susan Sokol Blosser, has passed on the torch to her daughter, Alison Sokol Blosser, who runs the business side, as well as her son, Alex Sokol Blosser, who is winemaker. The beautiful views from the hilltop tasting room stretch across the valley for miles on a clear day. Sokol Blosser’s lineup ranges from excellent sparkling wine to one of my favorite pinot noir rosés, plus pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris, chardonnay, Müller-Thurgau and a delicious riesling dessert wine. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily at 5000 Sokol Blosser Lane, Dayton, (503) 864-2282, sokolblosser.com. Tasting fee is $15 or complimentary for Cellar Club members.
4. Argyle Winery: Oregon’s best-known and most-recognized sparkling wine producer is located right in the middle of Willamette Valley wine-country in the bustling hamlet of Dundee. Argyle’s sparkling lineup includes the 2011 Blanc de Blancs, 2011 Brut Rosé, 2011 Argyle Black Brut (a must-taste sparkling red) and 2011 Argyle Vintage Brut. The winery also makes excellent pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay. Visit Argyle at 691 Highway 99W, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, (503) 538-8520, argylewinery.com. Guests can enjoy three different tasting flights at $15 each.
5. Brooks Wines: One of Oregon’s most beloved wine stories, Jimi Brooks built Brooks Wines on his passion for riesling and biodynamic farming. Brooks died from a sudden death from an aortic aneurism in 2004, just as the grapes were about ready to be harvested. Friends, colleagues, those who knew him at wineries around the Willamette Valley felt so moved by his life, that in his sudden passing, they wanted to honor him and the young son he left behind, Pascal, by making what would be Jimi’s last vintage. They donated their time, harvesting, pressing, making and bottling that 2004 vintage. His sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, is now at the helm of the winery, running the winery and keeping her brother’s legacy alive for her nephew, now a sophomore in college. Chris Williams, who worked with Jimi at Maysara and WillaKenzie, is now the winemaker. The tasting room has a wine-country chic feel, and the incomparable views from the deck on a clear day stretch from Mount St. Helens to Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson along the ridge of the Cascade Mountain Range. Brooks is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays at 21101 SE Cherry Blossom Lane in Amity, (503) 435-1278, brookswine.com. Several tasting flights are available for $15 each.
5 places to stay
From ultra-luxurios wine-country resorts to vineyard farmhouses and suites, options for your stay in wine country abound. You simply can pick one place to stay and make it your home base as you travel the back roads to visit wineries.
1. The Alison Inn and Spa: Considered Oregon’s premier wine-country resort, this hotel has luxurious accommodations, a fantastic restaurant with a wine list that has been called one of the best in America by Wine Spectator magazine and a host of full spa services from custom facials and massages to a 30-minute detoxifying soak in their signature grape seed body treatment. The Allison Inn and Spa is at 2525 Allison Lane in Newberg, (503) 554-2525, theallison.com.
2. Inn at Red Hills: For those who prefer to be right in the heart of things, the Inn at Red Hills offers contemporary lodgings along Dundee’s main strip within easy access of many of the top wineries in the Willamette Valley as well as nearby restaurants, 1410 Highway 99W in Dundee, (503) 538-7666, innatredhills.com.
3. Chehalem Ridge Bed & Breakfast: If a wine-country bed and breakfast is your style, wake up to amazing views of wine country from this modern and well-appointed B&B located on the Chehalem Mountain ridge overlooking the Willamette Valley, 28700 NE Mountain Top Road in Newberg, (503) 538-3474, chehalemridge.com.
4. Stoller Family Estate guest houses: If a vineyard guest house is more your thing, wake up amidst the vineyards in one of Stoller Family Estate’s guest houses. Pick from the newly renovated three-bedroom Estate House, complete with vineyard views and within walking distance of the tasting room, to the Wine Farm House with a well-appointed master suite and four other bedrooms, surrounded by the vineyard and nearby farmland about a mile from the winery and tasting room, and the quaint Cottage with three bedrooms, surrounded by vineyards just down the hill from the winery and tasting room, perfect for a couple, family or small group of good friends. Stoller is at 16161 NE McDougall Road in Dayton, (971) 545-0015; ask for Betsy Hannaford for lodging inquiries.
5. Willamette Valley Vineyards Winery Suites: Enjoy a quiet getaway in wine country at one of two Winery Suites at Willamette Valley Vineyards featuring master bedrooms that overlook the estate vineyard, comfortable living areas and butler kitchens with refrigerators. Both suites have a private patio with a cozy fireplace to enjoy the evening sunset views. Suites come with a private winery tour and wine credit to be used on your favorite wines. Willamette Valley Vineyard is located with easy access of Interstate 5 at 8800 Enchanted Way SE in Turner, (800) 344-9463.
5 wine-country restaurants
Looking for a place to eat in wine country? Choices abound with restaurants that focus on farm-to fork cuisine and local ingredients.
1. The Joel Palmer House, with a menu that revolves around wild-gathered mushrooms and Oregon truffles, is the best that the Willamette Valley has to offer with seasonal produce and world-class wines, open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays beginning at 4:30 p.m. Reserve a table at joelpalmerhouse.com/reservations, 600 Ferry St., Dayton, (503) 864-2995.
2. Nick’s Italian Cafe is a James Beard Award-winning standard-bearer serving Italian cuisine with a Northwest flair and an amazing Northwest and Italian-focused wine list, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 9 p.m. Sundays, 521 NE Third St., McMinnville, (503) 434-4471.
3. The Barlow Room is a casual spot with a comfortable and historic feel and a menu inspired by Northwest cuisine and local ingredients and a bar that focuses on showcasing Oregon spirits in classic or distinctive cocktails, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays, 306 Ferry St., Dayton, (503) 714-4328, thebarlowroom.com.
4. Thistle Restaurant and Bar serves up wine-country classic fare in a dressed-up farmhouse setting in historic downtown McMinnville, opens at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 228 NE Evans St., (503) 472-9623, thistlerestaurant.com.
5. Ruddick/Wood is a casual restaurant with new-American fare along with craft beer, wine and cocktails in a renovated 1920s garage in downtown Newberg with an atmosphere that will give you a case of hipster envy, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, plus 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Sundays, 720 E. First St., Newberg, (503) 487-6133, ruddickwood.com.
Victor Panichkul is food, wine and beer columnist. Reach him at (503) 399-6704, Vpanichkul@StatesmanJournal.com, follow at Facebook.com/WillametteValleyFoodWine and on Twitter @TasteofOregon.