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The Oregon Wine Country

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.

Local Flavor
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.


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