There's Way More To Oregon Wine Country Than Just Wine
I know what you're thinking...why would anyone care about non-wine-related things in wine country? Maybe you're wondering why anyone that doesn't like wine would go to wine country. Well...there are heaps of reasons, ranging from travel partners' varied interests, to just wanting to get away somewhere quiet and peaceful.
As for us, we don't not like wine, we are actually pretty snobby about wine just like we are with coffee, but we just aren't big drinkers. And since we've been to various wine regions many times over (we got married at a winery after all), we are kind of over the whole wine tasting thing. But we still love wine growing regions because of the beautiful landscapes and agricultural goodies that go along with it.
We might as well get the wine out of the way, though, because I know that's what's you're really here for.
An easy 1-hour drive from Portland, the heart of Oregon wine country in Willamette Valley has almost 22,000 acres of vineyards, 13,000 of which are certified sustainably farmed. Pinot Noir is the king of wines here, and that is what Oregon is known for. The reason for this is the three different types of soil present in the region: marine sedimentary, volcanic (basalt), and windblown loess, all of which produce vastly different tasting pinot noirs (although all are tasty).
Since wine isn't the focus of this article, we will only suggest two wineries that we've enjoyed.
We had the pleasure of visiting the Pike Road tasting room in Carlton, Oregon and ended up tasting some superb pinot noirs from a few different terroirs in Oregon, which is where we learned about the three different types of soil and how they affect the taste of the wines they produce. This tasting room also boasts a peaceful outdoor patio where you can have your tasting or drink the bottle you will ultimately purchase.
This winery in Amity, Oregon is a winner in our book not only because they are organic and biodynamic, but their estate has fabulous views. They have an indoor and an outdoor tasting room at their vineyard, and they also offer ATV vineyard tours!
Hazelnuts, filberts...whatever you call them, Oregon has them in droves
As you drive through Willamette Valley, not only will you see acres and acres of vineyards, you might also be wondering what all those groves of trees are you keep passing. Those are hazelnut trees. Or filbert trees. Whichever you want to call them, they are delicious, and Oregon has a bit of a monopoly when it comes to hazelnut production in the US (about 98%)! There are about 800 hazelnut farms covering around 67,000 acres in Oregon, with the Barcelona variety of hazelnut being the most prominent.
The nuts start to grow in June and are harvested in late September or early October, which is convenient because this is right after the grape harvest. Autumn is definitely a delicious season in Oregon Wine Country, but don't fret, there is plenty to see and do in any season.
Just because you've left Portland city limits doesn't mean you don't have access to awesome restaurants...quite the opposite in fact. Head into any of the towns in the area, especially McMinnville, and you will be in for quite a treat. You'll have many options from casual to fine dining. Here are a few restaurants we recommend in the area:
This McMinnville, Oregon gem is one we will keep going back to. Touting themselves as Northwest inspired Spanish cuisine, this is one not to be missed. We've only had tapas there, but they are all excellent. They are also well known for their paella if you want to wait 45 minutes for your food. We highly recommend the classics such as Tortilla Espanola and Patas Bravas, as well as their lamb skewers, piquillo peppers, and of course the churros for dessert.
Located on the property of Abbey Road Farm in Carlton, Oregon, this restaurant is a unique experience with a pre-set 5-course menu with wine pairings Thursday through Saturday that changes every week. Each menu focuses on a different region of Italy, except for Sunday which is a more casual gnocchi and pizza day. Reservations are required.
This casual eatery in Dundee, Oregon is a perfect lunch spot. They serve freshly made soups, salads, sandwiches and pizzas using locally sourced ingredients. They also sell local cheeses, baked goods, and other local products and wine to fill your picnic basket if you'd rather dine al fresco.
Sick of Wine? Try Beer & Cider
If you haven't heard, Oregon is stuffed to the gills with microbreweries (the most in the nation!). If you are one to imbibe but are sick of wine, visit one of the many breweries or cideries in the area for a change of pace. Some excellent places to start: Golden Valley Brewery, Allegory Brewery and Grain Station Brew Works in McMinnville, Carlton Cyderworks, and Deception Brewing in Dundee.
Try a non-alcoholic beverage...coffee!
Coffee is one of the most essential parts of a trip for us, and one of our favourite things about Oregon is that they know how to roast some good coffee! Again, just because you're outside of Portland city limits doesn't mean you can't get good coffee. This past trip to Willamette Valley we tried:
Conveniently (or not-so-conveniently) located next to Grain Station Brew Works in McMinnville, Oregon. We enjoyed the rustic-yet-industrial feel of the space, and the employees really knew what they were talking about when it came to coffee. With their help, we picked out an excellent single-origin bean that tasted precisely how we wanted it to. That one was the Ethiopia Bensa Shantawene. Their package's tasting notes say raspberry jam and black currant, but we say blueberry. We missed that flavour from the excellent Ethiopia Worka we had from a roaster in Maine, and now we have a slightly more local source!
Located in an industrial neighbourhood in Newberg, Oregon, this one is better to hit on your way in or out of wine country. We went with the Organic Peru Feminino because one of the tasting notes listed was peanut. Yes, peanut. We have never seen that before so of course, we were curious. This coffee is part of the Café Feminino movement which helps empower female coffee producers all over the world and funds community betterment projects. While we didn't enjoy this coffee as much as the one we got from Flag & Wire (and we didn't taste any peanut), it is still an excellent roaster. We just should have gotten some of their Sumatran coffee instead!
Check out the Spruce Goose
No, that's not the name of a winery, I'm talking about the largest wooden aeroplane ever constructed. It's right here in McMinnville, Oregon at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum. Essentially a flying boat, the Spruce Goose was made entirely of wood (actually birch, not spruce!) due to wartime restrictions on metal, and it only made one flight for about one minute.
The Spruce Goose is so big it is impossible to get a photo of the whole thing!
There is plenty more to see at the museum other than the Spruce Goose, but since it takes up the entire building, it is definitely the main attraction. Other aircraft you can see include other military and personal aircraft and how they evolved in chronological order. In the next building over, you have the Space Museum, which houses several rockets, boosters, missiles, and even one of the fastest aircraft in the world, an SR-71 Blackbird, which is equally cool and weird to see in person.
Enjoy the agriculture and gorgeous landscapes
This is our favourite part of Willamette Valley, Oregon. The rolling hills, the crops, the trees, the openness...it is so much better than the city. Take your time and enjoy the views as you drive around or when you're relaxing with your glass of wine.
If you happen to be in the area in mid-May, you're in for an extra treat for your eyes. For about 10-14 days around this time, clover is in bloom. Willamette Valley produces about 85% of the clover seed in the US. The most stunning is the crimson clover, but they also grow red, white and arrowleaf clover. If you are visiting during this time, be prepared for seas of red as you drive through the countryside.
Where to Stay in Willamette Valley, Oregon
We have stayed at Abbey Road Farm about six times in the past year. Abbey Road was our go-to getaway and our place of choice to stay when we went to Portland for any reason. They recently changed ownership and are going through some changes at this time which we don't think were needed, however, it is still a gorgeous place to stay with vineyard views and friendly farm animals. Also, their rooms are in repurposed grain silos, so that makes things a little more interesting.
We recently stayed here on our last visit to Willamette Valley to see if we could find a suitable alternative to Abbey Road since they are going through some changes. The building and rooms are gorgeous, modern and comfortable, the bathroom was the best we've ever experienced, and the view is unparalleled. However the atmosphere was a little too social for our tastes, so if you are as introverted as we are, be aware of this.
What do you think? Are you still going to focus your wine country trip on just wine or are you going to mix it up? Let us know in the comments!
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