After spending Thanksgiving Day 2008 in Seattle, we loaded up the car and headed to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The last time we visited wineries in the area, which was several years ago, we had not had a very pleasant experience. With the increasing notoriety that Oregon has received worldwide as a wine producing region, we decided that it was time to go back and give it another shot. I am happy to report that this trip was much more pleasant. And while Pinot Noir is still not my favorite varietal, I did find a few that I would gladly have again. In addition, I was pleased to discover that Oregon is making some other good wines as well, most notably Pinot Gris and Riesling. Wine Country Thanksgiving, held the Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of Thanksgiving Weekend, is one of two annual events in the Willamette Valley, the other being Memorial Weekend. These special holiday weekend events offer the opportunity to visit some wineries that are rarely open to the public.
On Friday, we visited wineries in the Salem area. St. Innocent Winery was our first stop. St. Innocent is located on and sources their estate fruit from Zenith Vineyard. Our next stop was at Eola Hills Wine Cellars. Eola Hills makes some good wines at very reasonable prices. Our favorite Eola Hills wine was actually a Sangiovese produced with fruit from Lodi, California.
We had a busy day on Saturday in which we visited wineries located in the northern part of the Willamette Valley. Belle Pente Vineyard & Winery (pronounced “bell-pont”) is owned and operated by Jill and Brian O’Donnell who moved from San Jose, California, to Oregon in 1992. Their current annual production level is 4,000 to 5,000 cases. In terms of quality, Elk Cove Vineyards was our favorite winery on this trip. Founded in 1974, Elk Cove currently produces about 40,000 cases per year. We absolutely loved their 2005 Elk Cove Pinot Noir—Roosevelt.
Argyle Winery is located in an old restored home in Dundee. Argyle is one of the most well-respected wineries in Oregon and one of our favorites as well. Their 1997 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut recently won our Wine Peeps’ Sparkling Wine tasting dinner. Of all the Pinot Noirs that we tasted on this trip, the 2006 Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir represents the highest quality and most bang-for-your-buck.
Our final stop took us to Chehalem Winery. They were well-organized and had a friendly tasting staff. Our favorite of their wines was the 2007 Chehalem Reserve Dry Riesling.
All told, I’m really glad that we visited the Willamette Valley again. I have a much better perception of them now than I did from our previous visit. In addition to finally finding a few Pinots that I like and meeting some very nice people, we had fabulous weather and were able to enjoy the beautiful Oregon countryside.
For a list of additional wineries in the area, visit Willamette Valley Wineries Association.
If You Go:
If you are flying, Portland is the closest major airport. If you are driving, the Willamette Valley is located south and east of Portland. All of the Willamette Valley wineries are within about an hour’s drive of Portland.
To be centrally located within the Willamette Valley, you will probably want to stay in either Newburg or Dundee. There are a number of options including hotels, motels, and Bed & Breakfasts.
Wineries and tasting rooms to visit:
St. Innocent Winery, 5657 Zena Road NW, Salem, OR 97304, 503-378-1526, open weekends 11am-4pm (November-April) and open Tues-Sun 11am-4pm (May-October). For directions, click here.
Eola Hills Wine Cellars, 501 South Pacific Highway 99W, Rickreall, OR 97371, 503-623-2405, open daily 10am-5pm, No tasting fee. For directions, click here.
Belle Pente Vineyard & Winery, 12470 NE Rowland Road, Carlton, OR 97111, 503-852-9500, only open Memorial Day and Thanksgiving weekends and by appointment. For directions, click here.
Elk Cove Vineyards, 27751 NW Olson Road, Gaston, OR 97119, 503-985-7760, open daily 10am-5pm, $5 tasting fee. For directions, click here.
Argyle Winery, 691 Highway 99W, Dundee, OR 97115, 503-538-8520 x233, open daily 11am-5pm. For directions, click here.
Chehalem Winery, 31190 NE Veritas Lane, Newberg, OR 97132, 503-538-4700, open by appointment only, $10 tasting fee. For directions, click here.
Chehalem Tasting Room (downtown Newburg tasting room for Chehalem Winery), 106 Center Street, Newberg, OR 97132, 503-538-9396, open Thurs-Mon 11am-5pm, $5-$10 tasting fee depending on which tasting you choose (refundable with purchase). For directions, click here.
Other things to do in the area:
There are many things to do in the greater Portland area including shopping, sightseeing, and outdoor activities. The Oregon Coast is beautiful and makes a great getaway, so consider adding a couple days onto the end of your wine tasting trip to relax.