Oregon’s Wine Route
Oregon wines have been in the news ever since the 1980s when a Willamette Valley pinot noir came in second in a blind tasting in France—defeating a field of more expensive and highly esteemed French burgundies. Today, there are around 350 wineries in the state, producing more than a million cases per year and contributing about $1.4 billion to the state’s economy.
Wine grape production now takes place across the state, everywhere except the dry rangelands of eastern Oregon. Planning a trip through Oregon’s many wine regions is a good way to explore the state and to track down little-known vintages that don’t make it across state lines.
Start your wine odyssey in Ashland, where Shakespeare and fine restaurants make good companions for wine exploration. Near town is Ashland Vineyards, famous for the white wine Shakespeare’s Love, and Weisinger’s Vineyard, which produces fine gewürztraminer and cabernet sauvignon.
The area’s best wines, and the greatest concentration of wineries, are over the ridge in the Applegate Valley. High summer heat here enables the production of red wines such as cabernet and Syrah as well as some California-style chardonnays; check out the wines at Valley View Winery or Troon Vineyard.
Travel north toward Roseburg, central for the wines of the Umpqua Valley. Abacela Vineyards and Winery is noted for the many varieties of wine grapes it grows, offering unusual-for-Oregon varietals such as tempranillo, dolcetto, and sangiovese.
Henry Estate Winery is one of the state’s oldest and has lovely gardens that make an excellent picnic destination. The wines range from full-bodied pinot noir and merlot to refreshing Riesling.
Girardet Wine Cellars produces a range of wines, such as chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and pinot noir, and also makes wine from more unusual grapes such as baco noir and Marechal Foch.
Continue north to Eugene, at the southern edge of the Willamette Valley, Oregon’s primary wine-growing region. Here the weather is cooler than the Umpqua and Applegate Valleys, favoring the production of pinot noir and chardonnay, the grapes of France’s Burgundy valley, and pinot gris from northern Italy and the French Alsace region.
Near Eugene, be sure to stop at King Estate Winery, with a hilltop tasting and winemaking facility near Lorane that is literally palatial.
Territorial Vineyards & Wine Company has vineyards near the Coast Range but a winemaking facility and tasting room in downtown Eugene. From their estate-grown pinot noir grapes, Territorial makes a series of regular pinot noir bottlings and a fantastic rosé.
Days 4 and 5
Between Rickreall and Carlton, on the west side of the Willamette Valley, is the greatest concentration of wineries in the state. Here are the pinot noir vineyards that have put Oregon on the world wine map. With over 200 wineries in a relatively compact area, there’s no single route to recommend, so pick up a copy of the widely available Willamette Valley Winery Association’s winery map, and follow your instincts.
Not to miss, however, is Sokol Blosser vineyards, perched on a hill just above Dundee. Domaine Drouhin, also near Dundee, is the Oregon outpost of France’s famed Drouhin family and makes excellent pinot noirs in the Burgundy style. Anne Amie Vineyards makes fine pinot noirs and has a beautiful facility with one of the most panoramic views in the valley. The Rex Hill Vineyards is just east of Newberg, and it is one of the closest vineyards to Portland, with premium pinot noir and a lovely garden setting.
If it seems like there are just too many wineries to choose from, consider a stop at The Tasting Room in downtown Carlton, in the lobby of a century-old bank, which offers a selection of wines from many smaller wineries that don’t have their own tasting facilities. Also in Carlton is the Carlton Winemakers Studio, a cooperative where small winemakers share a winemaking facility and tasting room.
Drive north through Portland on I-5 then out to the Columbia River Gorge on I-84. Microclimates here create niches where cool-climate grapes like pinot noir thrive, while just up the road vineyards of Syrah and merlot, which require intense summer heat to ripen, may be planted.
Continue up the Columbia Gorge to Pendleton, where you can book a room, then continue north toward Walla Walla, Washington, on Route 11. About a third of the official Walla Walla wine-growing area is in Oregon, and several tasting rooms here merit serious attention from lovers of cabernet and merlot.
by Judy Jewell and W. C. McRae from Moon Oregon, 8th Edition, © Elizabeth & Mark Morris and Avalon Travel