Where to Taste: Willamette Valley Wineries
I love learning about wine by doing tastings in every region possible. Which is why when I was out in Portland earlier this year I took a day off to visit the Willamette Valley.
I had no concept of just how many vineyards are tucked into those hills, nor how big the Willamette Valley is. Fortunately one of my favorite chefs had some recommendations! And while I wasn’t able to join the highly recommended Backroads Wine Tour as a solo traveler, they were kind enough to offer suggestions of where I should go.
Having specified boutique wineries with a passion for wine and a reputation for doing interesting things within 2 hours of Portland, Ed and Backroads Wine Tours gave me a list of about 20. After several hours optimizing my options via Google Maps and contacting that the wineries that required advance reservations, I had it down to a tentative list, depending on how the day went.
10:00 Bergstrom Winery
11:45 Ayres (reservation)
1:00 Patricia Green (reservation)
3:00 Soter Vineyards (reservation)
4:?? The Eyrie
It was an intense schedule, but the wineries were close together and I planned, regretfully, to be pouring out after a sip or two. Since I’d chosen nice wineries and was tasting amazing and expensive Pinots this was painful but unavoidable. The point was to experience a wide variety of wines, not get a buzz.
So how did it go?
The first stop was Bergstrom Wines and I showed up right at 10 when they opened. The view was beautiful and the tasting room was friendly. It was a $20 tasting fee refundable with $100 purchase, but well worth it. Because it was quiet that morning they let me go off the tasting menu and try quite a few of the wine-club only wines. Not surprisingly, I liked those best, though the Sigrid Chardonnay and Le Pre Du Col Pinot Noir were quite nice.
It was a charming place and I found myself wishing I had brought a picnic brunch to enjoy on the porch with a glass. Definitely worth a stop!
I arrived at Trisaetum Winery a little before they opened at 11. They have a beautiful art gallery in the tasting room, so it’s worth a stop just for that. They offer three tasting options — Riesling-only, whites & reds, and Pinot Noir-only. I was torn, but I’d been advised to try any and all non-Pinot Noir options at top wineries as they were bound to be good, so I went with the Rieslings.
They were well done — Riesling isn’t my go-to wine but some of the dry rieslings were quite lovely though a bit more than I would normally pay. But the $10 tasting fee was waived with purchase so I picked up a bottle to share with friends. I had also been advised to try every rose I could get my hands on, and the tasting room was nice enough to give me a pour and offer suggestions for food in the area, and in Portland.
Ayres Vineyard was the one winery I knew I wanted to visit. I’d tried their entry level Pinot Noir last year paired with mushroom pate and had my mind blown. I loved it even more from the moment I drove up and saw the tasting room was in the basement of their house!
The winery is run by Brad and his father-in-law, two thoroughly delightful people. They reminded me alot of my favorite wine maker in Virginia and their wines were off the charts. Not only were they a relative bargain compared to other wineries with no wine over $47, they were all amazing.
As in I embarrassed myself gushing over every wine when my usual response is “this is nice.” The Pinot Noirs are gorgeous but the real stars are the Pinot Blanc and Rose of Pinot Noir. I broke my plan not to buy any wine and promptly bought a case. It’s not been enough. Tastings are free, but advance reservations are required.
Patricia Green Cellars
My next appointment was at 1PM which gave me just enough time to down some bread I had brought with me (and a quart of water) before I presented myself at Patricia Green Cellars. I’d heard good things but never tried the wines, and was in for a treat. My tasting was informal in a group that was only 5 people including myself. And lucky that they had opened many reserve bottles for the group that had come in earlier. So I got to try all the good stuff, sitting outside in the fresh air.
And then they took us into the barrel facilities for an impromptu barrel tasting. Definitely more than got my $25 tasting fee worth! It’s amazing how powerful a well made Pinot can be. Plus you get to taste the difference among the various vineyards and regions.
I love a good sparkling which is why Soter Vineyards was on my list. They by far have the best view out of any winery I visited.
And the best story since the tasting room was in the owner’s former kitchen and living room. Their $25 tastings are formal, sit-down affairs.
Part of the group was late, so they poured us half glasses of tasty rose and encouraged us to explore the grounds.
The person doing the tasting was knowledgeable, but I admit I was a bit underwhelmed by the 5 wines we tasted — two pinots, a white, and a sparkling. Good, but not amazing. Definitely not as amazing as the view. So for that reason alone I think it’s worth making a reservation and doing a tasting.
The Eyrie Vineyards
I managed to get into McMinnville shortly after 4PM, with time to kill before I was due to check in to my AirBnB. So I decided to swing by The Eyrie Vineyards downtown which had been highly recommended.
It was $15 to taste 5 wines including a Library wine from 1996.
The room was a bit crowded with other people getting one last tasting in for the day. The wines were fine, but if you’re short on time I’d give this one a miss.
So many good wineries, so little time! A few tips if you’re planning a full day of it in the Willamette Valley:
- Bring lots of water and bland snacks to refresh your palate.
- If your tasting fee is waived with purchase, check out the half bottles as a way to maximize your savings.
- Take more than one day if you can!
- Alot of wineries are only a 5 minute drive apart, try to pair wineries that require reservations with those that don’t to avoid dead time.
- Moderation in everything — get a driver if possible or plan to pour out after a sip if you’re driving yourself.
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