Planning a Visit to Willamette Valley Wine Region
Sip, Explore and Stay In Oregon Wine Country
Visit Willamette Valley – If you are planning to visit the Oregon Wine Country, the Willamette Valley Wine Region is one to surely put on your list. The Willamette Valley has over two-thirds of Oregon’s Vineyards and is now home to over 700 wineries and vineyards. Oregon Wines have made a significant mark in the wine industry and as a popular travel wine destination. The Oregon Pinot Noirs are awarding-winning wines and their winemakers produce some of the best in the world.
Up until 1979, which is not so long ago, the Willamette Valley Wineries and the presence of vineyards and winemaking in Oregon were somewhat of a fledgling undertaking. The tides turned shortly after Oregon vintner David Lett returned from a blind tasting in France where he was invited to submit a red wine to go up against the haughty, aristocratic French, German and Italian vintages, including the illustrious French Burgundies and similar European varietals.
Willamette Valley History
Willamette Valley History. This came only three short years after the California wine industry put their name on the map at a similar competition in France creating the “French Paradox” with an award-winning Chardonnay. Lett stunned the judges in the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades in 1979 finishing among the top 10 out of over 330 entrants. It was a mere year later that renowned French Burgundian winemaker, Robert Drouhin, stepped up and instigated a re-match. To even greater acclaim, Lett’s Pinot finished second to Drouhin’s Chambolle-Mussigny, by only two-tenths. Not a surprise that Drouhin, then himself crossed the pond to the open his Oregon Domaine Drouhin in the stunning town of Dayton in the Willamette Valley.
Thus the “Oregon Story” was created which put an impressive stake on the map for the Oregon-made French-Style Pinot Noirs. Lett had left the Napa Valley only 10 years prior, shortly after studying at UC Davis. Despite the advice against it from his viticulture colleagues, Lett left his native California to put his own stake in the terroirs of the Pacific Northwest. His hunches proved him right.
The Oregon Story – David Lett
Lett’s success from the competition fueled his notoriety stemming from the accolades he gained as a result of the infamous competition with his Eyrie Vineyards South Block Pinot Noir. A short 15 years down the road from the renowned competition in France; Oregon exploded on the wine scene bringing some of his doubtful colleagues from the UC Davis and other eager winemaking pioneers, many from the Napa Valley, to jump on the bandwagon to lay their roots in the rich Oregon soils.
The richness of the valley’s soils can be attributed to the Missoula Floods from the Glacial Lake Missoula which impacted the region more than 40 times at the end of the ice age over 13,000 years ago. Floodwaters swept into the region bringing rich volcanic and glacier soil. You will find that a good majority of the wineries in the area are perched on knolls or hillside vineyards where the most optimum soils for grape growing are found.
The Willamette Valley has over two-thirds of Oregon’s Vineyards and is now home to over 700 wineries and vineyards, with many vintners who found their way there from the Napa Valley. The region known initially for their outstanding Pinot Noir production has brought in many notable varietals to great success, such as Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc and in addition, further expanding is the burgeoning sparkling wine production with the méthode champenoise. Some of the lesser produced varietals in the region are Syrah, Cabernet, and Merlot. There are 6 sub-appellations in the Willamette Valley – Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill-Carlton.
Where to Sip:
Well-known Napa Valley Vintner creator of Etude Wines, Tony Soter, who was a 30 plus year veteran in winemaking in the Napa Valley, left the Valley in 2007. Much to the surprise of his colleagues, he took off for Oregon to go full time at the winery he owned since the mid-1990s with his wife Michelle, Soter Vineyards. He was an applauded consulting winemaker for Napa Valley well-known wineries, such as Stags Leap Wine Cellars, Shafer, Sequoia Grove, Viader, Robert Pepi, Etude, Chappellet, Spottswoode, Dalle Valle, Spring Mountain, Niebaum Coppola, and Stonegate.
Michelle and Tony working together formed a dynamic team to follow in their own philosophy to consistently produce the highest caliber of wines that treads softly on the earth utilizing his over 4-decades of expertise and dedication to allow the character of the land to resonate in wines.
Their stunning winery is in an architecturally re-crafted 1943 barn where open spaces abound, and views of the surrounding hills resonate with every turn. They also have a state-of-the-art kitchen for wine events on the property. They are located in the Yamhill-Carton AVA on a 240-acre bio-dynamic farm planted to 32 acres of vines including 30 acres of Pinot and 2 acres of Chardonnay which they use for their award-winning Brut Rose. In addition to their Mineral Springs location, they also have a second property that showcases their North Valley Vineyards Label and their Planet Oregon wines where $1 from the proceeds of every bottle sold is donated to the Oregon Environmental Council.
: Tastings by Reservation: Mineral Springs Ranch 10880 NE Mineral Springs Road, Carlton 97111 www.sotervineyards.com503-662-5600
The Moore family originally from the Napa Valley also migrated to the Yamhill Carlton AVA several decades ago. Ronald Moore was a cargo pilot and his wife, Linda was a software consultant. They were in search of a retirement venture with the mission of getting back to the land. The Willamette Valley drew them in with Its rolling hills and cool climates and the region’s notoriety for growing outstanding Pinots. Their 50-acre family farm is adjacent to the land owned by Trappist Abbey who helped the Moores clear their land for planting in 2000. The creation for the winery name was inspired by the actual gate entering to the Trappist Abbey estate, which was actually built to allow the monks to access the land over the years. Today sits a statue near the gateway of Saint Francis of Assisi commemorating their frequent passages across the lands.
The vineyard is dry-farmed and also sustainably farmed to ensure that it will be environmentally and economically viable for generations to come. It is a two-generation operation, as their daughter Rebecca Moore also transplanted to the family compound from the Bay area and is the overall hands-on chief for every aspect for the winery from driving the tractor to pouring in the tasting room. Of the 50 acres, twenty are planted to Pinot Noir and Riesling.
: Carlton: Tastings by appointment: Open Thursday to Monday 12-5: www.monksgate.com503-852-6521
Dr. Madaiah Revana who is the proprietor of Napa Valley’s Revana Family Vineyards in Saint Helena had a love of the great wines of Burgundy and in 2005 began a search for the ideal location for his winery in Oregon. In addition to seeking out the perfect parcel of land for his winery and vineyards, he was also in search for a premier winemaker of Burgundian-style wines in the Willamette Valley. His quest led him to Lynn Penner-Ash, who had transplanted years before to this Pinot Noir abundant region from the Napa Valley.
Both Lynn and Dr. Revana were of the same philosophy with a commitment to producing world-class wines. Lynn’s vivid descriptions of the soils, the micro-climates, and elevations that would create the ultimate growing environment, presented them with a specific focus. They came upon the perfect location in the Dundee Hills, which offered 80-acres of which coincidentally sixteen acres had already been meticulously planted to Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris and the next year the launched Alexana Winery with their first estate 2006 vintages of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Today in addition to their stunning Pinot Noir Collection, they also offer Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, a Bordeaux Blend, and a Rhone Blend. Keep an eye out for the touring helicopters which frequently bring in guests for a wine tasting experience at Alexana.
: Newberg: Reservations Preferred and a must for parties of 6 or more: www.alexanawinery.com503-537-3100
Penner-Ash Wine Cellars
After getting her kick-start in the wine business at Domaine Chandon and Stags Leap in Napa, Lynn Penner-Ash decided to leave for Oregon in 1988 to work at Rex Hill Winery as one of Oregon’s first female winemakers. Thirty years later as a renowned veteran winemaker, she and her husband Ron Penner-Ash celebrate the success of their mutually collaborated Penner-Ash brand which they founded in 1998.
In 2005, they designed and built their sustainable, gravity-flow estate winery in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, though their portfolio of wines also includes varietals from 7 major AVA’s of the Willamette Valley. Their winery, tasting room, and perfectly landscaped grounds offer majestic 360-degree views from their hillside perch overlooking the stunning vineyards of surrounding Newberg area.
In addition to their award-winning Pinot Noirs, they also produce Viognier, Roseo, Riesling, and Syrah.
: Newberg: Open 7 Days 11am to 5pm: Reservations Preferred and a must for parties of 6 or more: www.pennerash.com503-554-5545
Eugenia Keegan, Estate Manager and Winemaker at Gran Moraine, part of the Jackson Family Wines, continued her wine career in the eighties in Napa Valley after working in Burgundy for several years honing her skills in Burgundian style wines. Upon arriving back in Napa, she took on the post as Bouchaine’s business manager at their Carneros location during their start-up days, and then later being promoted to President and CEO. In the late 90’s she moved over to Vine Cliff Winery in Oakville as president. In 2003, she took the plunge and moved on to the Henry Wine Group in Oregon until 2009. Prior to taking over at Gran Moraine in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Eugenia managed her own wine brand on two different continents, Keegan Cellars in Russian River and Roussillon, France.
Gran Moraine, founded in 2014, is located in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA on 220 acres planted to the classic Burgundian varietals of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the hillsides behind the winery. Teaming up with Shane Moore – Winemaker and Ken Kupperman – Vineyard Director, they have certainly created the trifecta for success at Gran Moraine. She is indeed a grand dame of Pinot Noir the Willamette Valley and continues to be committed to sustainable practices and creating elegance and finesse in a glass.
: Yamhill: Open Daily: 11am to 5pm: www.granmoraine.com855-831-6631
Gary and Nancy Andrus founders of Napa Valley’s Pine Ridge Winery expanded their wine world and opened Archery Summit in 1993. Now owned by the Crimson Wine Group, Archery Summit now lays claim to an expanding vineyard portfolio which includes 6 vineyards across 120 estate acres in Dayton in the Dundee Hills. They are known for producing some of the most luxurious New World Pinot Noirs.
They celebrate over two decades of crafting their estate-grown pinots and have just introduced their newest estate vineyard, Archer’s Edge. Winemaker, Ian Burch, has worked harvests across Sonoma County, Barossa Valley, New Zealand, and South Africa before settling in the Willamette Valley in 2008. Many of their Pinots have received outstanding marks from both Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.
: Dayton: Open Daily except Holidays: 10am to 4pm: Please call Tasting Room for Appointments or Availability: 503-714-2030: www.archerysummit.com
A visit to Domaine Drouhin is also a must to put on your list when visiting the Willamette Valley as its roots take you back to wine country in Burgundy where it all started 130 years ago when Maison Joseph Drouhin introduced their outstanding Pinot Noirs to the world. Run now by fourth-generation Drouhin’s at the helm, Veronique Boss-Drouhin, and Philippe Drouhin. Domaine Drouhin Oregon was built in 1988 for $10,000,000 in the Dundee Hills by then patriarch Robert Drouhin.
Their Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays continue the family legacy and tradition of fine winemaking in France and now in Oregon with finesse and elegance. As the saying goes, “French Soul, Oregon Soil.”
: Dayton: Open Daily 11am to 4pm: For larger groups, please call Tasting Room for Appointments and Tours: www.domainedrouhin.com: 503-864-2700
(Please note that when visiting many of the Wineries in Willamette Valley, picnicking and outside food may not be permitted)
Where to Stay
The Allison Inn and Spa
Celebrating their 10thAnniversary, The Allison Inn and Spa offers guests a casually elegant and luxurious experience in the heart of the Willamette Valley. No attention to detail has been overlooked at this stunning spa resort hosting 77 luxury guest rooms and 8 suites all with gas fireplaces, a terrace or balcony, and spa-like bathrooms with outstanding views of the luscious landscape of the surrounding rolling hills and vineyards. No other place in the Willamette Valley offers this kind of unique guest experience. Whether you are taking off right from the property on a helicopter tour, a luxury private car, a hot air balloon, or even by horseback, the Allison can personalize your visit and choose from more than 200 area wineries. They will also prepare a customized picnic basket to take along with you.
Upon your return from tasting some of the best Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays in the world, take time to chill a little in their award-winning spa offering an extensive spa menu utilizing the energies, and ecological elements stemmed from the fertile soils of the Willamette Valley.
Dining at the Jory Restaurant at the Allison provides yet another memorable sensory experience. This one is offering a journey that accentuates the native flavors of the region sourcing seasonal and farm to table products in every dish specially prepared to create your culinary memory of the Willamette Valley.
: 2525 Allison Lane, Newberg, OR: www.theallison.com: 877-294-2525
Black Walnut Inn and Vineyards
If it is a luxury bed and breakfast you are in search of, then look no further than the exquisite Black Walnut Inn and Vineyards in the Dundee Hills. This majestic Inn is nestled on a knoll surrounded by rolling vineyards on their 42 acres. Each of the nine guest rooms all with private baths are uniquely adorned with their individual designer décor, many with balconies or private patios. These inviting rooms offer guests a relaxing retreat where you will enjoy spectacular evening sunsets and vistas on your patio with an afternoon glass of wine from their expansive wine cellar along with a Charcuterie and Cheeseboard.
You can expect your stay to be absolutely memorable as this dynamic property sets the stage for the perfect romantic getaway. Before rushing out to a full day of visiting the region’s wineries, you will indulge in Black Walnuts Inn’s signature breakfast where each dish is made to order with the freshest of local ingredients. What a perfect way to start your perfect day! Owners Rick and Erika Miller are hands-on hosts who look after your every need.
: 9600 NE Worden Hill Road, Dundee, OR: www.blackwalnutvineyard.com 503-538-8663