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.