A long weekend wine guide to Willamette Valley, Oregon

Nikki Michaels
By Nikki Michaels
3 months ago
7 min read

If there’s an American mecca for pinot noir, Oregon's Willamette Valley is undoubtedly it. Known for its robust and passionate scene of garagistes — inventive winemakers dedicated to interesting, small-batch wines — it's also home to two-thirds of the state’s vineyards and more than 500 wineries. Here’s your guide to a long weekend getaway in the Burgundy of the United States.

Pro tip: Willamette is pronounced 'wil-LAM-mit', not 'wil-uh-MET' as a first glance at the French-looking name implies.

Day 1: Portland pitstop

Oregon is a damn cool spot, and we'd be remiss if we didn't instruct you to check out Portland, if only for an afternoon. If you can, fly into the Portland airport around midday, and rent a car from there.

To get a quick snapshot of everything Portland has to offer, you’ve got to hit three categories: coffee, doughnuts, and beer. Let’s go in the natural order, shall we?

Portland is a coffee lover’s paradise, which means you’re pretty safe walking into any independent coffee shop and getting an insanely good drink. But if you want a bit more structure: try Coava, Good Coffee, or Spella.

Then, make a pitstop at the legendary Voodoo Doughnut, where you can toss down treats like the 'Ring of Fire' (a chocolate cake doughnut topped with cinnamon sugar, cayenne pepper, and an actual dried red chilli), the 'Viscous Hibiscus' (a yeast doughnut topped with hibiscus frosting) and the 'Oh Captain, My Captain' (a yeast doughnut topped with vanilla frosting and America's favourite breakfast cereal).

Pro tip: Voodoo’s cash-only, so make sure you’ve got USD on hand. Level-up: just get a box of a dozen. You’ll thank us later.

And finally, Portland’s pièce de résistance: the craft beer scene. With more breweries than any other city in the world, Portland straight-up spoils you for choice. The most famous is probably Deschutes, but you can find their brews pretty much anywhere, so we’d go with something a little more under-the-radar. 10 Barrel, Hair of the Dog, Baerlic, or Culmination should do just fine. Or if you want something more interactive, grab a seat on the Pedalounge for a rather more unique brewery tour.

A warm welcome from 10 Barrel's boise Brewmaster, Shawn Kelso

Once you've tasted a brew or two (and once you're fully okay to drive again, obviously), jump in your rental and head off on the hour-and-a-half drive south to Willamette Valley. And chow down on a few of those extra doughnuts on the way! (We told you you’d thank us later.)

P.S. Love beer, and don't know where to start with wine? Check out our guide to the wine you'll like based on the beer you love.

Day 2: Salem to McMinnville

Breakfast!

First things first: let’s get some grub. Dip into Salem (a quick 15 minute drive), and call into the 24-hour Kitchen on Court Street for some of the best breakfast in the Willamette Valley.

And now for the wine tasting! But first, a few quick notes on the Willamette Valley appellation and climate.

Like the temperamental grape it's famous for, the Willamette Valley is mercurial: limited sunshine, unpredictable and destructive frosts, warm summers, and cool evenings. Ultimately, though, the vines here are afforded a long, gentle growing season — but there are subtle climatic differences between each of the American Viticultural Area's (AVA’s) six subregions that, in turn, make for subtle differences in each of their pinot noirs.

Eola-Amity Hills and McMinnville, which are not just fun to say, but also on our plan for today, both produce bigger-than-average pinots. Eola tends to foreground, darker fruit (think brambly and black), while McMinnville goes hard on the tannins and spice.

Wine tasting

Let’s get to the main event!

First up: Eola-Amity Hills, where we recommend checking out these three gems:

Lingua Franca: Excellent pinot noir and chardonnay — which, coincidentally, you can buy for yourself right here at the 'fo. They offer three seated tastings every day (11am, 1pm, and 3pm), and you’ll need to make a reservation.

Lingua Franca: awful views

Bjornson: Sustainable farming and interesting varietals for the win! Open for tastings Thursday to Monday from 11am-5pm, Bjornson produce pinot noir, chardonnay, auxerrois, rosé, and gamay — the latter being arguably the region’s most exciting non-traditional wine.

Failla: Get your classic, exceptional Willamette Valley pinot noir and chardonnay here, but also gorgeous examples of riesling and grüner veltliner. Drop-by tastings any day from 11am-5pm.

From Eola-Amity Hills, move on to McMinnville and hit up Coeur de Terre to sip some seriously memorable (and organically farmed) pinot noir, syrah, and chardonnay. Open daily 11am-5pm.

The teensy, historic cellars of the boutique Eyrie Vineyards

While you're in the cute McMinnville, check out one of the first vineyards in Willamette, Eyrie Vineyards. Established in 1966, they're still doing things in tiny batches, all by hand of course. Open Thurs-Mon, sittings at 11am and 2pm (make sure you book). 

Dinner

The McMinnville area is home to two of Willamette Valley's most primo dinner joints: Thistle and La Rambla. For artisanal nose-to-tail cuisine, choose the former — but if world-class Spanish dishes sound more enticing, the latter’s your man. Either way, make a reservation.

Day 3: Yamhill-Carlton to Chehalem

What happened to 48 hours? Well, we couldn't skip Portland to begin with, so we're giving you a bit extra. You can thank us later (by sending us your favourite new craft beer).

Breakfast

Morning, mofos! Time for another breakfast in the wonderful Willamette Valley — and today, we’ve got Carlton Bakery on the menu. Choose from the selection of house-made breads, pastries, muesli, breakfast sandwiches, and quiches to fortify you for the day ahead.

Wine tasting

Today, we’re heading first to the Yamhill-Carlton subregion, where the chardonnay is just delightful and the pinot is ripe, spicy, and full of florals.

Located just to the north of Eola-Amity Hills and McMinnville, Yamhill-Carlton hosts several of the vineyards where well-known and iconoclastic winemaker André Hueston Mack gets his fruit. André’s the mind behind Maison Noir Wines and cult favourites such as the Other People's Pinot Noir, their Oregogne Chardonnay and Oregogne Pinot Noir — all of which you can now snag directly from us if you feel like trying quintessential embodiments of Willamette Valley wine.

These grapes look scared of the disparaging look on the face of the great André Mack

Unfortunately for all of us, André's a 'garagiste' without his own winery, so you can’t actually visit and do a tasting. Soothe your sorrow by instead making for Résonance, where you can sample exquisite pinot noir and chardonnay.

From Yamhill-Carlton and on to Dundee Hills: it's time for Native Flora, where you can get a feel for the bright, elegant, earthy pinots the subregion specialises in. Book a tasting via their website, and be sure to save room for their riesling and their 'Irreverent Red Blend' — an unusual mix of pinot noir, malbec, and syrah.

After Native Flora, make your way to Ribbon Ridge and the extremely chicly branded Trisaetum. Tastings run from 11am-4pm each day, and you can sip on their pinot noir (floral and spicy and fruity, oh my!), riesling, chardonnay, and sparkling wine.

Lastly, Chehalem Mountains' Mad Violets, a boutique winery focusing on the staples (pinot and chardy) alongside pinot gris and riesling. The pinots here highlight bright red fruit, which you can taste by making an appointment on Mad Violets' website.

Dinner

That’s a hell of a lot of wine tasting, and we think you should reward yourself with dinner at what may be the most talked-about restaurant in the whole of Willamette Valley: Jory at the Allison. It's pricey, and reservations are essential, but you won't regret it once you see their insane wine list and taste their critically acclaimed cuisine.

Thirsty for more?

You and me both. If it's in a literary sense, devour more American road trip inspiration here. If it's in a literal sense, shop our American wines instead.