Explore Oregon’s Willamette Valley by Horseback
In the heart of the Willamette Valley, known in wine circles as the premiere place to begin an Oregon pinot noir pilgrimage, you can pair your wine with a side of adventure. First stop: Winter’s Hill Estate in the storied Dundee Hills. At this second-generation family run winery, you can often spy a handful of noble horses trotting through vineyard rows.
Over a decade ago, the Gladhart family established a relationship with Jake and Shirley Price, founders of Equestrian Wine Tours. Their estate is one of a few open to guests who saddle up to ride horseback through leafy vineyards and stands of Oregon White Oak and Douglas Fir woodland.
Most afternoons from early spring through late autumn, Sarah Ann Hahn, one of the lead guides for Equestrian Wine Tours takes guests on a two-hour trail and vineyard ride where in addition to grapes growing, you can take in majestic views of Mt. Hood and the snow-capped peaks of the Oregon coast range. All from atop a Tennessee Walking Horse. “These horses are known for the smoothness of their gait,” says Hahn. One reason why the breed is deemed the Cadillac of the horse world, and a perfect companion for riders of all abilities.
While Hahn enjoys riding in any season (autumn for the bustling grape harvest, wildflowers in spring, and a blanket of snow come winter) summer is one of her favorites. She knows the hidden pockets where wild plums, cherries, and blackberries grow with abandon. “Guests love to eat them,” she says, “and the horses do too.” In addition to the forested trails, the horseback ride winds through some of the most prestigious vineyards in the state.
“It’s a completely immersive experience you can’t have anywhere else,” says Russell Gladhart, winemaker for Winter’s Hill Estate. “The horseback ride gets people out of the car and into the vines, seeing things at a much slower pace.” Part of the ride passes through the Gladhart’s expansive thirty-five acre vineyard that includes plantings of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir rooted over 30-years ago.
After the horseback ride (and selfie moments with the Tennessee Walkers) guests head to the winery, which doubles as the tasting room, and is open all year round. “We like to do the tasting right in the winery with the tanks and the barrels and the forklift,” says Gladhart. In this environment, guests can better understand the winemaking process and ask questions sparked by the gleaming tanks and press and stacks of oak barrels.
The tasting flight always features at least two different vintages to try. “We want the tasting to be educational and to give visitors a chance to experience vintage variation,” Gladhart says. To dive a little deeper into the pinot noir program, the winery also offers a guided comparative tasting of single block bottlings and library wines that’s available with advance reservations.
“We want people to linger and enjoy the views,” says Gladhart. From the outdoor patio, you can catch sunsets over the coast range, and often see a cluster of Tennessee Walkers waiting in a corral. Other outdoor experiences include guided estate walks and vineyard picnics.
When guests want to extend their wine country visit, Russell suggests a stay at The Vintages Trailer Resort, a colorful and charming collection of retro Airstreams and vintage trailers set halfway between Dundee and McMinnville. Amenities include locally roasted Caravan Coffee, outdoor lawn games, and a pool. Just remember to bring the rosé.
More activities to explore with Winter’s Hill:
July 7: 10th Annual Fueled by Fine Wine Half-Marathon
July 27: Yoga at Winter’s Hill Estate
August 11: Facets of Winter’s Hill: A Co-Op Wine Festival