The expansive Willamette Valley, Oregon’s largest wine region, is a haven of hundreds of wineries offering an abundance of choices for grape-lovers with a dose of countryside, farmland and rustic tourism. While the region grows pinot gris, chardonnay and riesling, it is well-known for its pinot noir varietals.
The tightly clustered bunches of fruit are dark, thin-skinned and, frankly, unpredictable. As a young wine, pinot noir can be light and fruity. Over time, it broadens with more complex, earthy flavors. The valley’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean wafts in a coastal breeze that winemakers say is perfect for cooling the finicky fruit.
Just a day trip away from Spokane, seven hours to be exact, travelers can plan the perfect extended weekend getaway. Hotels and motels are plentiful in in-town destinations, such as small-town Newberg or Dundee, while Airbnbs or rentals can be found off the beaten path in boutique shop attics or farm suites on shared land.
Those who prefer city living can stay overnight in Portland and drive a scenic hour or two to spend a day among the vines. Here is a sampling of sips to help guide you through Oregon wine country’s well-developed aromas and flavors.
The Four Graces
The Four Graces’ Foley Family Estate sits on farmland a few miles south of Newberg, a good first stop for out-of-town visitors venturing from bustling Portland city life to the edge of the valley. Here it serves brimming pours gardenside in a quaint, chic barn dressed in rustic chandeliers and oak woodwork with baskets of faux fur blankets for ultimate comfort.
For tasters interested in oenology, Four Graces sommeliers have vast knowledge in their grapes, whether from its estate or sourced in partnership from elsewhere in the valley. Its collection of Yamhill-Carlton pinot noirs range from jammy to peppery, with special attention given to the year (and, as of late, the corresponding level of wildfire smoke abundant that season).
Its 2020 Four Graces Rose of Pinot, of Dundee Hills, highlights the best of flat rose: wild strawberry tang meets a creamy hint of watermelon for a round, rich bite in every sip. For those new to pinot blanc, the winery’s 2018 bottle offers a soft, palatable introduction to the Willamette Valley-specific (genetically mutated) sibling to the pinot noir.
Cost: $25 tasting, waived with $50 purchase
Price range: $26 (pinot blanc) to $75 (pinot noir)
Location: 9605 NE Fox Farm Road, Dundee
Contact: (503) 554-8000
Where Four Graces makes you feel like family, Argyle makes you feel like friends. Its massive, industrial and installation-heavy tasting house feels more like a celebration space than a tasting space. Which makes sense: They serve bubbles. Argyle’s indoor seating echoes loudly with full crowds, while its covered concrete patio offers light sun and music, easier for conversation, with overhead heat lamps and Pendleton-style throws available upon request.
While visitors can venture one of two ways with tasting flights — sparkling or still — the winemakers here are quite serious about their brut. The 2016 Spirit Hill Vineyard Blanc de Blancs has hints of lemon and grapefruit, while its 2017 Knudsen Vineyard Brut (palette challenge: Request a taste of the brut from the year prior as a side-by-side) is light, balanced and just a touch of sweet.
But, not too sweet. The yeasts formed in the creation of these sparkling wines eat up the sugars, leaving more buttery, pungent flavors. Visiting soon? It’s last call on their limited 2018 ruby brut, a dark and rich sparkling pinot noir with cranberry tones.
Cost: $30, waived with two bottles
Price range: $30 (vintage brut) to $115 (Extended Tirage, Blanc de Blancs of Knudsen Vineyard)
Location: 691 Highway 99 W, Dundee
Contact: (503) 538-8520
Chehalem, Native Calapooia for “Valley of Flowers,” sits in the center of downtown Newberg offering an urban experience with earthy essence. Its tasting room features wine from a mix of three estates: Ridgecrest Valley, Dundee and Corral Creek. While its lineup of pinot noirs come from a single vineyard with a hat tip to classic flavors, its white wines offer refreshing, innovative takes.
Crisp pear and vibrant honeysuckle is sampled in its Chehalem Mountains pinot gris, while its INOX Chardonnay offers a reprieve from traditional oak extracts with a lean into buttered apple.
If snack time is calling, the winery recently added a popcorn pairing to its menu for $10 more than its traditional tasting fee.
Cost: $20 tasting, waived with $50 purchase
Price range: $20 (pinot gris) to $100-plus (pinot noir, vintage selections)
Location: 106 S. Center St., Newberg
Reservations: Walk-ins welcome. Required for groups of eight or more.
Contact: (503) 538-4700
Artsy and elevated would be one way to describe the grounds. Stunning is another. Trisaetum, owned by Andrea Lassa and artist James Frey (pronounced Fry), is a conglomerate named after their children Tristen and Tatum.
Seated in Ribbon Ridge — one of three estates — the Trisaetum tasting room looks upon expansive rolling hills covered in vines. The view from inside isn’t bad, either: It acts as a showcase gallery of mixed-media prints and paintings by Frey, who also designs bottle labels.
From Trisaetum’s Coast Range estate comes a 2019 pinot noir that is earthy like mushrooms and velvety like silk. For a crisp but dry take on riesling, its 2020 Ribbon Ridge Dry Riesling tastes of slightly acidic honeydew.
Cost: $30 tasting, waived with two-bottle purchase
Price range: $35 (dry riesling) to $100 (family reserve pinot noir)
Location: 18401 NE Ribbon Ridge Road, Newberg
Reservations: Recommended but not required.
Contact: (503) 538-9898
Bonus: Killdeer Distilling
If feeling “wined” out, Killdeer Distilling is a nice reprieve. Surrounded by acres of wineland off a gravel road, this farm-style distillery offers a $15 tasting on a range of small-batch alcohols. A $15 tasting, easily split between two people (or three, depending on who’s driving), features shots of vodka, gin, rye, bourbon and absinthe (on ice), finished with a velvety, vanilla espresso liqueur.
A scenic menagerie of goats, sheep, hens and twin black barn cats offers guests entertainment while they sit and sip on rustic park benches near a fire or heat lamp. Vanilla extract is also available for sale.
Cost: $15 tasting, waived with two-bottle purchase
Price range: $25 (vodka) to $78 (three-bottle box set)
Location: 20000 NW Wind Ridge Road, Newberg (1.5 miles from Trisaetum tasting room)
Reservations: Recommended for groups of six or more. Limited parking availability.
Contact: (503) 421-3881
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