So, you are planning a trip to Oregon wine country. You’ve been mastering my tips on how you can travel like a wine industry insider and you’ve been picking up business cards at the wine tastings you have attended. Now it’s time to put those connections to good use by writing to each of those Willamette Valley winery contacts and requesting an appointment and complimentary tasting for your small group of wine “enthusiasts”. You will save $15-$60 per person, per tasting, by being “comped”. Another way to save on tasting room fees is to share one tasting between two, or more persons. Read on to find a great itinerary for visiting the Willamette Valley. You can find a very useful Google map for planning your visit here.
Most likely, you will fly into Portland Airport (PDX) in the morning. If you have an extra day, you might consider spending a day or two exploring Portland before heading south to the Willamette Valley. Once you are south of Newberg you will begin to see acres of vineyards planted on gently rolling hillsides. This Pacific-Northwest wine region is known for world-class Pinot Noir. It has only been developed as a wine region over the last 30 years. Before that the agriculture was primarily orchards, Christmas trees, farmland and it is still the largest hazelnut producer in the world. It is reported that there are over 500 wineries in this region, so you will need to stay focused on the ones you have relationships with, and a few new ones about which you are curious and which make sense geographically. We were able to comfortably visit 16 wineries in four days, allowing 1-2 hours at each.
In order to make efficient use of your time, I have grouped wineries into sub regions that can be visited in a day. Schedule your appointments 2-3 hours apart, no more than four appointments per day, starting at 10 am (or 11 on Sundays) and ending around 6 pm. This schedule will allow you to “drop in” on some additional wineries and take time for a picnic lunch. It is important to pack a lunch, as there are very few places to purchase food when you are deep in wine country. A note about appointments; keep them and be on time. These wineries are devoting dedicated time and resources to your party, please be respectful. Willamette Valley is unique in its hospitality, you will have a “host” assigned to you and you will receive a quality education at each winery. That is why you will be investing at least an hour at each appointment.
The small town of Dundee is an excellent base for your trip. It is centrally located with a few restaurants and wineries within walking distance. We all know that wine tasting and driving will not mix, so just don’t do it. Be sure to schedule your car and driver well in advance, so that you will be able to completely enjoy this “rigorous” tasting schedule. I can recommend Pinotcar.com. They have vehicles comfortable enough for 4-8 persons and excellent, personable staff. You may have a non-drinking friend that you can invite and therefore drive your own vehicle. If you are traveling with friends I recommend sharing the cost of a private home. For options in the area you can always use your favorite home-share company or, avoid the middle man and book directly with Lifestyle Properties they are the local experts.
When you arrive from the airport, you will probably be hungry. Head straight for the Red Hills Market for a substantial lunch. I know it sounds like a place you could stock up the fridge for your rental home, but alas it really is just a restaurant. You will need to allow time later in the day to head back to Newberg for grocery shopping. Speaking of shopping… be sure to stop by Northwest Fresh Seafood Market for the freshest selection of local fish. If you are lucky the King Salmon will be in season, it will pair perfectly with one of those bottles of Pinot Noir you will inevitably bring back each evening. Skip the Safeway and head to the Fred Meyer store, also in Newberg, it is really a shoppers’ playground with great produce.
Now let’s get to tasting.
Days 1 and 2 (more time, if you have it) Dundee Hills AVA
Within walking distance of the town of Dundee (within a two-mile area)-
Antica Terra – appointment only 1:30 and 3:30 tastings. This is a winery that you probably have not heard of, and you may have difficulty finding it even as you are staring right at it! Without solicitation, several sommeliers in Portland raved about this winery and the winemaker, Maggie Harrison.
This is a true oenophile experience and collectors’ choice, as you will be tasting Antica Terra wines side-by-side with European wines of excellent pedigree, from importer Neal Rosenthal. All the European wines are limited release and available for sale. The tasting takes place in a beautifully appointed part of the barrel room, dress for cool temperatures. I guarantee the experience will exceed your expectations.
Argyle Winery- Named by the locals as “Best Winery”, I suspect for their sparkling wines. This is a good option for a “drop in” the Tasting House is open until 7 pm. Thursday-Sunday during the summer. If you would like a seated tasting, please call or write for a reservation. Pick up some sparkling wine to serve as your palate-refresher.
Duck Pond Cellars – One of the best value wineries. I predict you will leave here having met your new “week-day” Pinot Noir best friend. Still family-owned and run since 1993. Drop in or reserve the “Vineyard to Glass” tasting experience.
Other wineries in the town of Dundee –
Archery Summit – Schedule a private tour of the gravity-flow winery and the barrel caves with a tasting of exclusive and single-vineyard wines. This winery now sells most of its wine exclusively through their wine club. Membership in this club is highly recommended. The views, on a clear day are fantastic.
De Ponte Cellars- This is one of the wineries we would not have experienced if it were not for our driver and his local knowledge. There is one picnic table with a beautiful view for you to enjoy your packed lunch with a bottle of lovely Rosé from the tasting room.
Domaine Drouhin- Reserve the “French Soul, Oregon Soil” Comparative tasting experience. You will be able to taste the Drouhin Burgundies from France alongside the Oregon wines. What a tasting discovery. You may be surprised at which will be your favorite. A tour of the winery is also included and you will be treated to a cheese board.
Other wineries in proximity for possible drop ins-
Day 3 (more time, if you have it) Chehalem Mountains AVA including Ribbon Ridge AVA
Bergstrom Winery- Reserve a private, seated tasting of the estate and single-vineyard wines. Your dedicated host will walk you through a great deal of information. You will have more white wines here than at the previous days wineries, what a great start to your day. Dress warm, as the tasting takes place on the open-air patio.
Beaux Freres- By appointment only. Your “classic” tasting will take place standing at the tasting bar in the winery, it will be cool. This tasting is not a very long visit. There are other options for longer, more exclusive wine tastings with winery tours.
Ayers Vineyard- Here you will experience a true “garagista” winery (a winery in the garage). Be sure to contact Kathleen McElroy to arrange a tasting with the winemaker (husband, Ben). You will not have a more personal experience in any tasting room, anywhere. Be sure to come prepared with you most technical winemaking questions, they will surely be answered here. These wines take advantage of the marine sedimentary soils found in Ribbon Ridge vineyards which are dry-farmed according to the rules of the “DRC” – Deep Roots Coalition.
Eminent Domaine- Located at the top of Ribbon Ridge, you will likely be greeted by owner/winemaker Jeff Meader at the newly constructed, contemporary architecture tasting room. I hope you get as excited about these wines as I did. With his recent spate of 90+ point reviews in the Wine Spectator, I recommend joining his wine club immediately, before the wines are sold out forever. This is a great place to enjoy your picnic lunch. The views across towards the ocean are iconic. We would ot have found this winery, if it were not for the suggestion of our driver, what a treat!
Ken Wright Cellars- This tasting room is housed in a former train station. Try to schedule this on a day when Ken can greet you. There a lot of wines to taste through. The variety is a result of numerous single-vineyard bottlings; each showcasing the particular terroir of the area. Ken believes in minimal intervention in each of his wines.
Other in tasting rooms in proximity, each are worthy of a proper visit-
Day 4 (more if you have time) Eola-Amity Hills AVA
Van Duzer – You will drive almost an hour from Dundee to reach this winery, be sure to allow plenty of time in your schedule. This winery is all about the Van Duzer corridor; a geological gap in the hills that allows the cool afternoon breezes to reach inland from the ocean to the west. You will probably recognize the Art Nouveau labels featuring Zephyra, the Goddess of the West Winds. Of course, you will find a variety of Pinot Noirs for tasting, but also some lovely white varietals.
Left Coast Cellars – A classic “hippy” winery with wood-fired oven pizzas, made to order. The tasting room staff is quite knowledgeable, although a bit gruff. Enjoy your tasting with your pizza for lunch.
St. Innocent – If you have the good fortune of sitting down with owner/winemaker Mark Vlossak, you will leave with a wealth of knowledge that will tie all the bullet-points you have collected over the previous days together in a neat package. He shared a cohesive, personal story of the history of the winery along with a tasting of all the wines available that day. You must write to them ahead of time to receive a special visit.
Cristom- Steve Dorner has been the winemaker and vineyard manager here for over 25 years. I had the pleasure of meeting him at a wine tasting in Colorado and saved his business card. This is an example of how shaking hands can turn into a special experience, that was not necessarily planned ahead of time.
Also in this area-
Disclamer- Actually, there are no disclaimers. I have not received any consideration from any vendor mentioned in this article. I provide recommendations as a point of reference for your travel planning. Please always do your own research to see if they are right for you.