Weekender: Willamette Valley

Since I don’t live in a state where the leaves change color, for me, fall is the season for wine. I’m spending next weekend in Napa Valley and before I get there, my wine shipment from Willamette Valley will have arrived.

As a lover of good wine, I’ve been around the world tasting vino from Old World vintages in Bordeaux and Douro Valley to New World varietals in Sonoma, Napa and Santa Barbara. This past spring, I had to try my hand at the famous Willamette Valley Pinots and the incredible scenery I’ve heard so much about.

Here is my recipe for a perfect fall getaway to Oregon wine country.

PJ Pants: THE place to stay in Willamette Valley, The Allison Inn & Spa manages to achieve the luxuriousness of a resort and the coziness of a mountain cabin. The rooms are comfy enough for a post-wine tasting nap; the deep tub perfect for a relaxing dip and the outside door allows you to walk out into all the beauty of the Oregon countryside. The restaurant, Jory, is top-rated, as is the decadent spa. I thought about moving in for the week. Still thinking about it.

Fat Pants: You will always find good food where there is good wine – that’s an unwritten rule. Though I only had a brief day or two in the region, I was able to sample some of the casual fare, as my group decided not to get too fancy this trip (The Painted Lady is supposedly the best for that). A must-stop is Red Hills Market — we went there twice. It’s a great place for the usual picnic fare – cheese, charcuterie and olives – and also has to-die-for wood-fired pizzas and open-faced sandwiches. Busy during lunch but dinner is a local’s secret.

Ants in Your Pants: As you guessed, this section is going to be dedicated to wine. What else? And the first step for a great day of tasting is the driver. Look no further than Jeff at Oregon Select Wine Tours – he’s personable, connected and was a great fourth in Bocce.

One afternoon, we tackled four wineries but the last one was better for playing games and taking in the sunshine (if you’re lucky enough to get it) than it was for wine, so I’ll stick to the first three.

Purple Hands – The tasting room is situated in a quaint log cabin and serves as the perfect introduction to a relaxing day in Willamette Valley, which is definitely less formal than Napa or Sonoma. Here, you dine outside at their picnic tables over a bottle of wine, amid the lush Oregon forest that seems far, far away from the city.

Soter Vineyards – Because I prefer earthy full-bodied reds, I have never been a big fan of Pinot Noir. However, this vineyard completely changed my mind as I learned that Oregon Pinots tend to be exactly what my palette likes. The surroundings didn’t hurt either — our semi-private tasting was elegantly presented in a rustic guesthouse, with wooden lawn chairs in large fields of green grass for relaxing afterwards.  

Redman – Recommended by Jeff, this was an unplanned stop, but many times, those are the best kind. We met the owner – Cathy Redman who started this venture with her husband – in her no-frills tasting room that consisted of a wooden table amidst the vats of wine. Her passion for her craft was infectious, as we listened to her stories and tasted her favorite years of Pinot, the label’s specialty.

I’ve never joined a wine club, but I pulled the trigger at Soter Vineyards (I even tasted a Chardonnay I liked!) and made the relationship permanent. And that’s exactly how I feel about my relationship with Willamette Valley – permanent.