World-class wine grower Oregon offers visitors 16 American Viticultural Areas, over 600 wineries, and 900-plus vineyards growing 72 varieties of grapes. Oregon’s biggest and most beloved AVA is the Willamette Valley, aka the “anti-Napa.”
Spanning 5,200 square miles of rolling farmland, the Willamette Valley boasts more than 400 wineries, most of which turn out Pinot Noirs on par with Burgundy.
The Valley’s six sub-appellations just celebrated their 50th winemaking anniversary in 2015. Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill-Carlton promise bucolic scenery, intimate boutique wineries, and a vibrant food scene to go with. Just an hour or two by car from Portland, the Willamette Valley is an oenophile’s dream destination.
I’ve bumped around Oregon, have friends in Oregon, and frankly love the Oregon wine country so here are 25 of our favorite stops to put on your 2016 resolutions list. Note: This is not a ranking of winery tours rather an alphabetical collection of some of the best. Enjoy!
#1 Adelsheim Vineyard
Relaxed, unhurried, and serene is how visitors describe the tasting experience at Adelsheim. You’ll enjoy a large variety of small production, single vineyard pours while the gracious and knowledgeable staff chats you up for a measly $15 (refundable if you spend $45). Spring for the by-appointment tasting experience staged in the dining room, barrel caves, or garden, and customize your selections with limited bottlings and library selections. $75 per person, refundable if you buy a case. A true steal.
#2 ArborBrook Vineyards
Neighbors to Adelsheim, ArborBrook owners Dave and Mary Hansen personally welcome guests into their converted horse barn, making this tasting experience as intimate as you’d hope at a family-run boutique winery. They pour generous amounts of exceptional wines paired with crackers, blue cheese, and hazelnuts. The kids can run around on the huge patio while Dave educates you on the wonders of his clones. For $10 you’ll sample several wines, including the raved about dessert Semillon named for daughter Sydney. For an additional $5, they’ll toss in a few reserves and limited productions.
#3 Archery Summit Winery
This magnificent winery built into the side of a vine-covered hill is the perfect place to linger a while. Go behind the scenes for an in-depth exploration of the gravity flow winery. Archery Summit’s educational tour features a walk-through demonstration vineyard where you’ll learn about clones and rootstock and enjoy some serious barrel tasting in the caves. Sip four of the winery’s five-star Pinot Noirs and learn esoteric winemaker secrets. Available three times daily by appointment for $40 per person. Just do it!
#4 Argyle Vineyard
Argyle is easy to find; just look for the historic Victorian farmhouse in downtown Dundee right on Highway 99, and then make your way to the brand new state-of-the-art Tasting House behind it. The classic barrel room and cellars were recently converted into a shiny new wine hospitality center, complete with a wine library showcasing their 4,000+ bottle collection. Argyle’s Tirage Library is full of their renowned sparkling wines held on yeast since 1987. Choose one of three tasting flights for $15.
#5 Cherry Hill Winery
This newly constructed 12,000-square-foot winery in the Eola-Amity Hills region offers stunning views of the vineyard and the surrounding ambling hills. Pair your Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, or dry Rose with dark chocolate-covered dried cherries as you relax on the patio. Cherry Hill Vineyard is planted on the site of a cherry orchard, and the winery’s neighbors turn out the sweetest Royal Ann cherries drenched in chocolate to accompany the three handcrafted estate Pinot Noirs.
#6 Colene Clemens Vineyards
Another must-visit family owned vineyard and winery dedicated to the production of estate grown Pinot Noir, the panoramic views from the tasting room span from Bald Peak to the Coast Range. You’re welcome to bring a picnic, and your well-behaved leashed dog, and relax on the terrace. Owners Joe and Vicki Stark named their dream adventure Colene Clemens Vineyards and Winery in honor of Vicki’s mother. They have set their hearts on producing the “perfect” Pinot Noir. Stop in and let them know how they’re doing.
#7 De Ponte Cellars
Don’t overlook this producer of elegant Pinot Noir found atop an oak and fern-lined gravel road in the heart of the Dundee Hills. A tasting fee of $15 gets you four of their current releases sipped in the comfort of a living-room-like tasting room. Feel free to bring food and picnic on the patio overlooking the surrounding countryside. De Ponte might be a hidden gem today, but don’t expect it to remain that way. There is a 4,500-square-foot retreat home on the 17 acres you can rent for an incomparable getaway.
#8 Domaine Drouhin Oregon
High up in the Dundee Hills with jaw-dropping views of the valley below, Domaine Drouhin is a stunning chateau set amid 225 acres of heaven. Sister to the French Maison Drouhin, Robert Drouhin brought the family name from Burgundy to the Willamette Valley in 1987. The tasting room is infused with natural light and warm wood. An informative and non-pretentious staff pours a generous selection of the refined Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay for $10 at the upstairs tasting bar. Take your glass out to the patio and drink in the expansive view.
#9 Domaine Serene Winery
Grace and Ken Evenstad are true visionaries in Oregon’s luxury wine industry. They purchased a 42-acre hilltop estate that had just been logged in the Dundee Hills in 1989, named the winery after their daughter, Serene, and bottled the first vintage in 1990. In April 2015, the Evenstads took their vision of producing world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to new heights by purchasing Château de la Crée, a Burgundy wine estate in the Côte d’Or. Domaine Serene currently offers three tastings sure to delight every palate: the casual Estate Tasting for $20, the seated and curated Prestige Tasting for $40, and the Exquisite Tour and Tasting that includes rare and limited-production Chardonnay and Pinot Noir for $60 per person.
#10 Elk Cove Vineyards
Pat and Joe Campbell founded old-timer Elk Cove Vineyards in 1974, and son Adam is now the winemaker. The 50-acre estate’s tasting room provides panoramic views of Oregon’s Coast Range Mountains and the impeccably landscaped gardens and vineyards. Enjoy up to six wines for $10 in the Tasting Room flight, or opt for the Reserve Flight for $20 to sample Library Selections and Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs. Show up on a Saturday and take the $40 Grand Tour that includes a history of Elk Cove, a Reserve Flight, and a Barrel Tasting.
#11 Emerson Vineyards
Tom and Jane Johns are the “Pop” and “Mom” at the laid back Emerson Vineyards, and son Elliot is the “vines and wines.” A visit to Emerson is to be smothered in one huge family embrace. Tom and Jane live on the estate, and business and marketing manager Tom will regale you with humorous anecdotes and wine info. You’ll find an estate Viognier here, keeping good company with the Pinots Noir and Blanc. The pours are generous, and the welcome is warm. Bring a picnic and feel the love.
#12 Erath Winery
Founding father of Oregon wines, Dick Erath, moved his family to Dundee Hills in the late 1960s, planted 23 wine varieties on his four acres, noticed the Pinot Noir did quite well, and was one of the first to import French clones to Oregon in 1974. A few short decades later, 10 out of 10 Erath single vineyard Pinot Noirs from the 2006 vintage received ratings of 90+ points from the industry’s top publications. Take the one-hour Art of Pinot guided tour through the limited production wines, library favorites, and current releases paired with delectable edibles. You’ll probably never spend a more worthwhile $25.
#13 Eyrie Winery
Another rich thread in the historical fabric of the Willamette Valley, “Papa Pinot” David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards planted his first Pinot Noir vines in 1965 and the New World’s first Pinot Gris. Son Jason carries the torch today, producing elegant, organically certified wines. Stop in to wish them a Happy 50th birthday, and celebrate with the Exploration Flight — six wines for a beyond-reasonable $15.
#14 King Estate Winery
King’s Pinot Gris vineyards cover 314 certified-organic acres, 143 acres are dedicated to Pinot Noir vines, a full acre of lavender, and 30 acres of organic gardens and orchards = one of the largest organic vineyards in the world. Pears, plums, apples, and raspberries come from 14 acres of orchards. Did we mention 100 pounds of honey every year? Take a quick tour, gape at the sweeping vineyard views set against the Cascade Range backdrop, sip a flight, and then sit down to lunch or dinner at the acclaimed King Estate Restaurant, where pretty much everything you eat is grown on property. Yum.
#15 Marks Ridge Winery
A bit off the beaten path between Sweet Home and Lebanon at the base of the Cascade Mountain range, Jay and Janet Westly’s beloved mountaintop retreat sits at 1,200 feet and promises visitors sweeping views paired with luscious wines and great conversation. Local musicians perform most weekends in the warm months. This ridge top labor of love is an excellent destination winery venue just made for kicking back and taking in a Jazz, Folk, Blues, or Funk concert over a bottle of spectacular wine. There’s even beer for the non-winos.
#16 Maysara Winery
Big into biodynamic agriculture and holistic, naturopathic farming, Maysara turns out bold Oregon Pinot Noirs and is well worth the 20-minute drive from downtown McMinnville. Beautiful facilities and grounds, generous pours for $15, personable and knowledgeable staff, and a fascinating backstory about Moe and Flora Momtazi and their three daughters who run the place await you. Several very different Pinot Noirs, a Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Rose of Pinot, and a Sparkler make for a diverse and delicious tasting line up.
#17 Panther Creek Cellars
Panther Creek Cellars has been producing ultra-premium Pinot Noir since 1986, and no trip to Willamette Valley would be complete without a stop here. Although ownership has changed hands many times over the years, the winery continues to curate some of the best varietals in the region, thanks to partnerships with some of the most iconic vineyards in Oregon. Tony Rynders, Panther Creek’s Consulting Winemaker, enjoyed great success as Domaine Serene’s head winemaker and now turns out first-rate bottlings of a multitude of Pinot Noirs, a Pinot Gris, and a Chardonnay. Look for the non-descript, converted warehouse building on the edge of town. Don’t be fooled: the wines are infinitely more elegant than the tasting room.
#18 Penner-Ash Wine Cellars
Glamorous Penner-Ash Cellars produces a limited quantity of premium wines for serious wine drinkers. Their Pinots, Syrah, and Viognier carry price points that probably put them out of reach for Wednesday night pizza quaffing purposes, but when your palate is fried from tasting fatigue, cleanse it here. Pull up an Adirondack chair on the terrace and let the bountiful gardens and breathtaking valley views refresh your vision. The smart and sincere tasting room staff consistently receives accolades from visitors.
#19 Quailhurst Vineyard Estate
Horse lovers won’t be able to leave Quailhurst once they arrive. The 35-acre estate with panoramic views of Mt. Hood and the Cascade Mountain range houses both the boutique Pinot Noir vineyard and a European style working facility for the breeding and training of competitive dressage horses. Built in the 1930s and tenderly restored in 1997 by the current owners, Dr. Marvin and Deborah Hausman, the intimate tasting room overlooks an indoor arena where guests watch the horses run through the daily training activities while sipping a large array of exquisite Pinot Noirs. Meander a while through Oregon’s largest private rose collection and the 5-acre Japanese garden. Be sure to call before showing up.
#20 Sarver Winery
This lively tasting room on the hill promises views all the way to Mt. Jefferson on a good day while you sip a leisurely flight of small batch handcrafted wines. Sarver provides a huge selection of gourmet cheeses – new varieties every week — salamis, French olives, patés, and fresh baked baguettes to go with the liberal pours of their broad range of unique wines. Estate-grown Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir are made from 25-year-old vines — some of the original vines planted in the South Willamette Valley. Wood-fired pizzas, special festivals, and live concerts are rocking over summer weekends. A local brew is always available if someone in your entourage prefers grains to grapes, but we prefer the dry and delectable Pinot Noir Rosé.
#21 Sokol Blosser Winery
The tasting room at longtime producers Sokol Blosser is a favorite of many Willamette diehards. The sleek and contemporary Scandinavian vibe features gorgeous wood, plentiful skylights, and walls full of windows affording unimpeded views of the vineyard-covered hills. Taste from a large lineup of world-class still and sparkling varietals in the Main Room, and then amble out to the front porch for sweeping views of the valley and Dundee Hills. Pass through the Library, and if you take the $40 tour, you’ll visit the LEED-certified Barrel Cellar and learn more about the winery’s rich history since Susan Sokol Blosser and Bill Blosser planted their first vines in 1971. Daughter Alison now tends the business while son Alex makes the wines.
#22 Tyee Wine Cellars
Grab a picnic, head for Tyee, and relax in the historic barn of the 120-year old Buchanan Family Century Farm. Located in the heart of the Willamette Valley, Tyee Wine Cellars specializes in estate grown Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Gewurztraminer. You’re welcome to hike the 1.5-mile Beaver Pond Loop Nature Trail, pass through the estate’s vineyard and hazelnut orchard, and spend a tranquil day with the Buchanan family, who take stewardship of the land, and great wines, very seriously. Winemaker Merrilee Buchanan Benson grew up at Tyee Wine Cellars on the family property and is the fifth generation Buchanan to nurture and protect the farm’s eco-system while growing crops in a sustainable manner.
#23 Winter’s Hill Wine
A must-stop along the expansive trail of Oregon’s small family-owned estate wineries, Winter Hill Vineyard is tucked into a 150-acre farm in the Dundee Hills. You’re sure to be greeted and served by a member of the Gladhart family as you pull up to the tasting bar set within the bustling winery. Your samples will vary depending on what’s open, but count on a Pinot Noir, a dry white wine, and a dessert wine. Winter’s Hill is a designated stop on the Willamette Valley Birding Trail, so bring a picnic and do some bird watching.
#24 Willamette Valley Vineyards
Another pioneer vineyard just south of Salem, Willamette Valley Vineyards with the awesome underground cellar perches atop a hill formed by an ancient volcanic flow. There’s a free tour with tastings once daily, a $10 Daily Flight that showcases a mix of white and red wines, as well as a Reserve Flight featuring small-lot bottlings for $15. (Fees waived with a very reasonable two-bottle purchase.) Snuggle into a chair by the fireplace with your sustainably grown Pinot Noir and order from the daily food pairings menu showcasing fresh and local ingredients. If the weather’s cooperative, hang out on the expansive patio with the panoramic vineyard views that stretch across the valley, over to the Coast Range.
#25 Yamhill Valley Vineyards
This stunning destination estate is spacious and relaxing inside and outside. The oldest winery in the McMinnville AVA with 150 acres full of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, and Riesling, you’ll probably want to hang out at Yamhill Valley Vineyards forever. Soak up 360-degree views from inside the warm, wood-filled tasting room and then relocate to the massive deck that overlooks the rolling foothills of Oregon’s Coast Range Mountains. Easy to see why Yamhill is a sought after premier wedding location.