Updated: May 21, 2015
Willamette Valley Wine Country:When I first moved up to the Portland, Oregon area back in 2001 I wasn't much of a wine drinker. I had grown up in the Bay Area and visited Napa wine country several times to taste wines but I guess I was too young to appreciate the wide variety of excellent vineyards in the area. I tasted my first Pinot Noir soon after I arrived in Portland and fell in love with the flavors immediately. Willamatte Valley is home to dozens of superior pinot noir grape growers and I am very fortunately to be just a 30 minute drive from many of these vineyards. Over the years I have done my fair share of wine tasting out amongst the Dundee hills and in through the towns Carlton and Lafayette. I have my personal favorites that I frequent more often than others but I am always open to trying new varietals. Our friends from California like to visit the wine country of Oregon when they come to visit so we always have a reason to wine taste a few times a year. I think we are beginning to sell our friends on Oregon Pinots and away from their Cabernets and Chardonnays.
Most people head out towards Newberg on Hwy 99 and either head down towards the town of Dundee to visit Erath, Archery Summit, or Domaine Drouhin. Others go west on Hwy 240 towards Yamhill and do tastings at Penner-Ash Wine Cellars or Willakenzie Estate. No matter which way you go, it's easy to do a circular drive and go up or down Hwy 47 into Carlton and Lafayette. We have provided a basic Willamette Valley map below with numbers that show where some of the more prominent vineyards are located. For a list of the vineyards and corresponding numbers, go HERE.
From the map you can see that most of the vineyards are no more than a few minutes drive apart. This gives you the chance to plan your day and setup an itinerary that doesn't have you driving all over the place. We suggest picking out no more than 5 vineyards to visit and leave time for a meal - lunch or dinner. Many of the tasting rooms offer cheese/crackers with their wines so you will eat a little as you taste, but be sure to eat something along the way. We have provided a list of the better eating establishments in the area down below. Weather in the Willamette Valley can be unpredictable year round, so be prepared for rain showers and sunbreaks. Be sure to call ahead or check on the websites of the vineyards you want to visit to make sure they are open on the days you will be in the region. Most keep regular hours, but some are only open to the public on particular days and times. Often, if you have a small group, the winery will open up for you if you give them some warning. For a complete list of the wineries in the Willamette Valley, go to Oregonwine.org. Expect to spend at least 3-4 hours driving and tasting. If you eat a late lunch, then you can do a few tastings before and after your meal. Keep in mind that wine has a higher % of alcohol than say a beer and so even though you are only tasting a small amount of each wine, you can still become intoxicated rather easy. Whenever possible, pick a designated driver or better yet get a private limousine to chauffeur you around (see below).
Wine Tours - Escapes:Perhaps driving around is not exactly what you had in mind, you can rent a chauffeur for the day and do your tastings in luxury. Some people choose to do hot air ballooning over the beautiful countryside and vineyards. Vista Balloon Adventures is the perfect way to experience Yamhill County from the air. Pricing is about $190/each and you get a catered champagne brunch and a flight souvenir. The balloons can accommodate 6-10 people and they operate from April 1st to October 31st (everyday except Tuesday). You can get their contact information on the website listed above. As for private tours of the wine country, consider companies like Grape Escape Winery Tours or My Chauffeur Wine Tours.Grape Escape takes you vineyards like Rex Hill, Laurel Ridge, and Cuneo Cellars. They offer various tours and hours with appetizers served along the way. It's an excellent way to learn about the wines and get to taste them as well. My Chauffeur Wine Tours offers intineraries from 4, 6, or 8 hours in length. Prices start at $69/person and go up to $89/person. They are well respected amongst the vineyards of Yamhill County and get rave reviews. If you prefer to pick the wineries you visit, then go with http://www.orwinetours.com/, you can choose your destinations and they will take you.
Grape Varietals:Oregon may be most famous for their Pinot Noir grapes, but they also produce Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Malbec, Syrah, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and many others. Oregonwines.com gives you a quick synopsis of all the varietals and their general characteristics. Not all wineries produce the same wines and many Pinots have completely different flavors and subtleties.
Lodging:Yamhill County and the Dundee hills is still considered relatively small compared to the Napa Valley region and therefore the amount of places to stay while out in this region is limited. That being said, there are still some excellent inns and bed and breakfasts that will delight you with their style and ambiance. We have provided a list of the top places to stay while traveling through the Willamette Valley Wine Country:
- Abbey Road Farm: 10501 NE Abbey Rd., Carlton, OR. Phone Number 503-852-6278. Website HERE. An actual working goat farm that offers up 5 bedrooms and a home cooked breakfast each morning. Rooms start at $195.
- Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard: 9600 NE Worden Hill Rd., Dundee, OR. Phone # 866-429-4114. Website Here. Room rates range from $295 to $495 per night. 9 rooms in this Tuscan style villa that has European decorations throughout. Excellent location in the Dundee hills.
- Brookside Inn: 8243 NE Abbey Rd., Carlton, OR. Phone # 503-852-4433. Website HERE. Situated on 22 acres, this old religious retreat has been transformed into a gorgeous inn with 9 guest suites. The morning breakfast is spectacular and something you won't soon forget. Room rates are $185-$350.
- Carlton Inn Bed & Breakfast: 648 W. Main St., Carlton, OR. Phone # 503-852-7506. Website HERE. Situated right in old town Carlton, this 4 bedroom B&B. Room rates are $125-$175.
- Youngberg Hill Vineyards & Inn: 10660 SW Youngberg Hill Rd., McMinnville, OR. Phone # 503-472-2727. Website HERE. Incredible views from this inn that features 3 king suites and 4 queen guest rooms. Prices range from $150 to $300 a night but the atmosphere and peacefulness of the surroundings will make your stay a memorable one.
Restaurants - Places to Eat:Part of enjoying great wine is accompanying it with great tasting food. Yamhill County has some incredible eating establishments that will delight your palette. We have listed a few down below for you to explore.
- The Dundee Bistro: 100-A SW Seventh St., Dundee, OR. Phone Number 503-554-1650. Website HERE. This establishment is co-owned by the Ponzi winemaking group. Jason Stoller-Smith is the chef and the dining atmosphere is casual but the food is flavorful and paired with wines wonderfully.
- The Horse Radish: 211 W. Maint St., Carlton, OR. Phone # 503-852-6656. Website Here. Perfect place in Carlton that offers cheeses, pates, cured meats, olives, mustards, jams, fresh breads, and chocolates. Don't miss it on your way through Carlton.
- Nick's Italian Cafe: 521 NE Third St., Mcminnville, OR. Phone # 503-434-4471. Website HERE. It's been around since 1977 and the multi-course dinner is what you should stop in for. It's in the heart of the wine country and it truly reflects the standards that Willamette Valley vineyards stand for.
- Painted Lady: 201 S. College St., Newberg, OR. Phone # 503-538-3850. Website HERE. A culinary hot spot in Newberg situated in an old victorian style home. Great food and service. Open Wednesday to Sunday for dinner only.
- Cuvee: 214 W. Main St., Carlton, OR. Phone # 503-852-6555. Website HERE. A gem amongst the vineyards, this French restaurant will amaze you with their menu which changes by the season. They are open Wednesday thru Sunday for dinner and are located right in the heart of Carlton. You will leave this fine dining restaurant and wonder how the area survived without it. A true culinary experience and their wine list of impressive.