by Marguerite Cleveland
THE GREAT OAKS FOOD TRAIL is a wondrous culinary journey in Oregon’s iconic Willamette Valley. Along the way you will visit charming small towns and family farms and vineyards that are working to restore the native great white oak savannah. According to the Oregon Oak Accord more than 97 percent of the white oak’s historic habitat has already disappeared. To protect and restore more than 1,500 acres of this fragile ecosystem, 50 vineyard and forest landowners have signed the Oak Accord. This is a voluntary conservation agreement by landowners, and in return they receive guidance on how to restore and protect the native oak habitat on their property.
The town of Independence is a perfect base for your gastronomic travels. Stay at The Independence, a new hotel on the banks of the Willamette River. There are gorgeous views, and the hotel welcomes cyclists with rooms that can accommodate bikes. Conveniently located next to the historic downtown area, it is an easy stroll to shops, breweries and restaurants. Gilgamesh Brewing has a simple menu of hand-tossed pizzas, salads and burgers which pairs perfectly with their award-winning brews. Don’t miss stopping into Jubilee Champagne & Dessert Bar for some bubbly and a house-made dessert.
Anticipation builds as you drive the tree-lined road to the Keeler Estate Vineyard. The property is beautifully landscaped and surrounded by vineyards and a white oak savannah, the largest on the food trail. The Keeler family has worked hard to restore this savannah by removing invasive species and planting native grasses. And they are opening trails through the lovely preserve.
“The best bottles of wine are made with more attention to farming than winemaking,” winemaker Kevin Healy says. “We are certified organic and biodynamic.”
Healy, an adventurous winemaker, has a degree in organic agriculture. Make sure to try his 2019 Field Blend which is basically every varietal they grow: pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay. It comes out as a light red or a dark rose. Healy calls it a new category of wine, and it is delicious.
The Larson Family at Left Coast Estate, a vineyard, winery and farm are true conservationists working to run their estate in the most ecologically way possible. From their solar-powered energy, a gravity fed irrigation pond and extensive recycling, they are limiting their impact on the environment. They are also working to restore over 100 acres of old growth oak forest through their partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The forest will be a permanent wildlife refuge on their property. Each year the family hosts the Run for the Oaks, and the course runs through the estate vineyards and the old growth oak savannas, a beautiful setting; the proceeds go to their Oak Forest Restoration Project. Their tasting room offers farm-to-fork pizza from an authentic wood-fired oven. Make sure to try their 2017 Left Bank Pinot Blanc, a unique white wine.
Other must-see stops on the Great Oak Food Trail include the Blue Raeven Farm Stand for pie, Benedetto Winery for their gamay noir, and the truffles crafted by the monks at the Brigittine Priory of Our Lady of Consolation. The Salt Creek Cider House is a family-owned business on a historic homestead property; sip some cider on their deck overlooking the pond and a grove of white oaks.
Learn more about the Great Oaks Food Trail at…