Itinerary: North Willamette Valley

Itinerary: North Willamette Valley

Where to eat, drink, and play for two days in wine country

By Danielle Centoni

The North Willamette Valley offers an exquisite juxtaposition of old and new, rustic and chic. Tours along the area’s quiet country roads wind past both humble farmstands and stunning, modern tasting rooms pouring some of the world’s best Pinot noir, Pinot gris, and Chardonnay. It’s a place where you can go from U-pick farm to luxury spa in minutes, all while surrounded by the pastoral beauty of the Pacific Northwest. With hundreds of wineries to choose from, you’ve got a lot of exploring to do.

Day 1

To fully experience the Willamette Valley’s bucolic appeal, travel the back roads. From the Portland metro area, head south on Highway 47, through farmlands, to the hamlet of Carlton, population 2,147. Here, tucked among the old barns, silos, and century-old buildings festooned with murals, are more than 20 wine tasting rooms—the most per capita of any city in the United States.

Stop into Dominio IV’s farmhouse, where bottles of biodynamic Riesling, Chardonnay, Syrah, and Grenache come labeled with winemaker Patrick Reuter’s abstract paintings containing his tasting notes. In the heart of town, boutiques along the main drag offer everything from handmade jewelry to original artwork at Wallow Gallery. Newcomer Carlton & Coast Tavern is already a town mainstay for juicy pub burgers, trays of thick-cut fries, and taps of local beers and wine.

Coeur de Terre by Carolyn Wells-Kramer

Due east, two-lane Highway 240 rolls past lush pastures between the Chehalem Mountains and the Dundee Hills, with blue signs pointing the way to some of the region’s most iconic wineries, including Adelsheim Vineyard and Penner-Ash Wine Cellars. Ready for someone else to take the wheel? At the Inn at Red Hills in Dundee, you can ditch the car for the NW Wine Shuttle, the region’s first hop on hop-off bus service.

Continue the day in the McMinnville Foothills, where the higher elevation vineyards of Coeur de Terre cultivate intense Pinot noirs rich in tannins and acidity, or at Maysara Winery known for its Biodynamically farmed Pinot noir, Pinot gris, and Pinot blanc. Luxurious digs await each evening at the newly opened Atticus Hotel in downtown McMinnville.

Day 2

In the morning, grab a free Dutch cruiser bike from the Atticus and pedal to McMinnville’s Granary District, an emerging artisan enclave, home to hot spots like the industrial-chic Flag & Wire Coffee. For hearty appetites, hit the road for cinnamon roll pancakes at Block House Cafe, set in an 1880s church in Dayton.

Van Duzer Vineyards by Carolyn Wells-Kramer

From there, drop down Highway 99, alongside the rolling foothills and one of Oregon’s newest AVAs, the Van Duzer Corridor, where waves of cool, marine air create a microclimate that influences grape development. Start with Johan Vineyards for evocative varieties such as Grüner Veltliner, Pinot noir, and Pinot gris. Nearby Left Coast Estate sits amid 500 acres of vines, ranging from Chardonnay to Viognier and was recently named one of the country’s top 10 tasting rooms by USA Today. Next, hit the trails of Basket Slough National Wildlife Refuge, home to hundreds of species of birds. Cap the day’s sampling at Van Duzer Vineyards, where a stunning patio and tasting room survey the surrounding countryside.

On the way back to McMinnville, stop at Blue Raeven farmstand in Amity for divine pies, jams, and pickles, or stop for treats at the Brigittine Monastery, which offers fudge made by monks—naturally, it’s a match made in heaven for any Willamette Valley experience.