Rolling hills dotted with lush vineyards and other agricultural crops dominate the Willamette Valley where they have been quietly making award-winning Pinot Noir for decades. The region is characterized by friendly tasting rooms, remarkable wines, and a feeling of camaraderie rather than competition.
This year marks the 50th Anniversary and today there are over 400 wineries. In addition to undulating hills, snow-capped mountains loom to the East. Pinot Noir is king, but you will also find sparkling wine, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Syrah, and Viognier.
With so many choices, I’ve decided to visit wineries in Eola – Amity, an area closely influenced by the cooling coastal breezes. Even narrowing it to this area leaves more wineries than I can visit in several days. The list contains a mix of small and medium size wineries for this wine adventure.
Bethel Heights Vineyard is one of the early pioneers of Oregon’s wine industry. Their old vine Chardonnay grapes were planted in the 1970s; elsewhere they would have been replanted with newer grapes. They offer a Pinot Gris and a Chardonnay from the old vines. And we get to taste the 2011 and 2012 Pinot Noir from distinct blocks. The Pinot Noir displays rich red fruit flavors although each expresses the terroir differently. For those wishing to linger a little longer over a tasting, their VIP experience is just the ticket with a charcuterie and cheese plate combined with a leisurely seated tasting. Advance reservations are appreciated for the VIP Tasting.
At Witness Tree Vineyard they poured a selection of Pinot Noir vintages. Comparing a 2006 with a 2010 and 2012 was educational. In this region weather can vary dramatically and has a big influence on the wine. Colder years result in brighter fruit flavors while warm years result in richer, darker fruit flavors. Their property contains a historic oak tree for which the winery was named, settled in 1854 as part of a land grant.
Bryn Mawr Vineyards wine tasting was accompanied by a cheese tray. The Rose was dry and refreshing while their Pinot Noir displayed a range of red and black fruit flavors and earthy notes. Admiring panoramic views while sipping wine made for an enjoyable visit.
At Cristom Vineyards a tour and tasting awaited. Walking through the vineyards and viewing grapes ripening on the vine was a treat. It was an education in soils, elevation, and vineyard orientation all of which influence the wine. Later, while seated I was able to detect subtle differences in the various blocks within the Estate vineyards. Paired with local cheese and charcuterie made the experience most enjoyable. Comparing wine from Mt. Jefferson, Summers, Jessie, and Marjorie vineyards it would have been impossible to select a favorite.
Finally St. Innocent Winery contained beautiful grounds surrounded by vineyards and a fountain that served as a focal point. Their tasting consisted of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and of their luscious Pinot Noir. They specialize in hand-crafted wines from small lot vineyards.
Tips: This is a rural area, so come prepared by eating before you arrive and bringing a picnic lunch along. There aren’t restaurants or shops close by to get snacks once you reach the cluster of wineries. Most will allow you to picnic at the winery with a bottle purchase. If you would like a VIP tasting experience, it’s best to make an advance reservation, as they are busiest during summer months. Red Hills Market in Dundee, is the perfect stop to assemble a gourmet feast.
Stay: For a luxury experience the Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg is a comfortable home away from home while exploring the wine country. Their 85-room property located on 35 acres feels spacious with trails, vineyards, and room to spread out. Their spa will help you to relax from the rigors of wine tasting and you can unwind in their pool and Jacuzzi at day’s end. Jory Restaurant serves garden to table cuisine paired with local wine.
Getting there: Alaska Airlines has a special promotion that Wine Flies Free, allowing a case of wine to travel with you.
About the Author: Karla Erovick is a wine and travel writer. She delights in wine country destinations and sharing tips on how to create a memorable trip. Get inspired from her 400+ articles covering destinations, restaurants, and events.