Where distinction is grown.
By Andrew Collins
As you explore the gentle slopes, quiet country lanes and babbling creeks of the lower Willamette Valley, you’ll discover a swath of easygoing farming communities punctuated by two vibrant hubs of higher education, Corvallis and Eugene. Downtown and country tasting rooms with friendly staff are happy to share their passion for Oregon wine, including the Pinot noirs for which the region is known.
You’ll discover more than 50 wineries strung through this long, sweeping valley, including a cluster south of Salem around the town of Jefferson that includes St. Innocent Winery, with its sip-and-savor food-and-wine experiences, and Mexican American family-owned Cória Estates, which serves light charcuterie and offers spectacular hilltop vistas.
In 2021 the hub of wineries around Monroe and Junction City became the lower Willamette Valley’s first “nested” AVA, Lower Long Tom AVA. This hilly region known for its silty Bellpine soil has a dozen wineries, among them Walnut Ridge, Brigadoon and High Pass Winery, which has a new tasting room and patio with fantastic views of the Coast Range mountains.
Oregon’s second-largest city, Eugene, supports an acclaimed urban wine scene. At Civic Winery & Wines, sip natural wines from around the world in the inviting wine bar and bottle shop. Oregon Wine Lab, which pours from its own William Rose Wines line as well as from other small vineyards, also features craft beers and ciders. Drive through gorgeous surrounding countryside to visit several more notable wine operations, such as Silvan Ridge and iconic King Estate, with its farm-to-table restaurant.
A diverse and exciting culinary destination, Eugene continues to celebrate new spots, like Nelson’s in the Whit, which serves boldly flavored Mexican fare, and Yardy Eugene, a popular food truck that offers West Indian-style skillet-fried chicken and garlicky plantains. Try Akira for stellar omakase tasting menus of exquisite sushi, Lion & Owl for sophisticated brunch fare, Party Bar for oysters and picnic supplies, and Bar Purlieu for French meets Pacific Northwest dishes. For a caffeine pick-me-up, check out trendy Farmers Union Coffee Roasters.
Kick off a day of wine touring around Philomath with a hearty breakfast at the Dizzy Hen. Nearby Eats & Treats Cafe serves up slow-cooked barbecue. In Corvallis, The Bière Library specializes in Belgian beers and frites. Sybaris Bistro is perfect for a romantic evening in historic downtown Albany, and it’s worth the pretty drive to tiny Falls City to feast at the endearingly quirky Boondocks bar and grill.
Downtown Eugene and the University of Oregon — with its renowned museums and sports and performing-arts venues — offer plenty to see and do. Check out the colorful 5th Street Public Market and its surrounding blocks for hip retailers and eateries. Buy a week’s worth of salad fixins at the Lane County Farmers Market on Tuesdays and Saturdays. A long-standing tradition, the Eugene Saturday Market features food vendors, live music and artisans. South of town, near family-owned Abbelone Vineyard, nature lovers enjoy seeing birds of prey at the Cascades Raptor Center and hiking the 2,058-foot summit of Spencer Butte.
North of Eugene, you’ll find more opportunities for enjoying the outdoors. Stop by William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge to watch for migrating geese and other birdlife. Hike Marys Peak and Bald Hill Natural Area west of Philomath, or stroll the Rose Garden in Corvallis’ Avery Park. Albany is well worth a visit to explore its historic districts. Kids love riding the hand-carved animals at the Historic Carousel & Museum.
In Eugene, stay in stylish design hotels like the Inn at the 5th and art-centric Gordon Hotel. The refined Excelsior Inn is close to the University of Oregon campus, and the historic Campbell House Inn lies at the base of Skinner Butte.
The Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Corvallis has a pleasant riverside location, while the Best Western Plus Prairie Inn, beside Timber Linn Memorial Park, is a comfortable option in Albany. Beside Riverview Park on the Willamette River, the stylish Independence hotel is a perfect base for exploring the wineries south of Salem.
WINE TRAILS Heart of Willamette
This network of 20 wineries and tasting rooms around Corvallis and Salem will feel like your own secret discovery. Pick up a passport at any participating winery or at the Visit Corvallis visitor center, or download a digital passport. Don’t miss the wood-fired pizza and views overlooking the national wildlife refuge at Ankeny Vineyard in Salem, as well as the picnic area, bocce ball court and panoramic views at Cardwell Hill Cellars in Philomath.
WINE TRAILS South Willamette Wine Trail
Find more than 20 tasting rooms with the perfect mix of urban vibes and rural charm along the South Willamette Wine Trail, which includes the newly established Lower Long Tom AVA. Benton-Lane Winery is a great spot for sipping sustainably produced wine on what is a historic sheep ranch in Monroe. Take in the sweeping vineyard views at Five Fourteen Vineyards in Junction City, or cozy up by the fireplace in the Italian grotto-like tasting room at Pfeiffer Winery just 10 miles north.
This article appears in the 2023-24 Oregon Wine Touring Guide. Order your free copy today.