The Oregon Wine Country
Published: June 2009
By William Nothdurft
In the four decades since a handful of stubborn visionaries planted the first grapevines, Oregon's wine industry has grown from a few tiny wineries to the present 130, many less than an hour from Portland. Among the drowsy villages and pastoral vine-draped hills that surround these establishments has sprouted an array of gracious inns, innovative restaurants, and arts and outdoor activities that can only be described as grand cru. Need an image?Think Napa Valley 25 years ago, before it got too full of itself.
Oregon has more than 450 vineyards; the greatest concentration of these is in the Willamette Valley, where growing conditions mimic those of France's Burgundy region. Here are 11 of the best places to taste and learn about Oregon wines.
Archery Summit 18599 N.E. Archery Summit Rd., Dayton; 503/864-4300. This state-of-the-art winery produces a great white, called Vireton, but it's the Pinot Noirs that are the real stars here, especially the 1996 Premier Cuvée.
Argyle Winery 691 Hwy. 99W, Dundee; 503/538-8520. In a flower-bedecked Victorian farmhouse, Argyle offers tastings of its Pinots and its superb méthode champenoise brut rosé—the first Oregon wine to be served at the White House.
Brick House Vineyards 18200 Lewis Rogers Lane, Newberg; open by appointment, 503/538-5136. When former CBS foreign correspondent Doug Tunnell finally came home to Oregon after four years in France, he planted an organic vineyard on Ribbon Ridge in the Chehalem Mountains. His wonderful 1996 Gamay Noir has precisely the characteristics of a French Beaujolais.
Erath Vineyards 9409 N.E. Worden Hill Rd., Dundee; 503/538-3318. Dick Erath and his wine maker, Rob Stuart, continue to pioneer clonal varieties and create fabulous wines. The biggest news is their Chardonnays from French, rather than Californian, vines.
Lange Winery 18380 N.E. Buena Vista Dr., Dundee; 503/538-6476. The sign outside says VALET BARKING, a job undertaken by Don and Wendy Lange's black-and-white dog, Archie. Don and Wendy are geniuses with Pinot Gris.
Panther Creek Cellars 455 N. Irvine St., McMinnville; open by appointment, 503/472-8080. Behind the soaring arched windows of the town's original power station, this winery traditionally produces big, earthy Pinot Noirs—but also try the 1997 Muscadet-based Melon, with hints of apricot.
Rex Hill Vineyards 30835 N. Hwy. 99W, Newberg; 503/538-0666. A hazelnut-drying barn has been transformed into an elegant Tuscany-inspired winery, where Lynn Penner-Ash crafts equally sophisticated Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Reserve Chardonnay.
Sokol Blosser Winery 5000 Sokol Blosser Lane, Dundee; 503/864-2282. What will knock your socks off here are Evolution No. 9, a dry but fruit-studded blend of nine whites, and Ice, a sweet white dessert wine in a slim, frosted-glass bottle.
Tasting Room in Carlton 105 W. Main St., Carlton; 503/852-6733. Young négociant Jay McDonald's 1910 bank building, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is your open door to the dozens of wineries that are closed to the public. The cellar is in what used to be the vault.
WillaKenzie Estate 19143 N.E. Laughlin Rd., Yamhill; 503/662-3280. This establishment is named after the soil—created from the confluence of the Willamette and McKenzie rivers—in which the vines grow. According to wine maker Laurent Montalieu, the well-drained, silty earth produces a softer wine. His 1997 Pinot Gris is splendid.
Yamhill Valley Vineyards 16250 Oldsville Rd., McMinnville; 503/843-3100. Try Steven Cary's Pinot Blancs, now in their second year on the market, and his 1995 Reserve Pinot Noir.
Where to Stay
Springbrook Hazelnut Farm Bed & Breakfast 30295 N. Hwy. 99W, Newberg; 800/793-8528 or 503/538-4606, fax 503/537-4004; doubles from $95, cottage $175, and carriage house $160, no credit cards. To say that Springbrook is a treasure-house of Northwestern art masquerading as an inn is to shortchange what is, in fact, a splendid B&B. The Arts and Crafts-era mansion—built in 1912 by a Pennsylvania furniture manufacturer and filled with period-perfect architectural details, antiques, Turkish kilims, and contemporary regional artwork—is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as are its outbuildings and hazelnut orchard. The grounds hold formal gardens, a willow-draped pond, a swimming pool, and a tennis court. And then there are owner Ellen McClure's breakfasts, served in the grand, fruitwood-paneled dining room: parfait of yogurt, fresh raspberries, and granola; just-baked muffins; juice and coffee poured from a sterling silver service; and prosciutto, asparagus, and cheese-filled crêpes, garnished with orange and mint.
Partridge Farm 4300 E. Portland Rd., Newberg; 503/538-2050; double $90, suites $110. The cheery yellow-and-white Victorian farmhouse was originally restored by Rex Hill Vineyard owners Paul Hart and Jan Jacobsen as a partridge farm. Today, it simply pampers guests. The inn has two suites and one large bedroom, each with country-chic interiors; rambling beds of perennials, berries, herbs, and vegetables; peaceful views of the valley; and hearty breakfasts.
Wine Country Farm Bed & Breakfast and Cellars 6855 Breyman Orchards Rd., Dayton; 800/261-3446 or 503/864-3446, fax 503/864-3109; doubles $85-$125. You'll enjoy sweeping views of the upper Willamette Valley and the Cascade mountains beyond, including snowcapped Mount Jefferson. The 1910 farmhouse, converted to a B&B eight years ago, has six lushly furnished guest rooms—two with fireplaces—and an expansive deck. There's a suite in a separate building. The farm has its own vineyard and wine-tasting room, and owner Joan Davenport raises Arabian horses in her 1870's barn.
Youngberg Hill Vineyard & Inn 10660 S.W. Youngberg Hill Rd., McMinnville; 888/657-8668 or 503/472-2727, fax 503/472-1313; doubles $130-$225. At the end of a long and winding road, high on a hill and surrounded by grapevines, Youngberg occupies the most stunning site in the valley. The sprawling, shingled, turn-of-the-century-style farmhouse has seven guest rooms with richly carved oak bedsteads and deep, comfortable easy chairs; ask for one with a fireplace. Owners Kevin and Tasha Byrd present a beautiful breakfast, but the extraordinary view from the veranda-wrapped dining room steals the show every time. Be sure to try their Pinot Noir before you leave.
If you want to mix a bit of urbanity with your pastoral pursuits, remember that the Willamette Valley is close to downtown Portland. The Hotel Vintage Plaza (422 S.W. Broadway, Portland; 800/243-0555 or 503/412-6315, fax 503/228-3598; doubles $160-$200), as its name suggests, is designed in a vineyard theme and offers complimentary tastings of local wines in the lobby every evening. But for sheer luxe, the Heathman Hotel (101 S.W. Broadway; 800/551-0011 or 503/241-4100, fax 503/790-7110; doubles from $210), an Italianate Roaring Twenties landmark that has just been fully renovated, sets the standard. Executive chef Philippe Boulot has made the Heathman Restaurant world-renowned.
Where the Vines Are
The Willamette ("That's wil-lam-it, dammit!") Valley, bounded by the snow-tipped Cascade Range on the east and the protective Coast Range on the west, is just one of five formal appellations in Oregon (see "Along the Umpqua" for the southern regions). But the valley has the greatest concentration of vineyards, just 45 minutes from Portland. State Highway 99W, Oregon's "Wine Road," threads through the Chehalem Mountains and the Red Hills of Dundee (watch for the blue-and-white state tourism signs). Many are open from spring through fall, generally between 11 and 5, but it's always wise to call ahead.
The Oregon Wine Advisory Board (503/228-8336) provides maps and other information.
Where to Eat
The first thing that crossed my mind was, Where am I going to find a pig to rent?
Jack Czarnecki, celebrated truffle- and mushroom-hunter, had just invited me to go foraging with him. As it turned out, a heat wave cancelled our outing (and they use pigs only in France, anyway). Luckily, I had a Plan B: Head for the Joel Palmer House (600 Ferry St., Dayton; 503/864-2995; dinner for two $65), a mid-19th-century Greek Revival farmhouse converted to a restaurant by none other than chef Czarnecki and his wife, Heidi. After a tiny palate-thriller of Oregon shrimp salsa, I had a hard time passing up Heidi's rich three-mushroom tart, but I wanted to start with a broth of wakame and lemongrass with matsutake-filled wontons. The entrées range from king salmon poached in lobster essence with a wild-mushroom sauce to rabbit in a cumin crust accompanied by sautéed greens from the garden out back.
Other great spots:
Red Hills Provincial Dining 276 Hwy. 99W, Dundee; 503/538-8224; dinner for two $60. A meal in this Craftsman-style building might start with sorrel vichyssoise or a pair of intensely flavorful Dungeness crab cakes with sun-dried-tomato aioli. Main dishes—roast game hen with apricot glaze, noisettes of beef tenderloin with Madeira en croûte—seem tailor-made for Pinot Noir.
Tina's 760 Hwy. 99W, Dundee; 503/538-8880; dinner for two $60. The minimalist interior is a perfect foil for the splendid presentation. Begin with sea scallops in a thyme-laced cream sauce, followed by roast breast of duck in fig-and-ginger sauce; and, if it's on the menu, leap at the chance to try Tina's ethereal ginger custard.
Third Street Grill 729 E. Third St., McMinnville; 503/435-1745; dinner for two $50. The Grill's Northwestern menu offers hazelnut-crusted halibut with Ankeny Lakes wild rice and its signature cherrywood-smoked local Carlton beef fillet with molasses-roasted tomatoes. More than 700 wines are on the list here, including 124 Pinot Noirs; many of them are also available at owner Mark Pape's shop next door.
In the Willamette Valley, the early pioneers found a farming paradise at the end of the Oregon Trail. Today the region is lush with fruit and vegetable farms, hazelnut orchards, nurseries, Christmas tree farms, and rippling fields of wheat. Scattered across the land are low, red, Western-style slant-roofed barns and bright white steep-peaked Victorian ones studded with cupolas. Acres of blooming clover carpet the ground in purple. And, for inveterate grazers, there are farm stands of every description. The best is Firestone Farms (18400 N. Hwy. 99W, Dayton; 503/864-2672), whose barrows and bins bulge with locally grown fruits, nuts, and veggies. Ten miles east is the Cherry Tree produce stand; order a shake made with fresh blackberries.
Another must-visit is the Brigittine Monastery (23300 Walker Lane, Amity; 503/835-8080; order on the Web at www.brigittine.org), where the monks produce positively decadent chocolate truffles and fudge—flavors include chocolate Amaretto, pecan praline, and chocolate cherry nut—that have captured national attention.
And to take wine country home with you, visit Your Northwest (Hwy. 99W, Dundee; 503/554-9060), a new store offering a wide range of local specialties such as raspberry syrup and kiwi preserves.
Along the Umpqua
The north fork of the Umpqua River, about 120 miles south of Portland, races out of the high Cascades of central Oregon through narrow gorges, gaining speed and strength as it whispers and roars through a long series of rapids. Some 35 miles east of Roseburg, the river slows briefly and curves in a broad arc before tumbling west again. At the apex of that turn, on a stair-step formation of volcanic rock, is one of America's premier fishing lodges, the Steamboat Inn (42705 N. Umpqua Hwy., Steamboat; 800/840-8825 or 541/498-2411; doubles from $130). For some extraordinary steelhead fly-fishing, schedule an excursion with river guides Tim Caine and Tony Wratney of Summer Run Guide Service (541/496-3037; $175 for a half-day for two). Steamboat is a mecca for kayakers and white-water rafters as well. But it's also the place where, for the past 20 years, Oregon's wine makers have gathered annually to analyze and critique one another's newest vintages.
Use Steamboat as a base to visit two of Oregon's five wine regions: the Umpqua Wine Region, centered in Roseburg, and the Rogue Wine Region, around Grants Pass. Warmer and drier than the rest of the state's planting grounds, these vineyards add Bordeaux-style Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc to the Burgundian wines made farther north.
Henry Estate Winery 687 Hubbard Creek Rd., Umpqua; 541/459-5120. Owner Scott Henry's wines are the highlight of the Umpqua region, especially the 1996 Umpqua Valley Pinot Noir and a 1987 Riesling dessert wine.
Bridgeview Vineyards 4210 Holland Loop Rd., Cave Junction; 541/592-4688. Come for a tasting at Bridgeview and stroll Bob and Lelo Kerivan's beautifully landscaped grounds. Their easy-drinking Blue Moon Chardonnay comes in wonderful cobalt blue bottles. The winery also operates the nearby Kerbyville Inn Bed & Breakfast (24304 Redwood Hwy., Kerby; 541/592-4689; doubles from $75).
Foris Vineyards Winery 654 Kendall Rd., Cave Junction; 541/592-3752. Wine maker Sarah Powell is carrying on Foris's tradition of superb wines. Don't miss the 1994 Reserve Chardonnay and 1996 Siskiyou Terrace Pinot Noir.
There are three good reasons to tour the vineyards with hired wine experts. First, you learn a lot. Second, they bring along a fabulous lunch. Third, they do the driving . . . so you can drink as much as you like. Ralph Stinton's Grape Escape Winery Tours (503/282-4262; $60-$90 per person) are first-rate, and the food is inspired. The guides with Eco Tours of Oregon (888/868-7733 or 503/245-1428; $59.50 per person) focus on the the state's excellent growing conditions. You can also get travel tips and "tour" Oregon wineries on the Web with Wines Northwest (www.winesnw.com). Prefer to go it alone?Order the indispensable Oregon Wineries: Vintage 2000 brochure (Oregon Wine Advisory Board, 800/242-2363) and the Guide to Yamhill County Wineries map (Yamhill County Wineries Association, 503/646-2985).
Up, Up, and Away
Awakening at 4:30 a.m., Ken Lester tells his wife of five years that he is taking her on an anniversary breakfast cruise. Surprised and charmed, Shirley Lester has visions of a boat trip on the Willamette River through Portland. Ken has another idea: a cruise over the Willamette. At about 1,000 feet. In a balloon. She begins to suspect something is afoot when Ken turns east at Newberg rather than continuing north, but discovers something is aloft instead: a 10-story-high, multicolored hot-air balloon—four of them, in fact, operated by Vista Balloon Adventures (701 S.E. Sherk Place, Sherwood; 800/622-2309 or 503/625-7385; $185 per person). As the cool spring morning lengthens, I join them and a pilot, Rob Craig, for a 60-minute ride.
A funny thing happens to people in hot-air balloons. Within moments, the hilarity and nervous giddiness dissipate like morning mist and, from that point on, no one speaks—or, if we do, we whisper. It's that magical. Rob lifts us through the crisp, clear air just as the sun burnishes the peaks of Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, the Three Sisters, and stubby Mount St. Helens. Later, after we land, there will be a champagne breakfast, but even the excellence of the Argyle Winery's best vintage brut can't compete with drifting above dark-green hazelnut orchards and vineyards, or dropping low enough to hear the air whistle through the feathers of a great blue heron skimming the river. Vista operates daily, April through October, weather permitting.
Rex Hill Vineyards (30835 N. Hwy. 99W, Newberg; 503/538-0666; $180 per person, $350 per couple; May through September) also has its own balloon. Run by wine maker Lynn Penner-Ash's husband, Ron, this trip lifts off directly from the vineyard and sails above the Dundee hills. Afterward, brunch is served in the terraced gardens at Rex Hill.