Oregon’s Willamette Valley stretches 150 miles from Eugene to Portland. A diverse agricultural region, the valley is filled with pastoral, rolling, green countryside, abundant vineyards, family-owned wineries, dairy farms, apple orchards, and friendly farm towns. The Willamette River flows the entire length of the valley, enriching this lush and fertile area. Mountains surround it on three sides, protecting it against cold rain from the Pacific Ocean and desert heat from eastern Oregon. With every turn and every mile, the beauty of the Willamette Valley unfolds and there’s no doubt that it is one of the prettiest wine regions of the Pacific Northwest.
Oregon’s answer to California’s Napa Valley, the Willamette Valley is home to 554 wineries, 719 vineyards, and 7 American Viticultural Areas (or AVA’s). Wine making only began here 50 short years ago with Pinot Noir as the star of Willamette Valley. As Oregon’s most famous grape, it’s as finicky as a superstar yet the foundation for some exceptional wine. However, now winemakers here are also experimenting with other cool-climate varietals. Be sure to bring your VinGardeValise® wine suitcase with you. With so much to choose from, you’ll find plenty to take home.
We headed straight into the “heart of the Willamette Valley,” near McMinnville, Oregon, to discover some astounding Pinot Noir, aromatic Riesling, and the valley’s newest darling, sparkling wine.
Where to Taste Wine in Willamette Valley
Sokol Blosser’s story began in 1971 when Susan Sokol and Bill Blosser first planted vines in Oregon’s Dundee Hills. Today, as second-generation winegrowers, Alex and Alison Sokol Blosser are passionately committed to continuing their family’s legacy of creating world-class wines that express their distinctive hillside vineyards.
Although well-known for having the first tasting room in the Willamette Valley and making award winning Pinot Noir for over 45 years, we were particularly struck by the 2018 Pinot Gris. Crafted from the ancient volcanic soils and temperate weather of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, this white wine is splendor in a bottle. Aromas of fresh cut pears, nectarines, and apple blossoms surrender to flavors of honeydew, peaches and pure minerality. This dry, crisp wine is perfect now and will only get more complex over time.
5000 NE Sokol Blosser Lane, Dayton
Housed in a huge wood and stone building with massive doors that open into a cavernous barrel room, Maysara Winery is like entering a 15th century medieval fortress. Wine aging barrels line the entire interior wall on one side with gleaming silver fermentation tanks on the other side. From the industrial strength of this winery and size of its vineyard you get a sense that it produces uncompromisingly pure, wholesome fruit and expressive wines. Tasting them confirms this impression. Located in the foothills of McMinnville, this certified biodynamic vineyard captures unique characteristics from nine different soil types on the estate.
We tasted a 2014 Maysara “Asha” Pinot Noir from their Momtasi Vineyards. With herbaceous aromas, sage, and spice flavors, this darkly colored wine shows depth and intensity with characteristic high acidity in the finish. Its complex savory components paired well with the Persian styled stewed meats we had for dinner while touring the winery.
15765 Muddy Valley, McMinnville
Argyle Winery is truly a “must see and taste” for any sparkling wine fan. Home to some of the most decorated sparkling wines produced in the US, along with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling, the Tasting House welcomes guests daily in the heart of Dundee Hills. Don’t miss the Argyle Legacy Tasting Tour. Led by an in-house expert, it features the winery’s unique history and winemaking process, plus a tasting of a curated flight of rare, library wines at the end.
We enjoyed the 2008 Extended Tirage Brut, bottle fermented and aged on the yeast for 10 years. This wine tastes fresh and crisp, yet complex on the palate with pleasing yet vibrant bubbles on the finish.
691 Highway 99W, Dundee
Brooks Wine offers exceptional hospitality and 50 different wines, but they specialize in aromatic Rieslings. Relying on cool climate grapes and biodynamic farming practices, this winery has established itself as a hallmark of ecological friendly experimentation as a certified B type corporation and a member of “1% for the Planet” organization. With incredible expansive mountains and valley views in four directions from their deck and grounds, they feature a full menu, three flights a day, local beer and cider on tap, a wine dinner series, and a curriculum of wine and dinner culinary classes. If you’re inclined to join wine clubs, membership here has great benefits.
We tasted the 2017 Brooks Totality Riesling which proved to be deliciously light and fresh, and showed a cool climate natural restrain in fruit forwardness. On the palate, it was snappy and somewhat peachy with minerality in the finish.
Brooks has been making Riesling for over 21 years. They made 26 different Rieslings in 2018. If you love Riesling like we do, load your wine suitcase here!
21101 SE Cherry Blossom Lane, Amity
Left Coast Estates
A family owned and operated winery, Left Coast is entering its 2nd generation. The 490-acre estate provides you with sweeping vistas of vineyards, a rich canopy of 400-year-old oaks, and an eBird hot spot (an electronic means for birders to identify and report birds in the region) along the shores of Lake Suzuki. They have a passion for making all estate wines and have a genuine love of the land. It’s sustainably farmed and they create wines that are truly reminiscent of the terroir.
We enjoyed the 2016 Left Coast Estate Rotie Syrah Noir, a Rhone-styled blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier. This wine is a delicious “Duzer” as grapes are influenced by a wind gap in the Coast Range that allows the wet, cold Pacific Ocean air to rush over the vineyards. We found this wine to be bold, spicy and peppery, with gamey flavors and a dark plum color. It finishes with notable tannins, yet pairs nicely with food.
4225 N. Pacific Hwy W, Rickreal
Where to Stay in Williamette Valley, Oregon
McMenamins Hotel Oregon
If McMinnville is set in the “heart of the Willamette Valley wine country,” then McMenamins Hotel Oregon on Main Street is the heartbeat. This four-story hotel, built in 1905, is decorated throughout with artwork, historic photographs, and inspirational thoughts. The vibrant first-floor pub spills out to the sidewalk with outdoor seating. The Rooftop Bar offers a 360-degree view of this nostalgic town and surrounding region. You’ll feel like you stepped back in time when you stay in one of the hotel’s 42 guestrooms. Be sure to specify that you want a room with a private bathroom. Like many refurbished hotels of yesteryear, a few rooms share a bathroom down the hallway.
310 N E Evans Street, McMinnville
Where to Eat in Williamette Valley, Oregon
Nick’s Italian Café
A classic in McMinnville, Nick’s Italian Café has a strong wine country history. Originally started by Nick Peirano and now run by his daughter, it was a home base for wine industry pioneers in the 70’s-80’s.
Nick’s features authentic Italian fare and an extensive wine list of local and Italian wines, including more than 50 Oregon Pinot Noirs. Its “back bar,” popular with locals and wine industry professionals, provides a lively atmosphere.
521 NE 3rd Street
This award-winning restaurant blends fresh ingredients from the Pacific Northwest with Spain’s exciting cuisine. Paella, tapas, pinchos, and charcuterie plates are ideal for sharing. The restaurant’s two-bedroom, two-bathroom luxury loft is another great choice for lodging in McMinnville.
238 NE 3rd Street, McMinnville
Visiting Williamette Valley
The Willamette Valley has two convenient airports – Portland (PDX) and Eugene (EUG). From there, most visitors find it easier to rent a car. Remember, if you bring your wine suitcase, “wine flies free” on Alaska Airlines with service throughout Oregon. Another service provider to Willamette, Southwest Airlines, has a generous checked bag policy that allows you to check two suitcases at no extra charge.