Long known for counterculture politics, the outdoors and a robust craft beer scene, Eugene may not seem like a destination for wine lovers. But this is a city of contrasts, one which proves that not all wine regions look alike.
Surrounded by pine forest and cattle farms, Nike-clad University of Oregon students drink macchiatos at coffee houses, next-generation hippies sell cannabidiol (CBD)-infused products on the main drag and wine lovers hop on bikes to ride to nearby wineries. Located at the southern tip of the Willamette Valley, Eugene is positioned perfectly for a wine-focused vacation.
Where to Stay
Upon check-in at Inn at The Fifth, guests are offered a complimentary glass of local wine or beer. Contemporary rooms in this former Nike store feature different layouts, some with generous tubs and sitting areas, others with large picture windows. Borrow a complimentary bike to cruise downtown or book an Oregon Wine Tour Package, which includes a bottle of Sweet Cheeks wine, plus a tote bag and bottle opener to take on half-day wine tours.
Urban Tasting Room Hop
Oregon Wine LAB feels more like a bar than a tasting room. Sink into a couch with a glass of wine, enjoy a board game and hang out awhile. Located in the happening Whiteaker (or “Whit”) neighborhood, it pours its own William Rose wines, along with offerings from smaller producers who don’t have tasting rooms.
If you can’t get out to the Sweet Cheeks winery on Briggs Hill Road, walk to its tasting room at the Fifth Street Public Market. The owners were said to name the brand after the shape of the vineyard. Founded in the 1980s as a supplier of grapes, the family turned to winemaking in the mid-2000s. The winery focuses on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
A few blocks from the 5th Street Public Market sits Capitello Wines. Owner Ray Walsh, originally from Auckland, New Zealand, worked at well-known Kiwi brands Kim Crawford and Villa Maria Estate before he arrived in Oregon to assist at King Estate Winery. Walsh continues to split his time between the two countries, producing wine for Capitello in both regions. Guests have the unique opportunity to sample Capitello’s Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from Marlborough and Willamette, side-by-side.
Wines for Territorial Vineyards are also made by Walsh, though grapes for the label are grown by Alan Mitchell on vineyards north and west of Eugene.
J. Scott Cellars crafts an excellent Pinot Blanc, while Chardonnay and Petite Sirah are also crowd-pleasers among their 22 bottlings. The no-frills tasting room is located in the Westside Warehouse District, an industrial district with multiple winery, brewery and distillery tasting rooms.
Eat and Drink
There are a couple of spots in town with great wine programs. The first is Marché, where chef/founder Stephanie Pearl Kimmel’s classical French training gives traditional Pacific Northwest fare a European feel. Wines range from organic producers in the Applegate Valley to traditional wineries of the Old World.
The adjacent market Provisions, owned by Marché, is a café/coffee shop/artisan grocer with a wine bar in the back. Stop in for a pre-dinner drink and run through favored local labels. Grit Kitchen, in the Whiteaker neighborhood, is another favorite of industry folks. It serves seasonal American food with ingredients sourced from Willamette Valley farms.
Broadway Wine Merchants is a retail shop, bar and purveyor of small bites. Owner Angus James holds frequent community wine events with proceeds going to support local organizations, winemaker tastings and themed dinners around both domestic brands and international regions.
Civic Winery & Wines is about to be Eugene’s newest urban winery. Founded by Craig Weicker and housed in a restored 1930s building, it will focus on organic, amphorae-aged wines including pét-nats and orange wine. Along with an accompanying wine bar, retail shop and an Airstream-housed restaurant called Lion & Owl, the winery is scheduled to open just before Thanksgiving.
Bike to Wineries
A clutch of wineries within 15 miles of Eugene can be reached by bike. You can rent one from Blue Heron Bicycles on the University of Oregon campus on East 13th Avenue. A deep selection of hybrid-style frames composes part of their rental fleet. The bikes are suited perfectly to day-trippers. Plot your route to Sweet Cheeks and Silvan Ridge, located directly across from one another on Briggs Hill Road.
King Estate, about a 30-minute drive south, has a superb restaurant and one of the most beautiful properties in Oregon. Try a vertical of Pinot Gris to see how well its flagship white ages, or do a tasting with some of King’s library stock.
Antiquum Farm, owned by Willamette native son Stephen Hagen and his wife, Niki, produces some of the valley’s most thrilling Pinot Noir. Their farming methods reach back nearly a century. For example, they eschew outside fertilizers for those produced by livestock on the farm.
Broadley Vineyards, located near Monroe, is one of the few second-generation wineries in the area. It’s turned out lovely Pinot Noirs since the 1980s.