Let’s get one thing straight…it’s pronounced Oh – ree – gun not Oh – ree – gan or Oh – ree – gone.
Okay…now that’s out of the way, you’re ready to pack your bags and head to quite possibly the hippest state in the US with one of the most exciting emerging wine scenes in the world. Just because I’m from here doesn’t mean that I’m biased or anything…it’s the truth!!
There are several AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) within Oregon’s Willamette Valley region. Everyone will argue over which AVA is the “best”, but honestly, you can’t really go wrong. Everywhere you go you’ll encounter an original take on viticultural practises, winemaking styles and/or wine experiences; however, the one constant is quality. You’re guaranteed to have a ‘one-of-a-kind’ time in Oregon’s wine country and be thoroughly impressed by what’s poured into your glass. The following AVA’s are just a sampling of what the Willamette Valley has on offer.
While living in Oregon, I had the privilege to call the Dundee Hills home for 3 years. Located about 45 minutes southwest of Portland, it’s a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a more laidback pace while indulging in all things wine and vine related. My husband and I still believe that this is quite possibly the most scenically beautiful place we have ever lived. I still long for those early morning sunrises filled with vibrant colours highlighting Mount Hood’s peak as it emerges over the vineyard covered hillsides while overhearing the calls of our resident Great Horned owl.
The terroir of this particular AVA is majestic and so definitely Dundee. The rusty-coloured, agriculturally rich Jory soil establishes itself as the most desirable soil type for grape growers and it is found in abundance in Dundee. The gentle sloping hillsides with optimum elevations and aspects provide ideal growing conditions for growing fussy Pinot Noir grapes. It’s quite tell-tale that if Pinot Noir thrives here, then it must be the perfect place.
Way back in the 1980’s I remember Dundee, Oregon as a speed trap for Portlanders heading to the Oregon Coast, rather than as a top notch Pinot Noir producing region. Well, fast forward some 30+ years and things certainly have changed. The word is out! A recent highway improvement was just completed a few years ago in order to divert non-wine country traffic away from this small town, as it has been the scene of weekend bottle necks for several years. However, if you’re part of the ‘wine-country’ scene, then you’re more than welcome.
If you’re looking to try a signature Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, then head to Domaine Serene. This is by far the best vineyard and tasting room around. Their wines are highly acclaimed, truly reflective of the local terroir and it’s simply a beautiful place to take in the incredible surroundings.
Try their Pinot Noir but also have a go at the Evenstad Chardonnay. You won’t be disappointed! Sadly, their founder Kenneth Evenstad recently passed away. He was a dedicated entrepreneur and advocate for Oregon wines who believed in the potential of this region.
Since you’re already in the Dundee Hills AVA, your next stop should be Domaine Drouhin. Tasting wines from the same AVA offers the opportunity to compare and contrast different wine styles, complexities and further understand the diversity of the terroir. Domaine Drouhin was founded by the well known Drouhin family of Burgundy, France. Their motto is “French soul ~ Oregon soil’.
If you’re lucky enough to visit on a clear, beautiful sunny day, then I highly recommend enjoying your wine outdoors, as the views are incredible from the terrace.
About 30 minutes south of Dundee, you will find the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. If you’re after truly breathtaking views, top quality wines and a bit of a slower pace, then this is the AVA for you! I first fell in love with this area while working as a vineyard tour host at Evening Land’s Seven Springs Vineyard. Often, I would stop and pause for a moment just to admire the beauty of my surroundings while enjoying the Van Duzer Corridor’s cooling afternoon breezes which offered both the grapes and me a respite from the intense heat. It’s no surprise that my inspiration for Vigneview began amongst these vines.
If you’re looking for a family owned and operated vineyard and winery, then head to the Bjornson Vineyard. I’ve had the privilege of watching their vineyard grow (literally) over the years as well as seeing them build a winery and tasting room. Definitely not a small undertaking, but wow, what an accomplishment! If you’re looking to try some amazing wines, then this is definitely the place.
Oregon wines are a real treasure and probably one of the downsides is that they’re not cheap. The average good quality bottle will run you about $30; however, if you’re looking for old vine examples from boutique producers, then you’re easily looking at a price tag of $50 upwards. Despite the fact that this is not a bargain wine region, I think it’s definitely worth visiting because the quality and passion being invested in Oregon’s wine industry is unparalleled. Land once covered with orchards is quickly being purchased by investors and transformed into vineyards. Love it or hate it, this is the future of Oregon’s wine industry and it’s not slowing down.
Finding a bottle of Oregon wine outside the US is quite a challenge. Thankfully, as I’m currently living in London, which is a city filled with top quality restaurants, bars and wine enthusiasts, I’m usually able to find Oregon wines, but there’s not a huge selection. Hopefully, as word spreads about the top quality of Oregon’s wines, the market will respond. Fingers crossed!!
One final question answered…
Do I miss living in Oregon? Of course I do. However, life brings new callings and adventures that also have to be seen and experienced. Who knows what the future has in store, but I still hold my time in Oregon quite close to my heart.
Where to Stay
I’ve chose some of the best throughout the Willamette Valley area, offering a range of places to stay.
The Allison Inn and Spa ~ Newberg ~ an indulgent experience
The Atticus Hotel ~ McMinnville ~ walking distance to tasting rooms
The Bella Collina Bed and Breakfast ~ Amity ~ vineyard views
The Black Walnut Inn and Vineyard ~ Dundee ~ vineyard views
The Carlton Inn Bed and Breakfast ~ Carlton ~ walking distance to tasting rooms
The Dundee Hotel ~ Dundee ~ tasting rooms onsite
Where to Taste Wine
You’re going to be able to taste wine just about everywhere! However, these are some places that you just don’t want to miss, either because they have exceptional wines, amazing vineyard views and/or superior hospitality.
Beaux Freres ~ Ribbon Ridge ~ incredible wines and owned by Robert Parker!!!
Bjornson Vineyard ~ Eola-Amity Hills ~ exceptional family-run vineyard and tasting room
The Carlton Winemaker’s Studio ~ Carlton ~ winemaking cooperative with tasting room
Domaine Drouhin Oregon ~ Dundee Hills ~ French owned vineyard and tasting room
Domaine Serene ~ Dundee Hills ~ award winning wines, vineyard views and tasting room
Where to Eat
The Dundee Bistro ~ Dundee ~ A great local menu with excellent wine pairings
The Horse Radish ~ Carlton ~ Great for lunch and a glass of wine or two.
The Painted Lady ~ Newberg ~ The best in fine wining and dining the region has to offer!
Red Hills Kitchen ~ McMinnville ~ Located in the Atticus Hotel, an innovative menu awaits!
Rosmarino Osteria Italiana ~ Newberg ~ A touch of Piedmont, Italy in Oregon. A real gem!