The Willamette Valley is a big place, and it’s stuffed with friendly wineries, gorgeous scenery, toy towns and a dazzling array of outdoor activities. Visitors should plan to explore the countryside, not just the main towns. That means lots of driving on twisty, two-lane roads, so try to focus each day’s excursions on a confined area. Headquarter in Newberg or Dundee for quick access to the American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) of Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge, where many of the region’s finest boutique wineries reside. Carlton is a sweet little town with good restaurants and tasting rooms. It’s best to call ahead for an appointment at small tasting rooms.
Where to Dine
In Newberg, The Painted Lady is tops. Jory, at The Allison Inn & Spa, has a deep Oregon wine list. Also in Newberg are Recipe, a winemakers’ favorite for rustic, delicious specials; and Panadería y Taquería González, which offers authentic Mexican fare. Thistle is the best in McMinnville, while the Joel Palmer House in Dayton is famed for its locally sourced mushrooms. In Dundee, try Paulée or Tina’s for fine dining, while The Dundee Bistro and Red Hills Market offer simple country and takeout foods.
Where to Stay
The Allison Inn & Spa is far and away the most deluxe lodging option in the valley, offering full resort services. In Newberg, The DreamGiver’s Inn, Le Puy and Lions Gate Inn all get high marks for both comfort and romance. The Chehalem Ridge Bed & Breakfast has spectacular views. In storybook Carlton, try the Lobenhaus Bed & Breakfast & Vineyard or Abbey Road Farm Bed & Breakfast for tranquility amidst splendid scenery.
Where to Taste
The Carlton Winemakers Studio, conceived and built by winemaker Eric Hamacher, has as many as a dozen garagiste wineries on site. It’s a great one-stop opportunity to taste through some of the newest and rarest of the region’s offerings, including wines from Andrew Rich, Hamacher, Merriman, Retour and Utopia Vineyard. In downtown Carlton, the Scott Paul tasting room also pours rare Burgundies, imported by proprietor Scott Wright. Angel Vine, Lemelson Vineyards and Soter Vineyards are must-sees nearby. The Ribbon Ridge AVA is home to a number of outstanding boutiques, notably Ayres Vineyard, Beaux Frères, Brick House Vineyards, Patricia Green Cellars and Trisaetum. Close by are Adelsheim, Bergström and Penner-Ash Wine Cellars. Most require reservations, but Adelsheim is always open, and pours an array of single-vineyard Pinots.
When to Go
The best weather months are May–June and September–October.
Consider Willamette Valley your Burgundy of the states, producing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The weather is relatively mild throughout the year, with cool, wet winters, dry, warm summers and coastal marine influences. The resulting Pinot Noirs are elegant and structured, with a striking balance between ripe fruit and earth. For wine lovers looking beyond the classics, the valley also cultivates outstanding Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Viognier for still wines, as well as sparkling wines made from traditional Champagne varieties.
The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum, just outside of McMinnville, is home to the famous Spruce Goose, a World War II-era wooden aircraft and the largest plane ever built, along with other vintage aircraft. Also on-site are an IMAX theater and the Wings & Waves Waterpark. Other nonwine options include golfing (Chehalem Glenn Golf Course in Newberg and nearby Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club in Aloha), biking, hiking and ballooning.
Press Wine Bar and Bottle Shop, at The Inn at Red Hills in Dundee, offers many hard-to-find, small-lot Oregon wines at very competitive prices. A wine club is due to launch soon.
Kelley Fox is the winemaker for Scott Paul and the owner and winemaker of Kelley Fox Wines. “A classic,” she says, “is Nick’s Italian Café in McMinnville. [It] has been and always will be a watering hole for winemakers. I have the fondest memories of washing David Lett [founder and winemaker of The Eyrie Vineyards]’s tasting room glasses in Nick’s kitchen, often while Nick himself was rolling out the day’s ravioli. Great jazz, too.”