The vast Willamette Valley, Oregon’s largest wine region, is a haven of hundreds of vineyards offering an abundance of choice for grape lovers with a dose of countryside, farmland and rustic tourism. While the region grows Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling, it is well known for its Pinot Noir grapes.
The tightly clustered fruit clusters are dark, thin-skinned and, frankly, unpredictable. As a young wine, Pinot Noir can be light and fruity. Over time, it expands with more complex and earthy flavors. The valley’s proximity to the Pacific Ocean floats in a coastal breeze that winemakers say is perfect for cooling finicky fruit.
Just a day trip from Spokane, seven hours to be exact, travelers can plan the perfect long weekend getaway. Hotels and motels are plentiful in city destinations, such as the small towns of Newberg or Dundee, while Airbnbs or rentals can be found off the beaten track in boutique attics or farmhouse suites on shared land.
Those who prefer city life can spend the night in Portland and drive an hour or two to spend a day in the vineyards. Here’s a sample sip to guide you through the well-developed aromas and flavors of Oregon’s wine country.
The Four Graces
The Foley family estate of Four Graces is located on farmland a few miles south of Newberg, a good first stop for out-of-town visitors venturing from Portland’s bustling city life to the edge of the valley. Here, he serves overflowing dishes at the edge of the garden in a quaint, chic barn dressed in rustic chandeliers and oak paneling with baskets of faux fur blankets for ultimate comfort.
For tasters interested in oenology, the Four Graces sommeliers have a great knowledge of their grapes, whether they come from their estate or sourced in partnership elsewhere in the valley. His collection of Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir ranges from jammy to peppery, with particular attention paid to the year (and, lately, the corresponding level of abundant wildfire smoke this season).
His 2020 Four Graces Rose of Pinot, from Dundee Hills, showcases the best of the flat rose: wild strawberry flavor meets a creamy hint of watermelon for a round, rich bite in every sip. For those new to Pinot Blanc, the winery’s 2018 bottle offers a smooth, flavorful introduction to the Willamette Valley-specific sibling of (genetically mutated) Pinot Noir.
Cost: $25 tasting, offered with a $50 purchase
Price scale: $26 (pinot blanc) to $75 (pinot noir)
Location: 9605 NE Fox Farm Road, Dundee
Contact: (503) 554-8000
Where Four Graces makes you feel like family, Argyle makes you feel like friends. Its massive, industrial, and facility-heavy tasting house feels more like a celebratory space than a tasting space. Which makes sense: they serve bubbles. Argyle’s indoor seating echoes noisily with full crowds, while its covered concrete patio provides light sunshine and music, making it easier for conversation, with overhead heat lamps and Pendleton-style throws available on request. .
While visitors can venture two ways with tasting flights – sparkling or still – the winemakers here are very serious about their brut. The 2016 Spirit Hill Vineyard Blanc de Blancs has hints of lemon and grapefruit, while their 2017 Knudsen Vineyard Brut (pallet challenge: ask for a taste of the previous year’s brut side by side) is light, balanced and just a touch of sweetness.
But not too sweet. The yeasts formed during the creation of these sparkling wines eat up the sugars, leaving more buttery and tangy flavors. Visiting soon? This is the latest call for their limited 2018 Ruby Brut, a dark and rich sparkling pinot noir with cranberry tones.
Cost: $30, canceled with two bottles
Price scale: $30 (vintage brut) to $115 (Extended Edition, Blanc de Blancs from the Knudsen vineyard)
Location: 691 Hwy 99 West, Dundee
Contact: (503) 538-8520
Chehalem, Native Calapooia for “Valley of Flowers”, sits in the center of downtown Newberg offering an urban experience with an earthy essence. Its tasting room features wines from a blend of three estates: Ridgecrest Valley, Dundee and Corral Creek. While its range of Pinot Noir comes from a single vineyard with a tip of the hat to classic flavors, its white wines offer refreshing and innovative takes.
Crisp pear and vibrant honeysuckle are tasted in his Pinot Gris from the Chehalem Mountains, while his INOX Chardonnay offers a reprieve from traditional oak extracts with a hint of buttery apple.
If snack time is calling, the winery recently added a popcorn pairing to its menu for $10 more than its traditional tasting fee.
Cost: $20 tasting, offered with a $50 purchase
Price scale: $20 (Pinot Gris) to $100+ (Pinot Noir, Vintage Selections)
Location: 106 S. Center Street, Newberg
Reservations: Welcome without appointment. Required for groups of eight or more.
Contact: (503) 538-4700
Artsy and elevated would be one way to describe the designs. Superb is another. Trisaetum, owned by Andrea Lassa and artist James Frey (pronounced Fry), is a conglomerate named after their children Tristen and Tatum.
Located on Ribbon Ridge, one of three estates, Trisaetum’s tasting room overlooks sweeping hills covered in vineyards. The view from inside isn’t bad either: it’s a showcase gallery of mixed media prints and paintings by Frey, who also designs bottle labels.
From the Coast Range estate of Trisaetum comes a 2019 pinot noir that is earthy like mushrooms and velvety like silk. For a crisp but dry take on riesling, his 2020 Ribbon Ridge Dry Riesling has a slightly acidic honeydew taste.
Cost: $30 tasting, waived with purchase of two bottles
Price scale: $35 (dry riesling) to $100 (family reserve pinot noir)
Location: 18401 NE Ribbon Ridge Road, Newberg
Reservations: Recommended but not required.
Contact: (503) 538-9898
Bonus: Killdeer Distillation
If you’re feeling “burned out,” Killdeer Distilling is a nice reprieve. Surrounded by acres of vineyards on a gravel road, this farmhouse-style distillery offers $15 tasting on a range of small-batch spirits. A $15 tasting, easily split between two people (or three, depending on who’s driving), includes shots of vodka, gin, rye, bourbon, and absinthe (over ice), finished with an espresso liqueur vanilla velouté.
A quaint menagerie of goats, sheep, hens, and twin black barn cats provide entertainment for guests as they sit and sip on rustic park benches by a fire or heat lamp. Vanilla extract is also available for sale.
Cost: $15 tasting, waived with purchase of two bottles
Price scale: $25 (vodka) to $78 (three-bottle set)
Location: 20000 NW Wind Ridge Road, Newberg (1.5 miles from Trisaetum Tasting Room)
Reservations: Recommended for groups of six or more. Limited parking availability.
Contact: (503) 421-3881