Exploring the Willamette Valley Through McMinnville, Oregon

The Allison Inn & Spa
The Allison Inn & Spa / Photo by Paul Dyer

McMinnville encapsulates all that is magical about wine touring in Oregon’s Willamette Valley: a heady mix of tasting rooms, breweries, restaurants, galleries and boutiques. It’s also home to Linfield College’s main campus, which hosts the International Pinot Noir Celebration each July. The historic downtown along East 3rd Street is lively and walkable, as is the nearby Granary District, which offers 10 wineries, two breweries and popular Flag & Wire Coffee Co.

McMenamins Hotel Oregon
McMenamins Hotel Oregon / Photo by Kathleen Nyberg

Drink Like a Winemaker

Nick’s Italian Café, the legendary spot where the founders of the state’s wine industry compared notes and bottles more than four decades ago, is still going strong after an extensive renovation last winter. Head for the backroom, where the bar commands the most attention, and shoot some pool with a glass of Pinot Noir.

The best view in town belongs to the Rooftop Bar at McMenamins Hotel Oregon. Indoor and outdoor seating, daily happy hour specials and a full beverage menu are available year-round. A close second is the 1882 Grille, a third-floor hangout with big-screen TVs, 15 rotating local brews on tap and seasonal specials like smoked Columbia River steelhead salad with local vegetables and Oregon truffle tagliatelle. The town’s best not-so-secret spot is the Cellar Bar, a subterranean speakeasy at McMenamins Hotel Oregon. It offers live music and Wine Down Wednesdays that feature specialty flights.

Hundreds of tasting rooms are within an hour’s drive of McMinnville. Beyond their regular daily tastings, many wineries participate in special food and wine weekends and events, like the McMinnville Wine and Food Classic each March, and the Bounty of Yamhill County festival in late August. An excellent calendar of tastings, dinners, concerts and educational seminars can be found on the Willamette Valley Wineries Association website. For a drink or meal paired with an overnight stay, visit The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg.

1882 Grille
1882 Grille

But First, Food

For breakfast and lunch, Red Fox Bakery & Cafe is a local fave that offers housemade breads and pastries. Whatever you order, don’t skip the macaroons. Red Hills Kitchen at the Atticus Hotel contributes well-selected local wines and all-day comfort foods.

Thistle remains McMinnville’s can’t-miss restaurant/bar. The menu changes daily and features heirloom, sustainable, locally sourced produce and meats. You’ll have to stop by to find all the details on their chalkboard. For upscale renditions of steak, pasta and seafood, an extensive Oregon wine list and more than 225 whiskeys, head to The Barberry. Or, to let loose somewhere a bit more casual, check out the brand new Pizza Capo for wood-fired pies. Just opened in May, the Vera Pizza Napoletana-certified team here is already generating huge buzz.

Evergreen Air & Space Museum
Evergreen Air & Space Museum /Photo by Don Pyle

Get Smart

McMinnville is home to the main campus of Linfield College. Its tree-strewn campus set on 189 park-like acres is a splendid destination for a picnic. Each July, the school hosts the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration, a three-day extravaganza that offers seminars, tastings and shared outdoor dining. Also on site is the Evenstad Center for Wine Education, which facilitates learning opportunities for students and visitors alike.

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The nearby Evergreen Air & Space Museum currently houses the Spruce Goose, the world’s largest wooden plane that was designed and built by Howard Hughes, along with a collection of other  historic aircraft.

Mes Amies
Mes Amies / Photo by Laura McGlynn

Sightsee Between Sips

Walkable McMinnville buzzes with activity. Running each Thursday from May through October, the Downtown McMinnville Farmers Market bursts with live music, fresh local produce and baked goodies. More permanent, a dozen art galleries are clustered around town. Try The Gallery at Ten Oaks, set in a 1908 Craftsman-style house, which serves wine by the glass. The Mason-Rivera Sculpture Garden & Art Gallery occupies a lushly landscaped three acres.

Independent shops persist in McMinnville. Stop in at Third Street Books to browse or catch a visiting author’s lecture, pick up an outfit or gift at Mes Amies, then visit Woodard Wines for that hard-to-find boutique bottle to pair with your souvenirs.

Published on July 9, 2019
Topics: Travel
About the Author
Paul Gregutt
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from Oregon and Canada.

Paul Gregutt is a Contributing Editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, a founding member of the magazine’s Tasting Panel, and reviews the wines of Oregon and Canada. The author of the critically-acclaimed Washington Wines & Wineries—The Essential Guide, he consulted on the Pacific Northwest entries in current versions of The World Atlas of Wine and The Oxford Companion to Wine.

Email: paulgwine@me.com.



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