Getting to Know the Willamette Valley

WillametteValleyMap

It’s Bigger Than You Think

First things first. The Willamette Valley is much larger than most people realize.

It starts as far South as Eugene and extends all the way up to Portland. Just to give you an idea of how far this is, it takes 2 hours to drive from Eugene to Portland. Much Longer if you’re detouring to areas of the wine country and not just taking Highway 5 the whole way directly. Which, of course you will be.

The most well known regions are in and around the towns of Mcminnville, Dundee, and Newberg in the Northern Willamette Valley.  The most popular wine country town (think Healdsburg 15 years ago but with more rain-just to give an idea) has to be Mcminnville.

That said, Dundee and Newberg each have a couple nice spots to eat, and a cute (if extremely small)  ‘strip’ of businesses (mostly tasting rooms mixed with a restaurant or two, a high end market and a cafe, antique shops, etc).

There’s also the cute up and coming (not that it’s a new town but it’s built up a posher and newer little downtown area recently) wine town of Carlton  about 15 minutes North of Mcminnville and about the same distance East of Dundee.

The Growing Regions of the Willamette Valley 

When trying to plan a trip to different wineries-it’s helpful to plan both around the towns you will be in or near as well as the growing regions that you are most interested in. Or better still, to plan where you stay around what regions you want to visit. You may not know until you get here which regions have wines that are more to your tastes, or that you’ll enjoy the most. And, you may love them all equally!

Dundee Hills Willamette Valley View
View from Durant Vineyards over the Dundee Hills in Willamette Valley

Still it’s a much better idea to choose one area and stick around there for the day than trying to get everywhere in one day. If you’re gonna come here and do the Valley-give it a few days. There is so much to do, see, drink and eat!

The AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas aka growing regions or sub-appellations) of Willamette Valley

The Willamette Valley AVA

This is the mother of all AVA’s encompassing the entire Willamette Valley. All other Willamette Valley AVA’s fall within this AVA.

The Willamette Valley stretches from Eugene in the South all the way up to Portland in the North and is almost 5,400 square miles.

Chehalem Mountains

This growing region is Southwest of Portland in the Northern Willamette Valley (see map above)

Distinctive features of the region: the highest point in the Willamette Valley is Chehalem Mountain’s Bald Peak in this region

Big name wineries in this region: Bergstrom and Adelsheim

For more information on this region click here

Dundee Hills

This region lies 30 miles southwest of Portland and only 40 miles East of the ocean. The town of Dundee is a great jumping off point for visiting this region’s wineries though you are also quite close as well if you choose to stay in Mcminnville (15 minutes Southeast) or Newberg (10 minutes North).

Interesting facts: the first grapes in the Willamette Valley were planted in the Dundee Hills. It is also the most densely planted region in the Willamette Valley (though it’s 1/5 the size of the Chehalem AVA both regions have a similar acreage of planted vineyards)

Big name wineries in this region: Lange Estate, Erath, Domaine Drouhin,  Domaine Serene

For more information this region click here

Eola-Amity Hills

The areas South of Mcminnville get less attention (in the wine world) but there are many great wineries dotting the map between Salem (1 hour South) and Mcminnville and, even a few South of Salem that are still Willamette Valley. Most of these lie within the Eola-Amity Hills AVA.

Big name wineries in this region: Cristom

For more information on this region click here

 

Photo by Brooke Herron
Coeur de Terre Vineyard (in the Mcminnville foothills) in Winter

Mcminnville:

40 miles southwest of Portland, the Mcminnville AVA bears the name of the nearby town of Mcminnville

Interesting facts: this region gets more sun and less rain and has more higher elevation vineyards that neighboring AVA’s and is where Oregon Pinot Noir pioneer, David Lett first started his winery (Eyrie Vineyards).

Key Piece of Wine Industry History : Mcminnville hosted the first International Pinot Noir Celebration (or IPNC) event in 1987.  IPNC is now a world renowned wine event that attracts winemakers, sommeliers and wine professionals as well as consumers from all over the world.

For more info on this region click here

Ribbon Ridge:

Located off the northwest end of the Chehalem Mountains and within the larger Chehalem Mountains AVA this AVA is distinguished by unique ocean sedimentary soils and a geography that is protected by the larger landmasses surrounding it.

For more Info on this region click here

Yamhill-Carlton:

North of McMinnville, this AVA sits in the foothills of the Coast Range and is one of the largest AVA’s, centered around the towns of Carlton and Yamhill.  Yamhill River runs through this AVA and the region sits protected from the rain, by the Coast Range as well as the Chehalem Mountains to the north and the Dundee Hills to the East.

Big name wineries in this region: Penner-Ash, Beaux-Frères

For more info on this region click here
Bergstrom Vineyard in the Willamette Valley
Know Before You Go

The Northern Willamette Valley gets all of the attention (pretty much North of Salem) but there are vineyards South of Salem and even as far down as Eugene. Not least worthy of mention is the expansive King Estate Winery just 15 minutes outside Eugene which is the largest bio-dynamic winery in not just Oregon but the United States!

If you want to visit ‘the Willamette Valley’ you’ll need to get more specific. Where in the Willamette Valley do you want to go? South or North? Are you starting from Portland or are you driving from the South (or maybe even all the way from California? Road Trip!) from Salem or Eugene? How much time do you have? And… what are you most interested in doing?

There is so much to do here. And that goes beyond just wine tasting and vineyards. From small farms where you can tour, taste (cheese, nuts, fruits, honeys….) and buy directly from the producers to craft cider and beer breweries and hiking. There is something for everyone who enjoys the good life (good food, good drink and beautiful surroundings). So when you’ve spent enough time tasting wine, why not take advantage of some of the other experiences Willamette Valley has to offer?

Resources for Your Visit

These are my favorite resources for planning travel, finding off the beaten path spots and accommodation, and learning about the wine regions of the Willamette Valley.

Willamette Valley Wineries Association:

Great for information on wineries, region wide events, wine country accommodation, region maps, and more

Travel Oregon Great for planning a trip for any reason, anywhere in Oregon. From firsthand depictions of stays at B&Bs and tours at local farms to 24 and 48 hour itinerary suggestions and listings of all local tours and destinations this site has it all, plus a quirky endearing style that will make you feel like you’re getting the info from a friend or very cool traveler first-hand.

Oregon Wine Board

Get your wine geek on. Find breakdowns on the AVA’s of the Willamette Valley, lots of maps, news on the industry and more.

If you’re in the wine trade go straight to this link 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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17 Comments

  • As a wine enthousiast I am now heading to sourh-africa to explore the wine region near capetown, nu I will keep This One in mind for the future

  • Thats a nice read! My husband and me are looking into a future trip from San Francisco to Seattle and so far we were only thinking about Highway 1.. but it seems really worth to extend the journey to explore Williamette as well; that they are having vine is a big plus 🙂 Thanks for sharing

    • If you are making that drive-there are SO many amazing places to stop between SF and Seattle-the 1 is beautiful too! but you miss a lot of cool stuff inland like Mt Shasta, Ashland, and the Willamette Valley. This is a major wine country and its’ THE region for Pinot Noir in the U.S. I spent 10 years in the Sonoma County wine industry and 5 years working with distributors and import portfolios/producers as well as the last two years in Europe exploring wine regions. The best Pinot I’ve found outside of Burgundy France is in the Willamette Valley 🙂

  • Oregon is not the place I would have thought of for wine. Thank you for changing my perception about the state!

    Happy continued travels,
    C

  • That looks like the perfect trip for me. I recently did a wine tour in the Barossa Valley in Australia and I loved it. This must be kind of a similar experience.

  • This place looks great, we have a lot of Vineyards here in Vienna and in Austria in general. I have not read much about Oregon and I am happy for this post.

    • Hi Sheri- I have yet to make it to Austria! But look forward to doing so one day. I have been to many vineyards in France, Italy and Spain (and of course California) but there are still so many more places I want to go!

  • Love your blog! Just started following you on Twitter and have been voraciously consuming your posts.

    We live in Napa Valley and are wine lovers. Check out our blog: http://www.topochinesvino.com. We are also wine importers working with wineries in Spain, Italy and Croatia, but also have a great friend and client up in Willamette. This post was so informative.

  • This is a region I am very uninformed about. It sounds great– I love wine and I also love the idea of farms with homemade cheese!

    You’ve provided lots of good resources here and I hope all wine lovers heading to Oregon will find this post! 😉

  • Yep this is even more proof that Nico and I need to get on it and finally do a wine-based road trip through Oregon up to the border of Canada. It’s nice to know of the foodie options as well, as always thank you Brooke for doing true research and helping us future “newbies” to the area get a gourmet experience.

    • thank you Georgette 🙂

      If you do go you won’t be disappointed! SO much great wine, cider, beer and food all up and down the West Coast. You know who to call if you want introductions to winemakers too! 🙂

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