Willamette Valley Oregon Wine Tasting

December 19, 2011  •  Oregon, Travel, Willamette Valley

I love wine trips. First and I guess foremost, there’s the wine. Second, wine trips are fun to do with friends – and I happen to have a group of 3 couples who travel well together and enjoy the same things. Third, wherever there is good wine, there is usually good food. And fourth, most wine country is so beautiful it can take your breath away.This year my group set out to learn about Burgundian style wines in the Willamette Valley (it’s pronounced will-AM-et, damnit!) of Oregon. Having been on tasting trips in France, Italy, Spain, Oregon, Napa, Sonoma and Colorado, it seems we would be remiss in not learning about this tiny region that’s packed with 5 AVAs in just a few minutes time from each other. We made The Dreamgiver’s Inn outside of Newberg our home base (that pic above is the sunset from the front porch on our first night) and we had the run of the house to ourselves.After arriving late into Oregon on a Thursday thanks to a snow storm in Denver, we began our first day of true tasting on Friday with the delightful wine guide John from Insider’s Wine Tour who picked us up for a day of small, private tastings. (We had only stopped in at Anam Cara Cellars in the town of Newberg the afternoon before.) If you’re new to a region, I highly recommend a guide. Not only does it relieve you of choosing the designated spitter – I mean driver – but it gives you insights and access into the area you might not otherwise get.For instance, he arranged a private tour and tasting at the lovely family owned Anderson Family Vineyard. Their wines are good – so good that some high end Manhattan restaurants are now featuring them on their wine lists even though we can’t even buy them here in Colorado, and Allison was charming.We spent an hour or more tasting, toured the cellars, learned of her family’s history with the land, and then did what we seem to do on every wine trip – we joined the wine club and ordered some wine. We know the economy is struggling, you see, so we want to do our part to prop it up. Yea, that or we just love good wines!Next up was Adea, another family operation (the wine name is formed from the family members’ initials), where Dean greeted us in his tasting room. He’s a low key sort of guy, but after an hour discussing the business of wine with him you’ll know just how incredibly deep his thoughts run. Again, the wines were great, the property lovely (including his cute little dog Sherman), and he even shared his leftover shrimp and pasta from lunch with us, passing it around as if WE were family members too. One more time – we joined a wine club and ordered wine. We like supporting family businesses.By this point in the day we were late in getting lunch, so grabbed a sandwich to eat in the car as we headed to what turned out to be our last stop of the day, Hawks View Cellars. Yes, it may seem like only 3 wineries in a day is not much, but honestly, it’s better that way. You take time to learn about the region, your learn a great deal about the wine making philosophy of the winery, and you make friends. I don’t really think it’s possible to make it to more than 4 or 5 in a day and really get anything out of it.Even though we had just eaten our sandwiches, none of us could resist the platter of treats laid out for our visit at Hawks View Cellars. And who knew that pinot gris pairs so well with goat cheese? Amazingly, we learned that the soil in this AVA is completely different from the soil near Anderson Family Vineyard, just a few miles away. The Willamette Valley is like Burgundy, France in so many ways – same latitude, same weather (damp and foggy), and many, many little micro climates that each produce differences in grapes grown. While the region is largely known for pinot noir and chardonnay (just like Burgundy), pinot gris is also grown quite a bit.After a fabulous dinner at The Painted Lady (check that out in my next post about dining in the Willamette valley), we had a great night’s sleep at the inn and set out the next morning for touring on our own. After just one day with a guide we felt we knew the lay of the land – having spent the previous day at small family operations, we decided to seek out some of the more well known wineries, starting with Rex Hill. We didn’t order any wines here because as luck would have it, their very highly rated pinot noir from this year was on sale at our home liquor store. So we placed an order via email and moved on to Four Graces – again, a family reference, the four graces referring to their four gorgeous daughters. The tasting room outside of Dundee is small and cute, with very French looking decor, and we loved these wines. Guess what? We joined the wine club and ordered some wine.After lunch we made our way up the hill to the south of Dundee to Archery Summit.The name perfectly captures their location, on the summit of a hill, with perhaps some of the prettiest views of our entire trip.We made our way into the tasting room – seemingly with bus loads of others, for some reason, which is unlike the wine country in Oregon at this time of year (early December). The style of wines produced here reminded us more of big Napa cabernets – they have their place in the wine world, but seemed a disappointment when you’re expecting a more subtle pinot noir.So we made our way back out of the tasting room – this time without ordering any wine – to head to our final destination of the day.There’s something you need to understand about the landscape and the weather in this part of Oregon. While technically the weather said it was 100% sunny for our entire trip, it isn’t until you get high enough up a hill that you rise above the fog that blankets the valleys and can see that it’s actually sunny. And when you do, from almost anywhere, you can’t miss Mount Hood in the distance. Breathtaking, really, as I said.Our last stop of the day was at Domaine Drouhin – now this is a big name wine that you’ll find in stores. The place was packed, but large enough to accommodate crowds, so we were seated at the tasting table, complete with rocks from the soil to remind you what this area is really like. Hands down, the Drouhin chardonnay is one of my all time favorite chardonnays. It has just enough oak to give it body and heft, but it isn’t overly buttery or oaky like so many CA chardonnays. So yep – we joined the wine club and ordered some wine.As the sun set over the valley and we made our way home for our farewell dinner, we savored the scenery and discussed how great our visit had been. We only made it to 9 wineries in 3 days, but we visited a great cross section of some of the best, made some great friends, and had some fabulous wine. It’s fun when you return from a wine trip like this to see the shipments arrive and relive the trip a bit – even if it’s not so fun to see the VISA bill arrive!


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  1. Boulder Locavore says:

    Michele, thank you. I first was thinking what a fantastic year you’ve had, and this fall especially with your travels. I feel so fortunate to be toted along through your blog. The photos really told the story and made it hard to keep my eyes on the text they were so compelling. I especially loved those of the mountain, the vineyards and the doors. Spectacular. What a fun fall jaunt. So great to get the low down, thanks again.

  2. Lea Ann says:

    Beautiful photos Michele. We adore the Willamette Valley and have made two trips to the wineries and restaurants. If I didn’t love those Rocky Mountains that sit to the west of our city, I’d move there. We’ve eaten at Painted Lady and it was a wonderful and elegant culinary experience. My favorite restaurant in the area is Nick’s Italian Cafe in McMinnville. Between it and Painted Lady, a couple of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had. Favorite Winery? I think Penner-Ash. Isn’t it wonderful to have a group of friends that travel well! I look forward to the Painted Lady post.

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