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.