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Self-Guided Wine Tour of the Willamette Valley

Contemplating a visit to Oregon wine nation? Get recommendations on the place to style, keep, in addition to what it’s essential to know earlier than your go to.

Morning mist in Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Stoller Household Property.

Residence to distinct and shockingly elegant interpretations of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, Oregon’s Willamette Valley is shortly changing into the spot for wine fans.

This pastoral panorama could seem picture-perfect, however rising grapes on this cool nook of the world is just not straightforward. Daylight is scarce for a lot of the 12 months, frosts happen on the most inopportune occasions, and the primary grape right here (Pinot Noir) is notoriously delicate. It requires ardour to make wine within the Willamette Valley—literal ardour, as in one thing you’re prepared to endure for.

Luckily, the area is stuffed with decided, forward-thinking producers and cautious stewards of the land. All of them come from totally different backgrounds—farming/viticulture, tech, journalism—however they’ve one factor in widespread: they’re all tinkerers. They’re the sort of people that passionately debate using native yeast in wine, play with the microclimates in their very own backyards, and are consistently in search of to good Pinot—or attempt their hand at one thing that grows even higher.

Willamette Valley Wine Region Map - Overview - Oregon Wine Board
The Willamette Valley’s wine areas. Map courtesy of Oregon Wine Board.

Getting A Lay Of The Land

Sitting on the identical latitude as a few of the nice wine areas of the world (Bordeaux, Burgundy), this valley stretches from north of Portland to south Eugene. Idyllic as it could appear, the Willamette Valley sits on the Pacific Ocean’s Ring of Hearth, and is outlined by a somewhat dramatic previous. Suppose crashing tectonic plates, volcanic eruptions, and a two-thousand-year cycle of floods. The top outcome: a various mixture of marine sedimentary, volcanic, and loess soils.

Oregon Wine AVAs for Pinot Noir Map of the Willamette Valley by Wine Folly
6 sub-appellations inside the Willamette Valley every produce a novel model of wine.

Throughout the Willamette Valley, there are six distinct sub-appellations:

  • Dundee Hills – A hotter spot within the Willamette Valley nestled between the Coast Vary and Chehalem Mountains, that includes Jory volcanic soils.
  • Eola-Amity Hills – Outlined by the Van Duzer Hall, which offers a spot for Pacific Ocean winds to blow by means of within the later afternoon. Predominantly volcanic soils.
  • Yamhill-Carlton – Options hotter temperatures in addition to a few of the earliest harvest dates within the Willamette Valley. Composed completely of coarse, historical marine sedimentary soil.
  • Chehalem Mountains – Residence to the best level within the Willamette Valley. Shelters vineyards from sturdy winds, and options a mixture of the area’s main soil sorts.
  • Ribbon Ridge – A small, island-like area within the Chehalem Mountains composed completely of marine sedimentary soil which holds water nicely, however is low in vitamins—superb for viticulture.
  • McMinnville – Weathered soils, marine bedrock, with cool ocean winds sweeping by means of the Van Duzer Hall to keep up the grape acidity within the late afternoons and evenings.

What’s the Van Duzer Hall? This substantial hole in Oregon’s Coastal Vary mountains permits for cool ocean winds to pour into the Eola-Amity Hills and McMinnville, quelling excessive summer season temperatures and preserving the acid in grapes further tight. (Additionally, an amazing geographical moderator for a grape as delicate to excessive chilly and warmth as Pinot Noir.)

Styles of Oregon Pinot Noir based on sub-region - Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, Yamhill-Carlton, Ribbon Ridge, Chehalem Mountains, and McMinnville - by Wine Folly

The Wines

You knew Pinot Noir was huge right here, however possibly you didn’t know simply how huge. It takes up virtually three-fourths of all plantings within the Willamette Valley! Nevertheless, don’t be fooled into pondering in case you’ve tried one Pinot Noir from Oregon, you’ve tried all of them. Wines can drastically differ from one Willamette Valley sub-region to the following. A temperature distinction of simply three°C can tremendously have an effect on how the grape develops! (Rattling, Pinot, why you gotta be so sensitive?) That is why the wines can appear worlds aside from say, their Burgundian, Californian, or Tasmanian cousins. “Jammy” and “dense,” these wines are positively not.

So, what’s the appropriate Pinot Noir for you? Seek the advice of the information beneath and thoroughly take into account the label for an concept of what you’re going to get.

  • Dundee Hills – Vivid pink fruit, elegant construction, forest ground, cherry cola, truffles.
  • Eola-Amity Hills – Extra agency, with darker fruit and a brawnier texture.
  • Yamhill-Carlton – Ripe, textured wines with extra spice and floral notes than your common wine.
  • Chehalem Mountains – Strawberry, cherry, and pink fruit in cool vintages, with darker fruit in hotter years.
  • Ribbon Ridge – Rose petal, black cherry, damp earth with baking and Chinese language five-spice flavors.
  • McMinnville – Extra tannic than your common Pinot Noir wine, with darkish fruit flavors and mineral, earth, and spice notes.
  • Willamette Valley – A mix of fruit from varied sub-regions or a particular website elsewhere within the valley.

For extra on how the AVA (American Viticulture Space) classification system works, please see right here.

Whereas you could have come for the Pinot Noir, it’s the white wines that will shock you essentially the most. Pinot Gris from the area is excellent, boasting flavors of creamy pear, melon, and cinnamon, with minimal sweetness. Chardonnay has additionally made some important headway lately, usually creating structured wines with zesty citrus flavors and notes of nuts and fir. One other nice shock was the Riesling, which we discovered had surprisingly juicy fruit flavors and taut acidity.

Professional-Tip: Throughout your tastings, it’s possible you’ll hear the phrase “Dijon Clones.” Introduced into the US by way of Oregon State College from France, these particular Pinot Noir and Chardonnay clones (a vine selection chosen for particular qualities) are well-suited for cool-climate rising and produce fruit with intricate flavors.

Jason Lett of The Eyrie introduced a Chasselas out to lunch.
A really uncommon selection within the U.S., however widespread in Switzerland!

In case you’re searching for wines outdoors the norm, nonetheless, you’re in luck. Willamette Valley producers have been performing some fairly scrumptious issues with varieties like Pinot Blanc, Aligoté, Melon de Bourgogne, and Trousseau. Nevertheless, what received us most excited was Gamay Noir, which appeared to burst out of the glass with cranberry and raspberry flavors and a spice-driven spine. Nevertheless, we should always in all probability mood your expectations a bit: plantings and wines are removed from prevalent. However you recognize, it by no means hurts to ask round…

Enjoyable Truth: Oregon has a few of the strictest wine rules in the US, with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris needing to include a minimum of 90% of the range, versus different areas, which require 75%.

How Did Wine Folly Do The Willamette Valley?

See our 2017 Willamette Valley tour on Google Maps!

We gave ourselves somewhat over two days for our journey, coming down from Seattle to McMinnville, in a clean three half of hour drive. We have been fortunate that The Oregon Wine Board and Willamette Valley Wineries Affiliation helped us craft an itinerary to point out us the vary of what the valley has to supply and helped us maximize our time.

We wish to thank all the winemakers who took outing of their day to satisfy with us. We’d additionally like to provide a particular thanks to Emily Petterson, Sally Murdoch, Bree Boskov, Tom Danowski, Kate Payne-Brown, Jason Lett, Madison Rountree, Michelle Kaufman, The Oregon Wine Board, Willamette Valley Wineries Affiliation, and Stoller Household Property.

Right here’s the place we went:

Day 1


Stoller Household Propertyhref>
Sustainable, environmentally-sound winemaking within the coronary heart of the Willamette Valley.

Kate Payne-Brown is preventing a chilly, but it surely’s not preserving her down. Her enthusiasm is infectious. (Pun not meant). She’s taking us on a tour by means of Stoller Property’s one-of-a-kind facility. We attempt Amphora-aged Syrah, Beaujolais-style Pinot Noir, whole-cluster Pinot Noir—all made with Dundee Hills fruit from their property, all a bit totally different, all scrumptious. “We have now an id [in Oregon Wine]” she says, “however we’re nonetheless soul looking.”

Kate Payne-Brown is preventing a chilly, but it surely’s not preserving her down. Her enthusiasm is infectious.

Stoller Property’s facility is one thing else. Actually one thing else. Deep in its cool underground catacombs, Payne-Brown tells us all concerning the facility’s LEED Gold Certification—the primary of its type within the winemaking world and a world image for sustainability achievement. Toss in the truth that the vineyards are LIVE-Licensed and Salmon Secure, and it’s every part we anticipated Oregon wine to be. Perhaps somewhat extra.

Our tour wraps up late within the day and it’s already pitch black in Dundee Hills. However someway in any case the data and all of the wine, we’re reenergized. It’s revealed that a couple of of the Wine Folly workers have by no means seen a sabered bottle of glowing wine. Payne-Brown picks up a butter knife from the charcuterie board, pulls a glowing Pinot Noir from the fridge, and fortunately obliges.

Day 2


Elizabeth Chambers & Vista Hills
Kicking off our day with a glass of orangé.

Dave Petterson is having a busy day. He’s in the course of prepping for a wine dinner in Portland, testing barrel integrity, after which these wine bloggers present up. Nonetheless, even then, we don’t really feel the slightest bit rushed. We may by no means be so zen. “I’m envious of my beer mates,” Petterson jokes. “Beer you can also make shortly, however wine, you solely get about 30-40 possibilities in a lifetime.” He begins off our day with one thing a bit totally different from Pinot Noir: Orange Pinot Gris and Muscat Dessert Wine, each profitable experiments in our opinion.

“We’re not making an attempt to be France,” he says. “We’re extra concerning the spirit of journey.”


Our go to is transient and concludes with a slip of the tongue from considered one of our personal. “Thanks for the orangé,” we are saying. We’re off to an amazing begin on this junket. Petterson simply chuckles and wonders if he can use that.

The Eyrie Vineyards
Pioneers of Oregon Pinot Noir.

The Eyrie wants no introduction, however we’re going to provide it one anyway. Founder David Lett (a.ok.a. “Papa Pinot”) was the primary to plant Pinot Noir vines within the Willamette Valley within the 1960s. It was his wine, a 1975 South Block Reserve Pinot that positioned among the many high 10 on the 1979 Gault-Millau Wine Olympiad in Paris, proving the wines of the Willamette Valley may stomach as much as the most effective of Burgundy.


At this time, we’re being confirmed round by Jason Lett, David’s son and present head winemaker. Understanding the vineyard’s historical past, we have been somewhat intimidated beforehand, however we see immediately he’s pleasant, approachable, and down-to-earth—the Willamette Valley in a nutshell. After Lett provides us the 101 on Willamette Valley terroir, he kicks us off with a knockout outdated vine Pinot Gris, one to that’s certain to enchantment essentially the most vitriolic of white wine haters. Whereas it’s been joked that Pinot Gris is what winemakers drink till they will determine which Pinot Noir to open, Lett feels in any other case. “In my view, the opposite aspect of the Oregon flag must be Pinot Gris.” In that second, it’s onerous to disagree.

We elect to indulge our interior wine geek with samples of Melon de Bourgogne, Trousseau, and Chasselas, the latter of which he brings to lunch with us. As we chow down on the Valley Commissary, Lett appears enthusiastic about how revitalized McMinnville is now, particularly when it was so empty within the nineties. He does lament one factor earlier than dismantling his hen and waffle: “4 years in the past, we by no means would have had bother discovering a parking spot.”

R. Stuart & Firm
A tasting room straight outta Bretagne in Downtown McMinnville.

“Whoa, déjà vu.” First phrases out of considered one of our staffer’s mouths upon getting into Maria Stuart’s tasting room in downtown McMinnville. The staffer, who we should observe, had spent a while in Nantes in her youth, remarks, “I really feel like I’m in my Bretagne auntie’s front room.” Whereas nobody else may communicate to that, it was onerous to disagree. Be it the decor, energetic proprietor, or reasonably priced wines, every part about R. Stuart & Firm is pleasantly acquainted and approachable.

“We delight ourselves on not being stuffy,” Stuart says. “We wish to make wines you possibly can have daily with dinner.” We pattern every part, as a result of nicely, seemingly every part within the Willamette Valley might be had right here. Past Pinot Gris and their glowing wine (which is seeing a little bit of a resurgence within the space), we attempt Pinot Noir sourced throughout the valley (Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, and Yamhill-Carlton) and get a reminder of simply how totally different Pinot, even from the identical place, might be.


Coeur de Terre
Organically-farmed vines within the numerous McMinnville AVA.

We want we have been as keen about something as Jacques, Coeur de Terre’s gross sales supervisor, is about soil. However when a website is as dynamic as theirs is, it’s not onerous to see why he’s so enthusiastic. The McMinnville AVA contains a mélange of soils—marine sedimentary, marine bedrock, volcanic—and Coeur de Terre appears to have all of it of their yard. Add in varied elevations, slopes, and winds of the Van Duzer Hall, and you bought websites on websites on websites.

Scott Neal, co-owner of the vineyard, is a passionate man too. Whenever you insist on planting each vine by hand and farm utilizing solely natural and sustainable strategies, we don’t know in case you can name that something however passionate. (Our backs ache simply fascinated about it.) His wines are a superb reflection of the sub-region, but it surely’s his trio of reserves that seize our consideration: All are comprised of Pinot Noir, all from the identical winery. The important thing distinction? Fruit in these wines come from particular blocks, every with their very own predominant soils, elevation, and publicity. As you possibly can think about our tasting notes, whereas effusive, have been fairly totally different.

Day three


Goodfellow Household Cellars & Matello
“Oregon winemakers are wildlife photographers. Capturing a second, somewhat than creating one.”

Marcus Goodfellow and Megan Pleasure make us really feel lazy. (Which is truthful, as a result of we’re.) They’re already onerous at work, wrapping up the final of his harvest enterprise once we enter in an un-caffeinated daze. It will likely be a busy day, so he wastes no time in operating by means of his wines, every from particular websites all through the Willamette Valley.


As in France, Goodfellow depends solely on non-irrigated vines and prefers a delicate contact within the winery. No pesticides. No pointless spraying. “So many issues are put collectively for perfection,” he says. “Not only for what they’re. Our purpose is to not create a Lexus, which is a superb automobile, however extra of a ’67 Mustang, quirks and all.”


Brick Home
“Buzz, he’s a horse man. He’s 90 years outdated and nonetheless castrating horses. To me, that’s Yamhill-Carlton.”

These are Doug Tunnell’s phrases, not ours. We’re in his eating room, having fun with a vertical of Gamay Noir, a extra dependable, extra forgiving different to Pinot Noir. We all know Tunnell from someplace, however can’t place it. (We’d later be taught that the he was a conflict correspondent for CBS, possible on our tv screens each night time within the early nineties. It could definitely clarify his clean, broadcast baritone and penchant for good quotes.)

After spending time in a few of the extra embattled components of the world, he’s settled in properly on this Beaujolais-like spot in Ribbon Ridge as the pinnacle of this totally natural and biodynamic farm. As you may count on, he is aware of his land nicely and may paint an image. “In summer season, we are able to see the [marine sediment] soil, silica glittering within the mild,” he says. “Tough on farm tools although.”


We undergo almost a decade’s value of Gamay Noir, flavors transitioning from recent and tea-like to an more and more extra spiced and strong profile 12 months to 12 months. He remarks that persons are at all times making an attempt to pressure Pinot Noir, even the place it doesn’t develop greatest. Tunnell smiles and retains pouring.

“For Gamay, this may simply be the place.”

Craft Wine Co. Oregon Grüner Veltliner, Gamay, Aligoté

Craft Wine Co.
The adventurous aspect of Oregonian wine.

Buzzing tools, moist concrete flooring, a burly, bearded affable man who can’t wait to let you know about his product—are we in a vineyard or microbrewery? Irrespective of. We’re into it and we’re into Chad Inventory and his distinctive wines.

Chad Stock-craft-wine-co-oregon-1

Whereas Craft Wine Co.’s Omero Line focuses on extra conventional Willamette Valley choices, we’re right here to get somewhat bizarre. “That is America,” Inventory jokes. “I can do what I need.” On our ingesting docket: Aligoté, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gouges, Gamay Noir—all wines comprised of extraordinarily restricted plantings—a few of which have been smuggled into the valley.

“Oregon is beginning to diversify,” Inventory says. “There are far more varieties right here, however it’s important to be right here to expertise it. It’s a behind-the-scenes secret.” We’re past grateful to have a peek.

Erica Landon talks terroir whereas I furiously scribble notes. Picture by Bree Boskov.

Walter Scott Wines
Perfecting the artwork of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in Eola-Amity Hills.

Whereas Oregon wine could also be diversifying, Erica Landon thinks the work has solely simply begun with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. “Chardonnay is having a little bit of resurgence, after as soon as being an afterthought,” she says. “Growers again then weren’t paying consideration. Fruit high quality was decrease than it’s at present.”

Walter Scott’s wines are solely from websites within the Eola-Amity Hills, the place the Van Duzer Hall attracts in wind from the coast, cooling the grapes at night time and toughening their skins. The wines are larger and fruitier than different websites, however nonetheless have the area’s trademark magnificence. Landon jokes that she lastly let her husband develop Pinot Blanc, however she stays steadfast.

“If you wish to be within the dialog of Oregon wine, you’ve received to pay attention and deal with making the most effective product doable. We’ve solely scratched the floor.”


Brooks Vineyard
Willamette Valley Riesling for days. Actually days.

We’ve had no scarcity of fantastic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on this journey, however for our final cease, we’re going all-in on Riesling, a spread that flies beneath the radar right here.

There’s a celebration happening at Brooks at present, however winemaker Chris Williams, together with grower liaison Claire Jarreau, make time to sit down with us and go over their full lineup. Williams, too, makes a superb, entry-level Pinot Noir that sells for a surprisingly low value level. (“I could make an costly wine, too,” he jokes.)

Nevertheless, it’s the Riesling that has us further jazzed. Brooks’ choices cowl the entire spectrum of sweetness (dry, medium-dry, medium-sweet, candy), with a number of choices from each degree. The dry, acidic Riesling is a pleasant pick-me-up, but it surely’s the sweeter, riper stuff that we’ll find yourself writing residence about. We suppose we’ll at all times maintain a torch for candy wine accomplished nicely.

What To Eat

thistle-restaurant-oregon menu
Each winemaker we requested beneficial to take a look at Thistle Restaurant in McMinnville.

Seemingly each winemaker we bumped into beneficial Thistle. (All the time a secure guess, by the best way, listening to the winemakers. They know their stuff.) All native, all recent, all in-season delicacies in a heat setting with a radical wine checklist that includes Oregon producers and past. We loved an unbelievable meal of bread and fats, area greens, rockfish, and quail earlier than topping off it with an elderberry tart. Holler.


La Rambla additionally supplied a heat, vibrant setting–however with genuine Spanish dishes. We chowed down on creamy piquillo peppers, patatas bravas, and seafood paella. Other than having an excellent Spanish wine choice, additionally they have a couple of Oregonian takes on Iberian varieties. (We opted for a Southern Oregon Tempranillo with our feasting. #KeepItLocal)

European-inspired baked delights are discovered close to Yamhill-Carlton. Picture Credit score: Carlton Bakery

In case you’re tasting out close to Yamhill-Carlton and wish one thing hearty to sop up all of the grape juice, maintain your eyes peeled for the European-style Carlton Bakery. We’re nonetheless dreaming about their sandwiches and macarons.

Final, however positively not least, we should advocate The Valley Commissary for breakfast and lunch. It has the excellence of being the one place Wine Folly visited twice. With native substances, scratch-made dishes, and common winemaker approval, how may we not? Professional-Tip: The fried hen and waffle was heartily beneficial to us and lived as much as the hype.

Additionally, hazelnuts, y’all. Oregon produces 99% of the US’ crop. Don’t go away right here with out them.

The place To Keep

We opted for the quirky, centrally-located Resort Oregon-McMenamin’s in Downtown McMinnville. For these of you who don’t learn about McMenamin’s, this un-chain-like chain of properties takes outdated, historic buildings throughout the Pacific Northwest and converts them into extra idiosyncrantic lodging. Each room is exclusive, with this author specifically having fun with a keep within the UFO Room.

(For these of you interested by McMinnville and its connections with UFOs, please learn right here.)

The compact, colourful rooftop bar was the proper place for a nightcap and so they charged us a really modest corkage charge once we introduced our personal bottles in. That view, too. Whew.

Hotel Oregon-McMenamin-ufo-room-1

Be Warned: A lot of the rooms are shared toilet solely, one thing we brushed apart at first with our can-do angle, however got here to remorse later. (Although they have been very nicely maintained!) Luckily, there are a handful of rooms with extra, let’s say, conventional lodging and an elevator for many who went H.A.M. with their bottle purchases.

You’ll be able to hire a complete cottage at Stoller Household Property. Picture Credit score: Stoller Household Property

In case you’re coming with a big group or just choose a keep outdoors of city, the cottages and homes at Stoller Household Property will place you smack-dab in the course of wine nation. Added Bonus: It’s a brief stroll to their vineyard and tasting room. Although, you could have a tough time leaving. It’s virtually too straightforward to sit down on a sofa with a Reserve Pinot Noir, a block of cheese, and get into an entire It’s All the time Sunny in Philadelphia marathon.

What To Do When Wined Out

Outdated timber barn in McMinnville’s Granary District, residence to Flag & Wire.

After we wanted a kick, we visited Flag & Wire, a wholesale espresso firm over within the up-and-coming Granary District. In a area that’s already recognized for knockout espresso, this little roastery stood out in an enormous, huge manner. Whereas generally the extra elaborate descriptions of espresso can fail to ship, these ones have been true to kind. After they say it’s like a blueberry dipped in acid, it tastes like a blueberry dipped in acid.

Good espresso can actually make the whole day higher. Picture Credit score: Flag & Wire.

After a day of ingesting (and spitting), we stumbled into The Bitter Monk, a comfy little brewpub with board video games on McMinnville’s principal drag. We all know you’re on the town for wine, however make room for Oregon beer. Perhaps we’re biased, however we predict what’s popping out of the area is really world-class.

Additionally, do you know that The Spruce Goose, (the airplane with the biggest wingspan ever constructed) might be discovered within the Willamette Valley? In case you want a break from all that snacking and imbibing, we closely advocate a go to to the Evergreen Aviation and House Museum. It’s onerous to overlook: it’s on the principle highway into city and has a Boeing 747 on high of it.

Finest Instances To Go to

We visited in fall, simply on the tail finish of harvest. Whereas it was somewhat chilly and damp, the spectacular autumn surroundings and decreased crowd dimension suited us simply superb. Zero complaints right here.

In case you choose some solar together with your wine touring, Memorial Day Weekend by means of early September would be the greatest time to go. Even then, there’s no climate assure, however ’tis life within the Pacific Northwest. If you actually need solar, shoot for late July and early August… temperatures generally spike up into the 100s! (That’s 40 ºC, btw.) Additionally, you may examine the Worldwide Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) which is held yearly in late July for a jam-packed, academic, Pinot-filled weekend.

What’s The Vibe?

Each the product and the persons are extremely approachable. Just a bit over 30 minutes outdoors the ever-bustling, ever-more crowded Portland, you’ll be handled to an open panorama of farmland, vineyards, and charming cities like McMinnville and Carlton. This isn’t Napa the place you’ll be judged in your appears. No $ 50 tasting charges. Not a château in sight. Everybody’s welcome right here. So do like a Northwesterner: placed on a water-resistant jacket, strap on some Gore-Tex boots, and style.

The Oregon Wine Board
Willamette Valley Wineries Affiliation


By Vincent Rendoni
I am a spicy meatball who loves light-bodied reds, fragrant whites, video video games, and for higher or worse, Seattle sports activities groups. I used to be an enormous fan of Wine Folly earlier than being employed, so I suppose you could possibly say I am residing the dream.

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