By Andrew Collins
When people talk about Oregon’s classic Burgundy-inspired Pinot noir and Chardonnay, and Alsace-inspired Pinot gris, they’re often fondly remembering wines produced in the northern half of this fertile valley just outside of Portland. More than 330 wineries, including some of the state’s oldest operations, thrive here among the 11 distinct federally recognized AVAs. You’ll also find picturesque small towns with sophisticated culinary scenes.
Taste the exceptional wines of the upper Willamette Valley in its downtown tasting rooms. It’s easy to walk from spot to spot in down-town Newberg, Dundee, Carlton and McMinnville. The region also has numerous scenic roads dotted with picturesque vineyards — try Highway 47 from Forestville to Gaston, Highway 12 west of Dundee and Highway 153 east of Amity.
In the rolling hills of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, three members of the esteemed Jackson Family Wines group — Gran Moraine, Penner-Ash Wine Cellars and WillaKenzie Estate — earn praise for their exceptional wines and lovely tasting rooms. Famed Willamette Valley Vineyards continues to expand its operations. In September 2022, the 40-year-old vintner opened a new sparkling-wine center, Domaine Willamette, at Dayton’s Bernau Estate Vineyard.
In Dallas, 15 miles west of Salem, you can explore the Mount Pisgah AVA, established in 2022. This compact but densely planted area contains 584 planted acres and three wineries, including Illahe, which offers tastings on a sunny patio with sweeping valley views, and Amalie Robert Estate, a favorite for its elegantly refined Pinot noirs.
Choose from a number of seasonally driven, farm-to-table restaurants of exceptional quality. Consider Matthew Lightner’s exquisite tasting menus at ōkta and the shareable plates at Humble Spirit. Both of these stylish eateries are steps from downtown McMinnville’s many tasting rooms as well as the urbane HiFi Wine Bar. In Carlton, Earth & Sea pairs gorgeously plated steak and seafood dishes with Oregon wines.
The Dayton-Dundee corridor is another hub of superb dining featuring local ingredients. Try romantic classics like Joel Palmer House, Dundee Bistro and Tina’s. Amid the tasting rooms of lively Newberg, tuck into a bowl of bouilla-baisse at the stylish Newbergundian Bistro, or savor braised lamb shoulder on the quaint patio at Recipe Neighborhood Kitchen.
On the valley’s east side, Filberts Farmhouse Kitchen puts a local spin on comfort classics, while dapper Magnolia Grill is an enticing spot for brunch or dinner in Silverton. Fans of Mexican food should check out Luis’s Taqueria in downtown Woodburn.
Enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the valley on a hot-air balloon tour from Newberg’s Vista Balloon Adventures, or by going zip lining and then conquering the aerial obstacle course at Tree to Tree Adventure Park in Gaston. You can also explore the inside of Howard Hughes’ wooden plane, the Spruce Goose, at McMinnville’s Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. Next door at Wings and Waves Waterpark, kids love splashing around the pools and slides, including one that twists through the fuselage of a Boeing 747.
The region’s farmers markets offer a bounty of fresh produce, plus baked goods, Oregon seafood and, yes, even wine. Be sure to stop if you see one in Carlton, Gaston and Newberg. In Dayton, sample olive oil straight from the mill at Durant at Red Ridge Farms — next to the farm’s excellent winery — and cheeses at Dundee’s Briar Rose Creamery.
Champoeg State Heritage Area offers a prime riverside locale that’s ideal for picnicking, strolling and biking. To the east, cool down on the mossy, evergreen-shaded trails that lead to waterfalls at Silver Falls State Park.
Hip, contemporary design is a hallmark of many area lodgings. Consider the sleek Airstreams at The Vintages Trailer Resort, the smartly furnished rooms at both the Atticus Hotel and the new Tributary Hotel in downtown McMinnville, and the chic digs at The Setting Inn, which is surrounded by gardens and meadows in Newberg.
Nearby, the stunning Allison Inn & Spa ranks among the most luxurious wine-country hideaways in the Pacific Northwest. Be sure to dine at the hotel’s Jory restaurant after a massage or a day in the area’s tasting rooms. In Silverton, stroll the verdant grounds of the Oregon Garden Resort before dinner at its excellent restaurant.
For a more intimate overnight experience, consider Amity’s Bella Collina or Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard in Dundee, both with sweeping vineyard views, or Carlton’s Abbey Road Farm, whose plush suites are set inside converted former grain silos.
WINE TRAILS Downtown Newberg Wineries
Where can you find five superb tasting rooms all within a mile of each other? Historic downtown Newberg’s bustling blocks transform wine tasting into a convenient, walkable adventure you can share with friends and family over an afternoon or a multiday experience. At the gateway to North Willamette Valley wine country, the town is packed with chef-driven restaurants, boutique shops and art gal-leries to explore. Sip a flight on Anam Cara Cellars’ charming wine patio. Sample the Syrah in a refurbished bank building at Cliff Creek Cellars, where the grapes are sourced from the family’s 100-year-old estate vineyard. Taste the exceptional wines at Chehalem Winery, which imbues stewardship for the land into its processes from start to finish.
WINE TRAILS Mt. Hood Territory Wine Trail
What’s better than feeling like you’re at a friend’s backyard party with your favorite handcrafted wine? The Mt. Hood Territory Wine Trail will set your heart soaring as you kick back on the patio and meet the winemakers. Sip single- vineyard premium wines with majestic Mt. Hood views at Pete’s Mountain Vineyard & Winery in West Linn. Try a white Pinot noir at Whiskey Hill Winery in Canby. Sip the latest vintage next to the red barn and lush flower gardens at Hanson Vineyards in Woodburn. Download the free passport to the trail for discounts at the 15 partici-pating wineries and to earn a steel wine tumbler. mthoodterritory.com/winetrail
This article appears in the 2023-24 Oregon Wine Touring Guide. Order your free copy today.