Pinot noir sets the table for epicurean bliss.
World-class pinot noir and a boundless enthusiasm for farm-to-table cuisine bring Burgundian flavors to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. But a decidedly Northwest mindset puts a new-world spin on these old-world influences. You can find Willamette Valley wine tasting opportunities across a wide area, which encompasses the Willamette Valley AVA and its various subregions. The most notable among these is Dundee, with its famous red hills. The latter get their colors from their nutrient- and iron-rich soils, aka jory, that also contribute to the wines’ treasured complexities. And, among its many claims to fame, Dundee is the most-densely planted of the Willamette Valley’s seven subregions.
The tasting room at Argyle Winery, at the base of the hills, is a great place to get your bearings. Because Argyle’s sparkling wines will open your palate. And the winery’s friendly staffers always seem eager to share recommendations on restaurants and other wineries to visit.
Each of the valley’s subregions produces wines with slightly different characteristics, thanks to differences in climate, soil content, elevation and other factors. And this is what makes the “horizontal” tastings available at so many tasting rooms so interesting. Because by tasting varietals sourced from different sites, you can discover how the conditions in the valley’s various subregions influence flavor profiles, smokiness and other characteristics in the same varietal from a particular vintage.
Dining, lodging and tours
You’ll find a variety of restaurants and hotels in Newberg, Dundee and McMinnville. (Newberg is about 23 miles southeast of Portland. Dundee is about 4 miles southwest of Newberg. And McMinnville is about 12 miles southwest of Dundee.) In these towns, the lodging options include a few boutique hotels, several B&Bs, a few chain hotels and numerous Airbnb/VRBO options. Meanwhile, north of Dundee, the cute towns of Carlton and Yamhill are home to important wineries, locavore restaurants and even a cool food truck or two.
And several more wineries can be found in the southern valley, in and around Eugene. (Eugene is about 90 miles south of McMinnville, and about 110 miles south of Portland.) Since Eugene is also the home of the University of Oregon, it also offers a wide variety of lodging options and restaurants.
For one of the more unique tasting experiences, sign up for an outing with Equestrian Wine Tours. Because the company offers guided tours to Dundee wineries on easy-to-ride Tennessee walking horses. And the Willamette Valley Wineries Association provides information about several other tour providers and ride services on its website. Of the latter, Main Street Drivers offers a particularly interesting—and affordable—option. Its drivers take you to tasting rooms in your own car (or rental), at reasonable hourly rates. Map it.