Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Explore Oregon // Willamette Valley Wine Country

Ever since moving to Oregon, I have been bugging Cameron to go out to the wineries! While there are actually wineries throughout the state, a large majority are located less than an hour south of Portland in the Willamette Valley. Two of Cameron's brothers actually live right in this area, so every time we've gone down there in the past has been to visit family and not to taste wine, ha!


But while my friend Lisa was visiting Portland last month, we finally decided to make a trip down there and check out a few different wineries! Unfortunately, the weather while she was in town was pretty rainy, and so it kind of limited our options on normal things we do with out-of-towers like going to the coast. However, the great thing about wine tasting is it's a fun activity no matter the weather - and fortunately, the weather did clear up for us later in the afternoon so we got some fantastic views!

The Willamette Valley as a wine growing region is actually quite extensive and boasts more than 300 wineries. The area is world-renowned for its Pinot Noir, but produces a variety of other wines as well. We didn't have a specific plan in mind when we headed out, but figured we'd stop at some of the bigger name wineries since it was our first time wine tasting there. We ended up hitting up five different wineries over the course of the afternoon, and I felt like that was the perfect amount. Wine tasting in Oregon seemed to be a little more relaxed than our previous experiences in Napa and Sonoma, and the tastings were a little bit more reasonable ($10-$15/per tasting on average vs. $25/tasting in California!) and I enjoyed the more low-key vibe. It seemed like most of the wineries have maps of the regions and are happy to make suggestions if you're looking for other places to visit. Here's a recap of the five places we visited, along with my thoughts on each one...


Location: Newberg, OR
Hours: 10am-5pm
Tasting Fee: $10

We decided to visit Rex Hill for a few reasons - it's one of the first wineries you come to on Hwy 99 as you're coming from Portland, the tasting fee is relatively inexpensive, and it's a bigger name winery that's fairly well-known. The tasting room was nice, but nothing to write home about. The tasting itself included four wines - 1 Chardonnay and 3 Pinot Noirs, and they didn't pour us anything extra like they did at some of the other wineries. The wines were all fine, but none really impressed us and overall, the whole experience was just OK. I think it gave us a good baseline to compare the other wineries too, but it definitely wasn't our favorite. However, it was also pretty rainy when we stopped there so we didn't really get a chance to look around outside much.

 

Location: Dundee, OR
Hours: 11am-5pm
Tasting Fee: $10
Argyle another one of the bigger names from the Willamette Valley and they are known for their sparkling wine, which is why this is definitely one that was high on my list to visit! Their tasting room isn't quite as picturesque as it sits in town in Dundee as opposed to some of the other wineries that overlook their vineyards. (Although, the small grounds at the tasting room were looking very pretty with everything blooming for spring!) I definitely think that it's a fun place to stop as it has something for everyone no matter what type of wine you like. They actually offer three different $10 flights - one that's a mixture of all their styles, one that's all sparkling wines, and one that's all Pinot Noir. Cam and Lisa opted to do the Clubhouse Flight, which included a Riesling, a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, a dessert wine, and a Brut. I opted to do the POP Flight, which consisted of four different sparking wines...what can I say, I love bubbles! Everyone at Argyle was very friendly, and in addition to the wines that came with the tasting, we each got a bonus pour as well. I'd definitely recommend stopping here if you like sparkling wines!

Cam having the time of his life...ha.

Location: Dundee, OR
Hours: 11am-5pm
Tasting Fee: $10

Erath is well-known for their Pinot Noir and widely distributed across the country, so we figured it was worth checking out. The tasting room is set up in the hills and there are some really beautiful views! The standard tasting (which I believe they call the Pioneers Flight) is only $10 and includes six different Pinots! (I believe there was also a more expensive tasting option as well that included some different wine options) It was kind of crowded when we got there, but it ended up clearing up and we had a great time at this winery! All the wines we tried were good, and it's definitely a great place to stop if you're a Pinot Noir fan!




Location: Dundee, OR
Hours: 11am-4pm
Tasting Fee: $20

We weren't initially planning on stopping at Winderlea as we were a little put off by the higher tasting fee. However, when we passed by their beautiful modern building on the way to Erath, we decided to give it a chance...and I'm so glad we did because this was by far our favorite winery of the day! Winderlea is a small boutique winery that doesn't distribute, and so it was a good contrast to some of the larger operations we visited. First of all, they are located in a gorgeous spot that offers fantastic views of the rolling hills. They also have a really cool modern building that's really unique and everyone working at the winery was really nice. The winery tasting is a little bit more expensive than other wineries, but it's definitely worth it and I liked that we were trying wines that you're not going to see in the grocery store. You're supposed to get five wines, however, they were really generous and poured us a few additional wines as well. Plus, part of the money from the tasting fee goes to an organization that provides healthcare services to Oregon vineyard workers. We had a really great experience at Winderlea, and the fact that the sun came out while were there was the icing on the cake! I'd highly recommend stopping here if you're going wine tasting in the Willamette Valley!


Location: Dundee, OR
Hours: 11am-6pm
Tasting Fee: $10

I had never heard of Dobbes before our day of wine tasting, but someone at Rex Hill suggested it because he said that it's open until 6pm, whereas most of the wineries close at 4-5pm. This seems like a popular "last stop" for many people, and so we decided to check it out. They offer a Classic flight of 5 wines for $10 (they also offer a $15 flight) which features a variety of different styles, and it was nice to try a few different types of wine to finish out the day. It wasn't my favorite winery that we visited, but since it is open until 6pm, it's not a bad place to stop!

We had a fantastic day wine tasting in the Willamette Valley, but there are so many more wineries we didn't get to see! I'm looking forward to going back and continuing to explore this summer!

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