By Jade Helm
Whether you seek wine-soaked towns, a sprawling vineyard countryside, or white peaks and rushing waters, pack your corkscrew and comfortable shoes. There are new wine adventures in your future and a change of taste is just a road trip away.
Known as “Mac” by locals, McMinnville feels like the ideal “small town U.S.A.” for wine lovers. Tree-lined 3rd Street runs through downtown and is dotted with tasting rooms. Cafe tables spill onto the sidewalk encouraging you to pass the time with a glass people watching. Come to McMinnville for the pinot noir—it is Willamette Valley, for crying out loud—but discover some other treasures while you are in town.
R. Stuart & Co. (rstuartandco.com) on the main drag is like the town’s coffee shop, except with wine. Retired guys go here to ponder the problems of the world, and the cyber employed set up virtual offices. Try pinot noir at various price points from different vineyards with very distinct tastes. Ask if the Daffodil pinot noir is open—so pretty, so floral. If you are lucky they will have some of their sparkling to sample, or buy a bottle and share it with someone you like. If they are cooking their rosemary cashews you won’t be able to resist the aroma.
A short walk away is Dominio IV (dominiowines.com), a working winery with a small tasting room. Go for the “Shape Tasting.” Yes, “Shape Tasting” is completely made up by the winemakers, Patrick and Ryan, but it is a lot of fun. It involves drawing shapes to represent the flavors and structure of the wine while you taste. My drawing is proudly magnetized to my wine fridge which holds some Dominio IV tempranillo. I need a three-year-old to blame. If you want to “Shape Taste,” make an appointment.
For something a little different, try a visit to Ransom Wines and Spirits (ransomspirits.com) for wine, and yes, spirits. Along with the pinot noir, try auxerrois and gewürztraminer, plus a full line of highly rated whiskey and gin. Don’t leave without sampling the dry vermouth and the rotating cocktail flight.
Valley Commissary: Lunch or weekend brunch. Calories be damned, get the drippy delicious pork belly sandwich. valleycommissary.com
Pura Vida Cocina: Casual affordable tapas, pork belly tacos. Do you sense a theme? puravidamac.com
Thistle Restaurant and Bar: Handwritten, constantly changing high-end menu. Seasonal salads described as “righteous.” thistlerestaurant.com
Tuscan Estate B&B: Walking distance to everything, a-tuscanestate.com
Youngberg Hill: Stay among the vineyards. youngberghill.com
Columbia Gorge, Washington and Oregon
One of the most distinctive features of the Pacific Northwest is the juxtaposition of lush green hillsides and snowy mountain peaks. Nowhere is this better seen than in the Columbia Gorge. Small, rough rivers feed into the now tamed, mighty Columbia. Everyone has a rack on their Subaru because something that floats is essential.
Tiny Lyle, Washington, has five tasting rooms five minutes from each other. Memaloose and sister label Idiot’s Grace (winesofthegorge.com) are right on the Columbia—effectively a scenic overlook, but with wine. A long and diverse list of grapes, all grown in the Gorge, are in rotation. Visit two weeks apart and it’s like a new wine list. Up the street is Lyle’s newest tasting room, Tetrahedron Wines (tetrahedronwines.com), a stand-up, but friendly wine counter with complimentary pairings for each wine. One guest exclaimed, “I have eaten no less than $17 of free dried fruit here.”
Cor Cellars (corcellars.com) has a hip, open-air tasting room with cozy indoor window seats and outdoor tables positioned away from gusty wind. Find fun, well-made wines, their ripe and already released 2015 cabernet sauvignon is for the person with the eagerness of a Labrador retriever pup. Lab pups are happy creatures.
Visit Domaine Pouillon (domainepouillon.com) for the French country decor, the complimentary cheese plate and a riesling to go out of your way for. This intriguing riesling comes from one acre of 40-year-old, “own rooted,” dry-farmed vines that the owners rescued. As parents of small future wine lovers, owners Juliette and Alexis have created a kid-friendly space.
Experience shows at Syncline Wine Cellars (synclinewine.com). Standouts are their contemplative whites: grüner veltliner, grenache blanc and picpoul. Find your tasting nook
in their gardens or climb into a hammock with a glass, but try not to fall out.
On the Oregon side of the river, a visit to Analemma Wines (analemmawines.com) is a must. Go for the sparkling, the gorgeous gewürztraminer and the outstanding hospitality.
Take a glass up the path to enjoy lavender fields and cushy loveseats overlooking the vineyards. It is super romantic.
For many, Maryhill Winery (maryhillwinery.com) is synonymous with a Gorge visit. Truly a destination winery, Maryhill takes full advantage of its surroundings overlooking the Columbia River Gorge and Mt Hood. Between bocce, picnic areas, concerts in the summer months and more than 20 distinct wines, you could (and should) spend the day.
>> Solstice Wood Fired Café: Order the signature Country Girl Cherry Pizza and the Lamb & Tagliatelle. solsticewoodfirecafe.com
>> Everybody’s Brewing: Beer on the deck. Best “Holy Moly” view of Mt. Hood. everybodysbrewing.com
>> Henni’s Kitchen and Bar: Eclectic menu. Order lots of appetizers for all the curry and pickled flavors. henniskitchenandbar.com
>> Inn of the White Salmon: Brick 1930s-era family-owned inn with personal service and lovely courtyard out back for coffee and planning. innofthewhitesalmon.com
Umpqua Valley/Roseburg, Oregon
Roseburg in the Umpqua Valley is wine country—with “country” being the operative word. Expect a bit of scenic driving between wineries on roads bordered by forested hillsides and the Umpqua River. Land holdings here are large so most wineries have space to let their personality spill out, creating unique vineyard visits.
The fairytale setting begins in the gardens at Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards (reustlevineyards.com), complete with a blue door to Narnia. Tasting takes place in the courtyard and the underground catacombs designed by the same person who designed Disney’s Indiana Jones ride. Here you will find the first grüner veltliner in the U.S., award-winning syrah and age-worthy riesling. Flights are accompanied by perfectly paired appetizers and a bit of wine education, an important part of the experience.
At Abacela (abacela.com), the significance of the land is front and center with educational signs along paths on the bucolic property. Leaders in the production of quality Spanish grapes in the U.S., tempranillo, grenache and albariño stand center stage. For a more in-depth experience schedule a tour and tasting and order the cheese plate. If you are in the mood for something sweet, get a little “port.”
Open until 7:00 p.m., Cooper Ridge Vineyard (cooperridgevineyard.com) is a great last stop. Get a charcuterie plate and call it happy hour. The view from the multi-tiered deck, dotted with red umbrellas, is awe-inspiring—vines, mountains and sky so perfect they look painted. With seven estate grapes to try, don’t leave without tasting the viognier—the secret is a long time on the vine—and a splash of riesling and grüner veltliner.
While traveling south to Roseburg, if time allows, take the short detour off I-5’s Exit 61 and head to Elkton for Brandborg Vineyard and Winery’s (brandborgwine.com) superb pinot noir, killer sauvignon blanc, riesling and even a white pinot noir.
Brix Grill: Dinner and nightlife, sure. But don’t miss breakfast. Look for seafood(y) specials. (on Facebook)
The Rocks District, Milton-Freewater, Oregon
The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater is a smaller, “still being discovered” Oregon AVA (American Viticulture Area) within the Walla Walla AVA. Here, syrah is king and the heat from the namesake rocky vineyards infuses savory notes in the wines.
Wineries using fruit from The Rocks District lie in Washington and Oregon. Some wineries may only have a couple of bottles made with the sought-after Rocks District fruit. Ask about the fruit source if you want that distinctive taste. There aren’t very many tasting rooms in the actual Rocks District, but it is worth a visit to see the rocky soils that clearly define the AVA.
In Oregon’s Rocks District, stop at Watermill Winery (watermillwinery.com) for the cabernet franc and Praying Mantis syrah. Watermill shares a tasting room with Blue Mountain Cider Company (drinkcider.com). Sample as many ciders as they will allow, especially peach if they have it. A visit to Don Carlo Vineyards (rocksdistrict.com/wineries/don-carlo) offers estate wine tastes and a view of their “rocky” vineyard.
Directly across the state line in Washington, four wineries, all with some Rocks District wine, sit within walking distance from each other. Music lovers should not miss Sleight of Hand Cellars (sofhcellars.com). Besides a lineup of superb wines, carnival-inspired posters and 1700 vinyl albums create a musical funhouse feel—and they take requests. Walk through the vineyards to Saviah Cellars (saviahcellars.com) and taste the Stones Speak syrah and the Funk Estate syrah—named for owner Rich Funk. Take in the hand-carved artwork created by Funk’s parents and the locally brushed oil paintings.
Across the street, a newly renovated tasting room offers the combined labels of Balboa and Beresan wineries (balboawinery.com), with fruitier wines, affordable prices and punny names like The Buzz and Balboa Constrictor. Balboa is a fun place to taste later in the afternoon when people tend to hangout. Before you are done, go taste Old Stone syrah in a barrel room at Waters Winery (trwines.com), and take in a game of pétanque (French-style bocce) with a glass of the Great Schism red blend at Tertulia Cellars (tertuliacellars.com).
|THE ROCKS DISTRICT OF MILTON FREEWATER/WALLA WALLA
Bomb! Taco Shop: Follow the locals to this taco truck for $1 tacos.
Walla Walla Cheese Company: Grilled cheese, mac ‘n’ cheese, picnic baskets. wallawallacheesecompany.com
Umapine Creamery: Local cheese, to go, from a working dairy farm. umapinecreamery.com
Sub Shop 38: Oversized subs.
Petits Noir: Chocolates made for wine pairing. petitsnoirs.com
Nine Trees Inn: Early 20th-century Craftsman home turned B&B. ninetreesinn.com
Peach Island Farm: 1962 Shasta travel trailer. peachislandfarms.com