Exploring Oregon Wine Country, part 2
I promised you part two of exploring Oregon wine country and here it is.
There are a few tips that I can share with you after our weekend tour of Oregon wine country. First of all, pick one area to focus on for a couple of days. With over 400 wineries, the area to cover is vast and confusing if you don’t stick with one small area to visit.
Second, take a tour of one vineyard first thing in the morning then meander for the rest of the day. (Tours are a definite must to appreciate how difficult it is to grow those temperamental pinot noir grapes!) Do no more than 3-5 wineries in one day with lunch between them. “Palate burnout” happens after about three tasting rooms and then all the wine starts tasting the same. Take a picnic lunch to enjoy some of the gorgeous views at a vineyard or roll into one of the towns for top flight food. (Good wine does attract good food!) At the very least, take some cheese and fruit to snack on between tasting rooms.
I recommend the Newberg/ Dundee area for starters. They have some of the top wineries in a condensed area that makes it easy to roll from one tasting room to another. Some of my favorite wineries of this area were Sokol Blosser, Domanie Drouhin, White Rose and Archery Summit. Sokol Blosser, an organic vintner, has a very informative tour of the sustainable facility. (Since this is Oregon, a large number of the wineries are sustainable in their practices.)
If you would like to go the road less traveled, the Yamhill/Carlton/Gaston area, called “Sip 47” is another great vineyard filled area to explore. Also the “back” side of Newberg is a lovely, winery occupied region that is so beautiful to drive through. We were there during Mother’s day and the tasting rooms were calm and attentive.
My favorites in that area are Beaux Freres, Trisaetum, Penner Ash and Bergstrom. (Bergstrom has the BEST picnic area and crackers!) Beaux Freres, a fully sustainable organic facility, is open only by appointment, but well worth it! Their tour was very interesting and their wines exemplify the expressive pinot noir. Their winegrower, owner Michael Etzel, does most of his winemaking in the field so that the grapes speak for themselves. This makes for a highly animated wine. They also wave the tasting fee if you buy a bottle of wine.
One thing to be aware of is that these small, locally wineries are more expensive than the normal bottle of wine from the grocery store. In fact, I learned the reason I have never really tasted a great pinot noir. It is because the really good ones are expensive. Unlike some of the work horse grapes like Cabernet and Merlot, the pinot noir grape is like working with a high strung thoroughbred. It takes a lot of money and time.
I never felt obligated or pressured to buy any of the wines. All the tasting rooms were gracious and tolerant of our ignorance. Also the tastings, called “flights”, which include 4-5 wines, cost between $10 to $15 per glass, not person. We found that two people can easily share one tasting glass.
Memorial Day and Thanksgiving weekends are the big celebrated events in Oregon wine country. Every winery is open from the big opulent ones down to the micro wineries for tastings and food. This Memorial Day weekend has participating vineyards donating a portion of their proceeds to Farm to School programs.
The best web site to check out wine country events and news on is willamettewines.com. They also have an extensive list of places to stay in the area and a fantastic a map of wine country. I recommend emailing them to send you the map, which is too big to print. You can also pick one up at the first vineyard that you visit, just ask for it.
Exploring Oregon wine country is a highly recommend experience. Being on the taste hunt of the luscious, unpredictable pinot noir will not be easily forgotten. (Unless you drink too much!) Remember to bring a designated driver and slow down to take pleasure in this new viticulture in Oregon’s backyard.