Talk about Oregon wine country traditionally has focused on the Willamette Valley, a swath of land that basically stretches from the Columbia River to Eugene. While the Willamette Valley retains the crown as the most important wine region in Oregon, the wine industry has vastly diversified in the past 15 years.
In fact, the short hop from the southern Willamette Valley to the Umpqua Valley to the seamless transition to the Rogue Valley means the whole of Western Oregon from the Washington border to California is wine country. And vintners have followed the Columbia River east, turning the Columbia River Gorge into a viable wine-touring region. While Oregon's participation in the Walla Walla Valley is barely an afterthought for most wine lovers, some of that region's most important vineyard sites are south of the state line.
The Snake River Valley, thought of as an Idaho appellation, actually crosses into Eastern Oregon and is being explored by wine pioneers.
Because we've covered the Walla Walla Valley and Columbia Gorge regions in the Washington section of our guide, here we will focus on the areas west of the Cascades.
Every discussion about Oregon wine begins with the Willamette Valley. It is Oregon's oldest appellation (approved in 1983) and, by far, its largest at more than 3 million acres.
The Willamette Valley can easily be broken into two regions: north and south. The northern Willamette is one of the most fascinating wine regions in the Pacific Northwest, so much so that winemakers and grape growers have further defined it into six more appellations.
The southern Willamette generally begins around the town of Monroe and moves south of Eugene to Cottage Grove.
From Portland, you can be in the heart of the northern Willamette Valley in less than an hour (depending on traffic). More than 100 wineries are crowded into the beautiful hills and valleys of the northern Willamette, and you can use the towns of Newberg, Dundee or McMinnville as a base camp. With some exceptions, most wineries are within the six smaller appellations.
The Dundee Hills is one of the oldest regions. That's where such pioneers as Dick Erath and David Lett planted their first grapes in the 1960s and where others soon followed. Highway 99W goes through the town of Dundee. Visiting such wineries as Argyle, Sokol Blosser, Erath, Stoller and Winter's Hill is fairly easy, as they are all within a few miles of each other.
Just north of the Dundee Hills is Newberg and the Chehalem Mountains. Chehalem Wines, owned by Harry Peterson-Nedry, is one of the oldest and largest producers here, but several others, including Rex Hill, Adelsheim and ArborBrook, are not far away. Ribbon Ridge, the Northwest's smallest appellation, is part of the Chehalem Mountains and is home to such important producers as Patricia Green and Beaux Freres.
To the east of the Chehalem Mountains and spreading south is Yamhill-Carlton, a horseshoe-shaped appellation that stretches from the town of Gaston in the north to Carlton in the south. The Yamhill-Carlton is loaded with heavy hitters, including Penner-Ash, Ken Wright, WillaKenzie and Elk Cove. Carlton in particular has exploded with activity in the past half-decade, thanks in large part to the Carlton Winemakers Studio, where several wineries reside together under one roof.
South of Yamhill-Carlton is perhaps the least-understood appellation, McMinnville. In large part, this is because the city of McMinnville is not inside the AVA but rather adjacent. The appellation contains just a few wineries, including Maysara, Youngberg Hill and Yamhill Valley, while the nearby city of McMinnville is teeming with producers such as R. Stuart and Panther Creek.
As we approach the capital city of Salem, we arrive at the Eola-Amity Hills, a landmass that includes such top producers as Bethel Heights, Amity, Witness Tree and Cristom. A number of other producers, including Van Duzer, Arcane and Eola Hills are nearby.
North of these six distinct regions is a group of wineries clustered around the town of Forest Grove, including David Hill, Montinore and Apolloni. And one of Oregon's best, oldest and most important producers, Ponzi, is in Beaverton, northwest of the Chehalem Mountains.
Stay on Interstate 5 south of Salem until you get to the town of Turner and you'll arrive at Willamette Valley Vineyards, our 2011 Oregon Winery of the Year. Ankeny is not far away near the Willamette River before heading south to Tyee near Corvallis then Benton-Lane near the town of Monroe. Between Monroe and Eugene are more than a dozen producers, and another handful of wineries populate the area between Eugene and Cottage Grove, headlined by King Estate.
With so many great restaurants in Portland, one might think the pickings might start to get a bit thin as you trek into the countryside of wine country. But it's safe to say the restaurant scene in the Willamette Valley -- especially Yamhill County -- has been well supported by the wine industry.
The Ponzi family launched the Dundee Bistro on the main drag through town, and it has lived up to its billing for many years. Tina's and Red Hills Provincial Dining also are superb choices in Dundee. Nick's in McMinnville has been a mainstay for much of the region's history. Also in McMinnville, Bistro Maison is a French-inspired restaurant. The Joel Palmer House near the town of Dayton boasts one of the finest wine lists in Oregon, and the Czarnecki family uses its menu to show off what can be done with Oregon mushrooms and truffles. Cuvee in Carlton features French-style cuisine, and Cana's Feast Winery's on-premise Cucina provides a taste of Italy.
In the southern Willamette Valley, King Estate's on-premise restaurant features dishes that use produce grown on property or from local farmers. Not far away in Eugene, Adam's Sustainable Table uses organic, all-natural ingredients from a 75-mile radius. And in Springfield, Cork & Stein Bistro combines a great wine list with Mediterranean cuisine.
If you like B&Bs, then you will love the northern Willamette. Nearly two dozen are in Yamhill County alone. Those wanting the full wine-country experience should look no further than Youngberg Hill, which combines vineyards, a winery and an inn. Abbey Road Farm in Yamhill-Carlton has created a unique lodging experience: converted grain silos. The rooms are great, as is the estate goat cheese at breakfast.
The Allison Inn & Spa near Newberg is the newest and grandest lodging in the northern Willamette, and its restaurant, Jory, features regional cuisine. And the Black Walnut Inn is high in the Dundee Hills and is a gorgeous property with stunning views.
One of the great experiences in wine country is floating over the vineyards. In the northern Willamette, that's easy to do with Vista Balloon Adventures in Sherwood.
If your children are looking a little bored, drop them off at Enchanted Forest, an amusement park next to Willamette Valley Vineyards.
Thanks in part to the University of Oregon, Eugene enjoys a strong brew pub industry, led by McMenamins but certainly not the only local beer in town.
In addition to the Oregon Wine Board's excellent site (oregon wine.org), also check out the Willamette Valley Wineries (willamettewines.com) and the Southern Willamete Wineries Association (southern willamettewineries.com)
Portland can't claim many wineries, but it does have plenty of wine-savvy restaurants, wine bars and wine shops.
Hip Chicks Do Wine proves you don't need a fancy estate to make good wine. A Portland warehouse is home to the winery run by Laurie Lewis, Renee Neely and Heather Flournoy since 1999 and produces several wines from Washington and Oregon vineyards and blends named Bad Girl Blanc, Riot Girl Rose, Drop Dead Red and Wine Bunny.
The Portland Wine Project is actually two wineries, Grochau Cellars and Boedecker Cellars, which share a building as well as equipment. John Grochau and his wife, Kerri, started Grochau in 2002 and have been making Pinot Noir and Tempranillo. Grochau is open by appointment. Stewart Boedecker and Athena Pappas of Boedecker Cellars make their Pappas Wine Co.'s Pinot Noir and Gris, and a selection of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Grenache. Boedecker is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
On Memorial Day, ENSO Winery opened up on the eastside with a 2010 Pinot Gris and 2010 pink.
ENSO, Hip Chicks and Grochau also are members of a newly formed PDX Urban wineries, which also includes Seven Bridges Winery, Vincent Wine Co. and Helioterra Wines.
The sum is even greater than its stellar parts when Portland restaurants take the best of what is offered from local growers, ranchers and fishermen and pair them with wine. Among Portland restaurants that shine:
Wildwood, a Portland fixture for 15 years, honors local ingredients and boasts a deep cellar of some 250 different wines, including more than 50 Pinot Noirs. You are in Oregon, after all.
The legendary Heathman offers a list of 750 individual labels, 6,600 bottles and 60 wines by glass, with an emphasis on Oregon and France. Check its website for winemaker dinners, guided tastings, seasonal wine flights and regional wine dinners.
Toro Bravo makes its name with small plates and a local cred that it displays on a charkboard listing of its suppliers.
Le Pigeon is for the more adventurous diner and features a French-heavy wine list with some Oregon wines. Combine a great Northwest red, Angus beef and primo cigar at El Gaucho.
Portland has several notable wine bars including Bar Avignon, Kir, Metrovino, Noble Rot and Thirst.
Like the city itself, Portland's lodging choices present a choice of elegance, trendy, upscale or budget-conscious.
Portland's Hotel Vintage Plaza, a 117-room historic downtown hotel that offers nightly wine tastings, classes, wine-centric packages and a knowledgeable concierge. Pinot Noir fans might ask for the Pinot in Portland package, which includes a bottle of Pinot and two Reidel Oregon Pinot Noir glasses to keep.
Likewise, the Heathman (with its famous Beefeater doormen) offers a wine package that includes deluxe accommodations, continental breakfast, a bottle of organic Oregon Pinor Noir and a wine concierge.
Originally the Mallory Hotel, built in 1912, Hotel deLuxe reopened in 2006 after a renovation that restored the downtown hotel's Art Deco and Art Moderne look and now celebrates the golden film era of the 1940s and '50s.
Situated on the bank of the Willamette River in Portland's South Waterfront District, the Avalon Hotel and Spa offers 99 rooms, many with views of downtown's lights and of adjacent protected wildlife habitat.
Hotel Lucia downtown offers lavish rooms and services amid cutting-edge design.
A vintage bed & breakfast in Portland's northwest Irvington District, the Blue Plum Inn B&B offers a stately home base near downtown.
Portland is ridiculously easy to explore without relying on a car, thanks to excellent public transit and the city's inherent walkability. So take a stroll and check out:
Powell's City of Books takes up an entire city block and is considered by many to be the ultimate bookstore. The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a Ming Dynasty style walled garden with paths, bridges, pavilions exotic plants. Portland's Pearl District is popular with those seeking entertainment, galleries and nightlife. The City of Roses celebrates the rose at Washington Park's Rose Garden with nearly 7,000 rose bushes. Museums include the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Portland Art Museum and Oregon History Museum. Yes, you came here for the wine, but Portland also is famous for its craft breweries as well as a few spirit distilleries, including BridgePort and Clear Creek Distillery.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of post-Prohibition commercial wine grape growing in Oregon.
Those vines weren't planted in the Willamette Valley, and they weren't Pinot Noir. Instead, the late Richard Sommers made history at HillCrest in Roseburg with Riesling.
There is tremendous diversity to the Umpqua Valley, ranging from the maritime-influenced sites of the north near Elkton to Winston in the south, where the sun produces ample energy to ripen grape varieties native to Portugal and Spain.
The Umpqua Valley AVA was approved in 1984. It spans 70 miles and includes the Red Hill Douglas County AVA (2005). The largest city is Roseburg, home to the Southern Oregon Wine Institute at Umpqua Community College.
In some vintages, Umpqua Valley growers come to the rescue of Willamette Valley wineries with grapes that achieved more ripeness. That begins to explain why owners of Duck Pond Cellars in the Willamette Valley recently planted more than 250 acres of Pinot Noir near Sutherlin.
A few years ago, Sonoma-based critic Dan Berger referred to the Umpqua Valley as "America's last great undiscovered wine region." This will start you on the path to discovery.
The Umpqua Valley Winegrowers break their barrel tours into three categories:
-- North Tour: By heading south on Interstate 5 and turning west on Highway 38, a sports fan can go from watching a game at the University of Oregon to enjoying a glass of wine at Brandborg Vineyard & Winery in about an hour.
The New York Times ranked Terry Brandborg's Gewuerz-traminer among the best in the world, which begins to explain why he makes wines for several wineries in the valley. Indeed, the little town of Elkton (pop. 200) is home to three other wineries, Anindor, Bradley and River's Edge.
Sienna Ridge is the only vineyard and winery within the tiny Red Hill Douglas County AVA. A few miles south, near the town of Oakland, is MarshAnne Landing.
-- Mid-Valley: HillCrest Vineyard isn't the only winery in this area with history in its roots. Trellising methods developed by Scott Henry made not only him but also his namesake winery in Sutherlin famous. Reustle Prayer Rock Vineyards produced the first award-winning wine made in the country from the Austrian white variety Gruener Veltliner. Melrose loves the risk and reward of making remarkable wines, including Tempranillo, from a vineyard planted on a flood plain. Other wineries in the vicinity are Becker, Juliana, Misty Oaks and TeSoAria.
-- South Valley: Success with Iberian varieties Tempranillo and Albarino raised the profile of Abacela and the rest of the Umpqua Valley. And this spring, Earl and Hilda Jones opened their showpiece Vine and Wine Center.
Nearby, Delfino also is producing Temp, thanks to cuttings from Abacela. Philip Girardet planted his vineyard in 1971, and his son Marc has taken over making their well-known Baco Noir. Chateau Nonchalant got its start in 1998 just around the bend from Girardet.
Patrick Spangler's revived Syrah vines are within eyeshot of those driving along I-5, but nearly all of his award-winning wines use grapes from throughout Southern Oregon. Wild Rose Vineyard near Dillard remains committed to estate fruit and plans to expand. Farther south, just off I-5's exit 112, the folks at Pyrenees are new to the industry but know enough to have Terry Brandborg make their wines.
Fruit wines, particularly blackberry and cranberry, are the specialty at H.V. Cellars, founded as Hawks View Winery. Its new tasting room is on Highway 42, two miles east of Tenmile.
In Elkton, Tomaselli's Pastry Mill and Cafe is akin to an oasis in the desert, providing some of the best breakfast fare in Northwest wine country.
In Sutherlin, Pedotti's Italian Restaurant spotlights two Umpqua Valley wineries with tastings twice a month. And there is gluten-free fare.
In Roseburg, there's Anthony's Italian Cafe, Brix 527 and The Mark 5 Grill.
In Canyonville, the Camas Room at Seven Feathers Casino Resort offers fine dining.
And while best enjoyed as an overnight destination, Patricia Lee's Steamboat Inn is the setting each spring for arguably the most star-studded winemaker/chef dinners in the Northwest. It is 38 miles east of Roseburg on Highway 138.
Delfino Vineyards' B&B serves as a convenient, comfortable and peaceful base for touring the Umpqua.
Seven Feathers Casino Resort in Canyonville, south of Roseburg, is home to the annual Greatest of the Grape Festival and a chip shot away from I-5.
The Steamboat Inn, on the North Umpqua River, is a paradise for wine lovers, families and fly-fishing that enchanted author Zane Grey. Go to thesteamboatinn.com.
The Big K Guest Ranch in Elkton also takes an active interest in its winemaking neighbors.
Winston's Wildlife Safari includes a 4.5-mile drive for the chance to see some of the 500 residents. It's just over the hill from Abacela. The Umpqua River is home to some of West Coast's finest steelhead fishing.
To visit the Umpqua Valley Wineries site, go to umpqua valleywineries.org. A number of wineries also are members of the Southern Oregon Winery Association. Its site is sorwa.org. City of Roseburg's Visitors & Convention Bureau site is visitroseburg.com. Sutherlin Visitor's Info Center is found at visitsutherlin.com. A great resource for touring the Umpqua Valley and beyond is the Explore Oregon site at traveloregon.com.
Rogue & Applegate valleys
The closer to California, the deeper go the roots of grape growing. The Rogue Valley AVA, created in 1991, spans the counties of Jackson and Josephine and not only the namesake river drainage, but also Bear Creek, the Applegate Valley and the Illinois Valley.
In terms of size, its 2,500 acres of vines are more than the entire state of Idaho, and the major cities within the AVA are Ashland, Grants Pass, Jacksonville and Medford.
The Applegate Valley is where Valley View Winery, near the town of Jacksonville, has a history stretching to the 1870s. Most of the vineyards in the Rogue Valley AVA are along the Applegate River -- due south of Grants Pass -- and the Bear Creek Valley between Medford and Ashland.
However, the Illinois Valley can boast the southernmost vineyard in Oregon, as well as the pathway to both the Oregon Caves and the Pacific Ocean.
Here is your guide to touring the Rogue Valley AVA, which, along with the Umpqua Valley, became a sub-appellation of the much larger Southern Oregon AVA in 2004.
Cricket Hill, established in 1991 near the town of Ruch, ranks as one of the oldest wineries in the region. Madrone Mountain set up its tasting room in Central Point near the famed Rogue Creamery.
Between Grants Pass and Medford on Interstate 5, Del Rio Vineyard is one of Oregon's most important plantings. The 185-acre site in Gold Hill grows some of the best Syrah and Viognier in the Northwest. Rob Wallace now keeps some of that fruit to make award-winning wines under the Del Rio Vineyards label.
Shady Cove, north of Medford, on Highway 62, is the gateway to Crater Lake and home to Crater Lake Cellars.
In Talent, Trium began planting Pheasant Vineyard in 1990 and is one of the few Northwest wineries to bottle verjus.
In Medford, there's quite a legacy behind EdenVale Winery. The Stewart family first started farming the property in 1885 as a pear orchard. Four generations later, they are making wine and using the Voorhies Mansion as a centerpiece. The grounds also play host to a farmers market and a summer music series. And the family operates Enoteca Bistro in downtown Ashland. RoxyAnn Winery remains surrounded by orchards.
Weisinger's of Ashland, just off I-5 on the grade to Mount Ashland, blazed the trail for many in Southern Oregon when it opened in 1988. Its estate Petite Pompadour is traditionally one of the best Bordeaux-style wines in the region.
The Wisnovsky family knew its property once belonged to Applegate Valley pioneer Peter Britt. The photographer from California is recognized as the first to plant wine grapes in the 1850s at his home in current-day Jacksonville. In the 1870s, the federal government demanded taxes on the homemade wines he was selling to neighbors. That led to Britt buying vineyard property outside of town and creating Valley View Winery, which he operated until his death in 1906. So in 1972, the Wisnovskys dusted off that name and embraced it.
Don and Traute Moore founded Quail Run Vineyards in Talent in 1989 and grow the grapes for Willamette Valley Vineyards' Griffin Creek label. Only recently did they launch South Stage Cellars.
Herb Quady's kin is famous in California for dessert wines and aperitifs, but he's won Platinum awards from Wine Press Northwest for his work with Rhone grapes and Cabernet Franc. RedLily Vineyards shows its devotion to Tempranillo by having produced no wine from another variety since starting in 2003. Its tasting room debuts this summer. The Schmidt Family tasting room could be mistaken for the clubhouse at a golf course in Montana, except it is in Grants Pass. Rosella's Vineyard and Serra Vineyard (by appointment only) are next-door neighbors. Soloro, also in Grants Pass, crafts only Rhone varieties.
The late Dick Troon carved out his winery, Troon Vineyard, in 1972 between Grants Pass and Jacksonville with a notable pursuit of Zinfandel. In 2005, the Martin family took over. Also in Jacksonville is Devitt, while Wooldridge Creek is between Grants Pass and Jacksonville at Highway 238.
In the Illinois Valley, the Kerivans started Bridgeview Vineyards & Winery in 1982 and have grown it into one of Oregon's largest wineries with three vineyards totaling 205 acres. Their deliciously affordable Blue Moon line also stands out on shelves for its distinctive blue bottle. They operate a tasting room in Grants Pass, but their Cave Junction winery is a pleasant place to picnic. Across the highway to the Oregon Caves is Foris, and founder Ted Gerber planted five estate vineyards, giving him 180 acres to play with.
Drinking, not driving
Express Limousines in Medford features a dropdown link on its site for wine touring, addresses tasting room etiquette and posts some photos on Facebook via expresslimo.net. Taste of Honey Limousine Services in Central Point provides transportation for winesters starting at tasteofhoneylimo.com.
Ashland's culinary scene benefits from being home to Southern Oregon University and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and Chateaulin remains a supporter of regional wines. Amuse pours a number of Southern Oregon reds. The Winchester Inn Restaurant and Wine Bar is a true destination offering acclaimed cuisine, local wines and lodging.
Medford's nicer establishments include Bambu (Pan-Asian) and Elements, a tapas lounge. New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro has helped put Talent on the map. And the Jacksonville Inn boasts one of the best Northwest wine lists in the state as well as a tremendous wine shop. The Carriage House Restaurant at Nunan Estate is tasty alternative. Summer Jo's in Grants Pass maintains an organic farm and bakery, runs a wine shop, serves morning, noon and night, pours with a local winemaker each Thursday and stages winemaker dinners.
Country House Inns offers an incredible array of upscale options in the Rogue Valley. Three are in Grants Pass -- The Lodge at Riverside, The Weasku Inn and Riverside Inn. Five options await in Jacksonville -- the 32-room Stage Wine Country Inn, The McCully House Inn, Pine Street Cottage and The Reames House.
The Applegate Valley Inn, between the towns of Applegate and Murphy, features four rooms and its spring special will save you tasting room fees.
In the Illinois Valley, Bridgeview Winery operates the Kirbyville Inn B&B.
Want some cheese with that wine? Well, one of the best producers is North America is The Rogue Creamery, just west of I-5 in Central Point, north of Medford. The Britt Festival in Jacksonville is world famous as a summer-long concert series. Combine culture and entertainment in Ashland at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It began in 1935 and has grown to nearly 800 performances each year.
For outdoor activities, there's Crater Lake National Park to the east and the Oregon Caves to the west. And they named their river "The Rogue" for good reason. Go whitewater rafting via orangetorpedo.com. A jetboat trip can be booked through hellgate.com. To catch some big air, go to Rogue Valley Paragliding and Hangliding at rvhpa.org.
A good overview of Southern Oregon touring can start with southernoregon.com. To visit the Rogue Valley Winegrowers Association site and see a map, go to rvwinegrowers.org. To visit the Applegate Valley Wine Trail, go to applegatewinetrail.com. A number of wineries also are members of the Southern Oregon Winery Association. Information can be found at sorwa.org. The Grants Pass Visitors & Convention Bureau is at visitgrantspass.org. Medford Visitors Convention Bureau, go to visitmedford.org. A great resource for touring the southernmost part of Oregon is the Explore Oregon site at traveloregon.com.
This story was originally published June 15, 2011 12:00 AM.