September 1, 2010 in Awayfinder destinations

Oregon wine country welcomes fans of fermentation

Fall visitors can choose from 400-plus stops
Pete Dunlop Awayfinder Correspondent
 
Courtesy Willamette Valley Wine Association. photo

Oregon’s Willamette Valley offers hundreds of interesting wineries. Fall is a good time to visit.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Looking for an exciting, picturesque, fun place to visit this fall? Enjoy fine wine? If you answered yes to those questions, a trip to Oregon wine country may be the perfect fit.

Oregon’s wine industry has earned a reputation as one of the best in the world, inviting comparisons to winegrowing regions in France. The state is home to more than 400 wineries and many Oregon wines are produced by small, family-owned operations with very limited production. Although avid wine hounds can increasingly find Oregon wines online or in wine specialty stores, many are available only at the wineries.

“One of the unique things about Oregon is the number of small, owner-occupied, owner-run farms,” said Sue Horstmann, executive director of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. “Visiting these wineries is a totally different experience than going to larger wineries.”

The state’s most prolific growing region, and its most popular destination, is the Willamette Valley, which has roughly half of the state’s wineries.

Winemaking there dates back 40 years to the arrival of several Californians who believed Oregon was an ideal place to grow cool-climate varieties. Between 1965 and 1968, they planted the first Pinot noir grapes, as well as small amounts of related varieties.

The valley’s long, gentle growing season, characterized by mild winters and extended Indian summers, is a nearly a perfect fit for Pinot noir. Not surprisingly, Oregon has become famous for that grape, which dominates yearly production figures. Other top varietals include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The north end of the Valley, particularly the area roughly within a triangle formed by the communities of Sherwood, Yamhill and McMinnville, has a high concentration of wineries and is a very accessible tourist destination.

Notable wineries here are too numerous to list, but include Duck Pond, Rex Hill, Sokol Blosser, Panther Creek, Lange, Erath, Torii Mor, and Adelsheim.

Traveling to winery tasting rooms can be a pleasant, fun experience any time of year, but especially in the fall. Many destinations are found along dusty country roads, and tasting rooms often feature spectacular views of the countryside. The views made all the more spectacular by fall colors, so remote tasting room destinations are not to be missed.

Because the upper Willamette Valley is situated within an hour of Portland, many visitors opt to combine the cuisine and nightlife of the city with daytime excursions to wine country. If you plan to stay in the city, browse online for hotels and call ahead for the best deals.

Due to the huge number of wineries in the area, wine tours have become increasingly popular over the years. Tours vary in scope, and generally run morning to late afternoon. Although not always cheap, complete wine tour packages can be an efficient way to visit wine country. They strive to be informative, well-targeted and you don’t have to do the driving. Check websites and call ahead for the best price and tour fit. You can find a quick and by no means complete list of tour guides here: http://www.willamettewines.com/tours.shtml

Visitors wanting to experience wine country on a more personal basis may choose from numerous bed & breakfasts and motels in the heart of wine country. There are dining choices in the country, as well, though not as many as in the city. For a list of bed & breakfast spots, see http://www.willamettewines.com/bnb.shtml

If you plan to do your own driving, be sure to get a map and plot your course carefully. GPS navigation is also a good idea, as many tasting rooms are off the beaten path. There’s no way to taste all the wines or see all the great places in a day, even two days, but your trip will be more enjoyable if you have a route plotted. And, oh, a designated driver is a must. Find a viewable, printable map here: http://www.winesnw.com/nwillmap.html

Fall is a great time to visit the area for several reasons. September and October often feature some of Oregon’s best weather. Also, there are deals to be had at many wineries, as they clean out storage areas to make way for the coming harvest. Finally, many special events dot the fall calendar, including annual crush parties at many wineries. Find brief details at http://www.willamettewines.com/valley_events.shtml but contact individual wineries for more information.

“Anytime of year is a great time to visit the Willamette Valley,” Horstmann said. “But fall is especially nice because the weather is usually terrific and there is a high level of activity and anticipation with the coming of the harvest.”

For fairly complete coverage of Willamette Valley wineries, history, where to stay, where to eat, tour resources and more, visit www.willamettewines.com.


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