The Insider's Guide to Oregon Wine Country
WE PORTLANDERS ARE LUCKY to live less than an hour from hundreds of top-notch wineries in the Willamette Valley—and it’s only a few more hours to Southern Oregon’s winemaking region—but that doesn’t mean it can’t be daunting to navigate the terrain. Assessing which wineries pour the best pinot can be a lifelong (though highly pleasurable) pursuit. And finding the tasting room that has the most spectacular view? That can put hundreds of miles on the odometer. In fact, so vast is our state’s vino landscape—there are more than 350 wineries—that it’s easy to become overwhelmed and avoid exploring it alogether.
Don’t be one of those who makes that terrible mistake, for when you live this close to vines that produce world-class wines, you’ve only got one real option: become a connoisseur. To assist you in your endeavor, we solicited the sage advice of our wine critic, Condé Cox, who directed us to the wines and wineries that no self-respecting Oregonian should miss. To help you find your way, we also school you in the state’s American Viticultural Areas (AVAs)—smaller, formalized winemaking regions blessed with unique geographical and climatic conditions that have produced some of Oregon’s most distinctive bottlings. Whether you stick to the Willamette Valley or head to those valleys carved by the Umpqua and Rogue Rivers, use our insider’s guide and you’ll return home a more savvy, and satisfied, wine drinker than before.
NORTHERN WILLAMETTE VALLEY
If you only wish to dabble for a day in the region’s pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay, the vineyards and wineries that lie north of Hwy 240 and south of Hwy 26, between Yamhill and Newberg, are the easiest to access from Portland. But convenience isn’t this pastoral area’s only attraction. A trip here also offers an excellent introduction to some of the valley’s top vinos. Even better, once you head deep into the undulating hills, you’ll be traversing the three different AVAs that make up the northern edge of the Willamette Valley, a striking tour indeed of the region’s varying landscape.
Cross-hatching most of the valley’s northern portion is the Chehalem Mountains AVA, an impressive uplifted mass of land that stretches some 20 miles long and is home to Bald Peak State Park—one of the area’s highest points (1,629 feet) and the perfect location for a picnic. To the west lies the northern half of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, set in the foothills of the Coast Range. And tucked away between the two is the tiny Ribbon Ridge AVA. Somewhat overshadowed by the surrounding AVAs, Ribbon Ridge’s unique marine sedimentary soils have attracted Beaux Frères, Patricia Green and Brick House—wineries whose wines have achieved near-cult status.
To get a sense for the distinct wines made in each AVA, start out at two of the oldest wineries in the valley: Rex Hill, located on the eastern edge of the Chehalem Mountains, and Ponzi, the first winery to plant pinot gris in the area. Meander on to Brick House, whose Les Dijonnais pinot noir our wine critic has chosen as one of the top 10 Pacific Northwest wines. Brick House’s vineyards are also some of the first in the valley to be certified organic and biodynamic, an agricultural trend that’s just now beginning to sweep the entire valley. And if you work your way through those wineries? There are at least 30 others in the area to choose from.
1. PONZI VINEYARDS Housed in the elegant home that Dick Ponzi built for his family in the 1970s, the tasting room of this 38-year-old winery is most stunning on a cloudless day, when the soaring windows drench the lofty, tiled room with warm sunlight. The Ponzis were the first winemakers to plant and grow pinot gris locally, and their 2006 release of the varietal has proven to be their fastest-selling bottling yet. Down in Dundee, the Ponzis’ other tasting room sits right next to Dundee Bistro. 14665 SW Winery Ln, Beaverton; 503-628-1227; daily 11-5
2. REX HILL VINEYARDS Situated on a vine-covered slope just off of Hwy 99, Rex Hill (now owned by A to Z Wines) is one of the most convenient wineries to visit on a day trip from Portland, not to mention the best of the larger producers in the area (they turn out 30,000 cases a year). Housed in an old fruit-and-nut drying plant, the tasting room offers several pinots, the most notable of which is the winery’s William Hatcher’s 2005 pinot noir. 30835 Hwy 99W, Newberg; 503-538-0666; daily 11-5 (Dec-May), daily 10-5 (June-Nov)
3. BRICK HOUSE VINEYARDS Winemaker and owner Doug Tunnell, a former CBS newsman, is so committed to his 15-year-old enterprise—growing and vinifying 100 percent certified organic and biodynamic pinot noir, gamay noir and chardonnay grapes—that he lives on the very land he farms, in the old brick house for which his winery is named. Using grapes grown in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, Tunnell produces some of the best wines in the region—which, if you can snag an appointment, you’ll get to taste in a shed that doubles as his laboratory. 18200 Lewis Rogers Ln, Newberg; 503-538-5136; by appointment only
4. WILLAKENZIE ESTATE WillaKenzie may be a sprawling estate winery, but it achieves its grandiose aesthetic without feeling corporate—in fact, it’s elegantly designed, with tall ceilings, curved windows, and an impressive mural of French wine country. But the real thrill of visiting this wood-toned tasting room is the sheer number of Burgundian-style wines you’ll sample, from pinot noir to pinot gris and pinot blanc. 19143 NE Laughlin Rd, Yamhill; 503-662-3280; Fri-Sat 12-5 and Mon-Thur by appointment (Nov-April), daily 12-5 (May-Oct)
ALSO WORTH A VISIT
5. ADEA WINE COMPANY 26421 Hwy 47, Gaston; 503-662-4509; by appointment only
The Lowdown: Small, funky, family-run winery and tasting room with good pinot noir and even better pinot gris.
6. ADELSHEIM VINEYARD 16800 NE Calkins Ln, Newberg; 503-538-3652; Wed-Sun 11-4
The Lowdown: Opened in 1971, making it one of Oregon’s pinot pioneers.
7. BEAUX FRÈRES 15155 NE North Valley Rd, Newberg; 503-537-1137; by appointment only (if you’re lucky)
The Lowdown: Produces award-winning pinot noir that has garnered a big following (perhaps in part because the famed wine critic Robert Parker is a co-owner).
8. BERGSTROM WINERY 18215 NE Calkins Ln, Newberg; 503-554-0468; by appointment only
The Lowdown: Brand-new tasting room; offers a style of pinot noir that tends to be bigger-bodied, with fuller tannins and darker colors.
9. CHEHALEM 31190 NE Veritas Ln, Newberg; 503-538-4700; by appointment only
The Lowdown: Very good pinots, and an excellent unoaked chardonnay.
10. ELK COVE VINEYARDS 27751 NW Olson Rd, Gaston; 503-985-7760; daily 10-5
The Lowdown: One of the larger wineries (in terms of production) in Oregon, it has produced single-vineyard wines since 1979.
11. KRAMER VINEYARDS 26830 NW Olson Rd, Gaston; 503-662-4545; Sat-Sun 12-5 (Feb-Mar), daily 12-5 (Apr-Oct), Fri-Sun 12-5 (Nov-Dec)
The Lowdown: Kitschy family-run tasting room in the foothills of the Coast Range; produces pinot gris and some good pinot noir, too.
12. PATRICIA GREEN CELLARS 15225 NE North Valley Rd, Newberg; 503-554-0821; by appointment only
The Lowdown: Exceptional single-vineyard wines and one of the best representatives of the Ribbon Ridge AVA.
13. PENNER-ASH WINE CELLARS 15771 NE Ribbon Ridge Rd, Newberg; 503-554-5545; Thur-Sun 11-5
The Lowdown: Specializes in pinot noir, syrah and viognier; one of the few wineries in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA that is open to the public all year.
CENTRAL WILLAMETTE VALLEY
There are many very good reasons why the Dundee Hills, which lie just west of the town of Dundee and 15 miles east of Carlton, are often referred to as the heart of Oregon’s wine country. Perhaps the most important, for some, is the fact that this is where David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards planted the first successful commercial pinot noir vineyard in 1965 (although Lett, often called Papa Pinot, has always maintained his winery in nearby McMinnville). On Lett’s heels came Dick Erath’s Erath winery, then Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser’s Sokol Blosser winery, followed by the Drouhin family, owners of the esteemed Maison Joseph Drouhin estate in Burgundy, who established Domaine Drouhin here in 1987.
For these wine-country pioneers, the hills’ warmer, isolated climate, southeast-facing slopes and deep, volcanic soils were the perfect place to grow grapes. But wind your way along the area’s many curving roads, and you may wonder if it wasn’t the astounding natural beauty (or the spectacular views) that attracted those trailblazers in the first place. Of course, the proof is in the bottle, which is why a visit to just about any of our recommended wineries in the Dundee Hills AVA is essential.
Once you’ve gotten your fill there, continue west to Carlton, an old farming town (population 1,755) that’s not only the center of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, but a regional winemaking hub in its own right. Its rise as a wine destination is thanks in no small part to the arrival of Ken Wright Cellars in 1994, whose pinot is some of the most sought-after in the state. In the past few years, some dozen wineries, including Scott Paul and Raptor Ridge, have opened winemaking facilities and tasting rooms there too. In fact, there are so many wineries concentrated between Carlton and Dundee that savvy oenophiles now consider a visit to Carlton a requisite part of their Oregon wine education. And so, we think, should you.
1. ARGYLE WINERY As you’re sitting in what can often be an endless traffic snarl in Dundee, simply visualize Argyle’s creamy blanc de blancs sparkling wine, which is always worth the wait. An easy first stop on your journey into the Dundee Hills AVA, Argyle’s tasting room is conveniently perched on Dundee’s main drag and possesses a certain unassuming air—perhaps a reflection of owner Rollin Soles’s humble approach to winemaking. After you’ve sampled Argyle’s complex sparkling wines, be sure to get a taste of the winery’s top-shelf chardonnay and pinot, bottled under the Nuthouse and Spirithouse labels. 691 Hwy 99W, Dundee; 503-538-8520; Mon-Sun 11-5
2. ARCHERY SUMMIT WINERY Set amid 100 acres of estate-owned vineyards in the Dundee Hills, Archery Summit uses grapes grown on some of the oldest vines in the region, including those of the superb Arcus vineyard, whose fruit composes Archery Summit’s best pinot noir. From the outside, the eye-catching winery seems to stretch forever into the hills, but the tasting room is quite small—although not lacking in personality. A tour through the winery’s facility is recommended: Its underground wine caves are impressively similar to those in Burgundy. 18599 NE Archery Summit Rd, Dayton; 503-864-4300; Wed-Sun 10-4
3. DOMAINE DROUHIN OREGON There are few who will disagree that Domaine Drouhin’s reputation for producing superb pinot helped bring Willamette Valley viticulturalism into the limelight, perhaps in part because the Drouhin family actually hails from Burgundy—where they maintain their other prestigious winery, Maison Joseph Drouhin. Domaine Drouhin’s vast estate atop the Dundee Hills offers a panoramic view of the valley; their wines offer a similar “view” of the heights to which pinot noir can soar in Oregon. Indeed, our wine critic has included Domaine Drouhin’s Laurène pinot as a top 10 Pacific Northwest wine. 6750 NE Breyman Orchards Rd, Dayton; 503-864-2700; Wed-Sun 11-4
4. CARLTON WINEMAKERS STUDIO Co-owned by talented winemaker Eric Hamacher, this large-scale, cooperative “winery” offers a lab for budding or small-production winemakers who don’t want to open a facility of their own. By visiting the studio’s tasting room or sitting out on its patio with a flight, you’ll be able to taste wines from 11 different labels produced by 8 winemakers. Hamacher, who has produced impressive pinot noir and chardonnay since he opened the studio in 2002, vinifies three of the labels himself. 801 N Scott St, Carlton; 503-852-6100; Thur-Sun 11-5 (Jan-Feb), daily 11-5 (Mar-Dec)
ALSO WORTH A VISIT
5. DOMAINE SERENE WINERY 6555 NE Hilltop Ln, Dayton; 503-864-4600; Wed-Sun 11-4
The Lowdown: Exquisite winery whose pinot has consistently beat out those from Burgundy in blind tastings; snatch up a bottle of the Evenstad pinot noir.
6. FOUR GRACES 9605 NE Fox Farm Rd, Dundee; 800-245-2950; daily 10-5
The Lowdown: Good pinot noir, but the whites here, especially the pinot gris, are among the best in Oregon.
7. TYRUS EVAN 120 N Pine St, Carlton; 503-852-7010; daily 11-5 (only white wines available for tasting)
The Lowdown: A tasting room that pours Ken Wright’s Southern Oregon wine label, Tyrus Evan.
8. LANGE ESTATE WINERY & VINEYARDS 18380 NE Buena Vista Dr, Dundee; 503-538-6476; daily 11-5
The Lowdown: Located at the top of the Dundee Hills; top-quality pinot noir, especially their reserve bottlings, all made by early winemaking pioneer Don Lange.
9. LEMELSON WINERY 12020 NE Stag Hollow Rd, Carlton; 503-852-6619; by appointment only
The Lowdown: Casual, understated winery that doesn’t compromise class; offers pinot appropriate for aging, as well as some meant for early drinkability (as in the Thea’s Selection).
10. RAPTOR RIDGE WINERY 130 W Monroe St, Carlton; 503-367-4263; by appointment only
The Lowdown: Set in a new warehouse in Carlton, the winery owns vineyards in the Chehalem AVA, but also uses grapes sourced from all over the valley to make its single-vineyard pinot noir.
11. SCOTT PAUL WINES 128 S Pine St, Carlton; 503-852-7300; Wed-Sun 11-4
The Lowdown: Excellent pinot noir from grapes grown in some of the valley’s most sought-after vineyards; also imports and sells pinot and chardonnay from Burgundy.
12. SOLENA CELLARS 213 S Pine St, Carlton; 503-852-0082; Thur-Sun 12-5, or by appointment
The Lowdown: Many bottlings are made from grapes grown in multiple Oregon AVAs; ask for a taste of Solena’s pinot made from its newest Yamhill-Carlton estate vineyard.
13. STOLLER VINEYARDS & WINERY 16161 NE McDougall Rd, Dayton; 503-864-3404; Sat-Sun 10-5, Mon-Fri by appointment
The Lowdown: A new winery owned by Bill and Cathy Stoller, who have built a reputation selling Dundee Hills grapes to prominent wineries.
SOUTHERN WILLAMETTE VALLEY
SITUATED 30 MILES south of the famous winemaking region of Dundee, the Eola-Amity Hills AVA may be closer to Salem than Portland, but the slopes that lie between the towns of Amity and Lincoln actually produce some of the very best wines in the valley. Like those of Dundee, Eola-Amity’s best vineyards face south or southeast, are planted at roughly the same altitude (up to 800 feet) and are known for their iron-rich volcanic soils. Indeed, some say that both the Dundee and Eola-Amity AVAs are akin to the Côte d’Or in France, the heart of Burgundy.
Still, the Eola-Amity AVA boasts its own unique geographical and climatic conditions: Much of the area is exposed to ocean breezes, and its soils are also shallower, which makes for wines that are distinct from those of both Burgundy and Dundee. For instance, the AVA’s best pinot noir tends to have more acidity, structure and black fruit flavors (as opposed to the typical red fruit flavors of Dundee wines), and its scent is often a bit earthier.
Tasting notes aside, however, a drive through the Eola-Amity Hills can be much more relaxing than jaunts through wine country farther north, partly because no major towns exist to interrupt the halcyon landscape of forests, orchards and vineyards. In fact, if you want to bypass the traffic of Hwy 99W altogether, you can ride a ferry partway there.
For more action, travelers can head northwest to McMinnville, the home of Oregon’s first pinot noir winery, Eyrie—not to mention some of the best restaurants in the region. As far back as the 1970s, winemaking pioneers gathered nightly at Nick’s Italian Cafe to debate the differences among soils and winds and temperatures. Just the kind of lively, wine-and-food-fueled debate that, after a trip to the Eola-Amity Hills, you too may find yourself engaged in—over a plate of Nick’s smoked-salmon lasagna and a glass of earthy, complex Evesham Wood pinot noir, of course.
1. EVESHAM WOOD VINEYARD & WINERY If you can get an appointment to taste Evesham Wood’s silky, complex pinot noir with owner and winemaker Russ Raney, expect to sample it in the basement of his family’s home, where every nook is filled with barrels—all part of the appeal of visiting. Thanks to Raney’s quiet, contagious enthusiasm for meticulous winemaking and Evesham Wood’s small production, its wines can be difficult to find. A visit to the winery might turn up that rare bottle you’ve been looking for. 3795 Wallace Rd, Salem; 503-371-8478; by appointment only
2. CRISTOM VINEYARDS It was difficult for our wine critic to choose between Cristom’s Jessie Vineyard pinot noir and its Eileen Vineyard pinot for our list of the top 10 Pacific Northwest bottlings. Why? Because both are among North America’s very best. One need not get caught up in such quibbling when visiting the winery, however, because whoever’s behind the tasting room counter will happily let you compare either with Cristom’s other single-vineyard bottlings. 6905 Spring Valley Rd, Salem; 503-375-3068; Sat-Sun 11-5, Mon-Fri by appointment only (Mar), Tue-Sun 11-5 (April-Nov), by appointment only (Dec-Feb)
3. ST INNOCENT WINERY Located on the southern end of the Eola Hills, St Innocent’s brand-new, 30,000-square-foot facility is located in the middle of the 133-acre Zenith Vineyard. Winemaker Mark Vlossak makes his pinot noir, pinot gris, pinot blanc and chardonnay using grapes from the surrounding area as well as from fruit grown in the other parts of the valley, including the Dundee Hills, where the winery’s White Rose Vineyard pinot noir, one of our picks for the top 10 Pacific Northwest wines, hails from. 5657 Zena Rd, Salem; 503-378-1526; Sat-Sun 11-4 (Jan-Mar), Wed-Sun 11-4 (Apr-Dec)
4. BETHEL HEIGHTS VINEYARD Framed by tall east-facing windows on three sides, the Bethel Heights tasting room lightens the soul with spectacular views, even on a gray, rainy day. Perched on a bluff that overlooks their immaculately cared-for vines, this family-run winery owns one of the first pinot vineyards to be planted in the AVA. Its estate-grown pinot noir and Eola-Amity cuvée are two of the best-valued pinot noir in the area. 6060 Bethel Heights Rd, Salem; 503-581-2262; Sat-Sun 11-5 (Mar-May), Tue-Sun 11-5 (June-Aug), Sat-Sun 11-5 (Sept-Nov), and by appointment only (Dec-Feb)
ALSO WORTH A VISIT
5. EYRIE VINEYARDS 935 NE 10th Ave, McMinnville; 888-440-4970; Wed-Sun 12-5
The Lowdown: Although all of its vineyards are in the Dundee Hills, the winery and new tasting room are in McMinnville. Eyrie’s wines become even more remarkable with age.
6. PANTHER CREEK CELLARS 455 NE Irvine Ave, McMinnville; 503-472-8080; daily 12-5
The Lowdown: Set in McMinnville’s former power plant, the winery was recently remodeled to include a tasting room; sample pinot noir while standing among stainless-steel tanks and barrels.
SALEM AND BEYOND
Although fewer winemakers have set up shop in the southern tip of the Willamette Valley AVA, several noteworthy wineries between Salem and Eugene are worth seeking out. Just south of Corvallis, right off of Hwy 99W, BROADLEY VINEYARDS (265 S 5th St, Monroe; 541-847-5934; by appointment only) produces distinctive pinot noir—most notably their two estate—vineyard block selections, Claudia’s Choice and Marcile Lorraine. Broadley’s Willamette Valley bottling also represents one of the best values among Oregon pinot ($20). Down the road, BENTON-LANE (23924 Territorial Hwy, Monroe; 541-847-5792; daily 11-4:30) also produces a Willamette Valley pinot noir that’s great for the price (about $26), as well as a bright pinot gris, among other varietals. South of Eugene, KING ESTATE (80854 Territorial Rd, Eugene; 800-884-4441; daily 9-5) is home to the world’s largest contiguous organic vineyard, with over 465 acres planted mostly with pinot noir and pinot gris. Its equally sprawling facilities include a tasting room and a full-service restaurant whose fruits and vegetables are picked fresh from 30 acres of orchards and gardens.
WILLAMETTE VALLEY TRAVEL GUIDE
If you want to explore the northern or central Willamette Valley, the towns of Newberg, Dundee and Carlton are convenient places to stay. For trips farther south, McMinnville is the best home base.
WHERE TO EAT
Dundee Bistro Co-owned by the Ponzi winemaking family and executive chef Jason Stoller-Smith, the Dundee Bistro has been a staple of the area food scene since it opened in 2000. Like the laid-back dining room, the menu tends toward the casual: Think fish and chips or smoked salmon pasta with lemon, capers and cream. 100-A SW Seventh St, Dundee; 503-554-1650
Horse Radish Carlton has become one of the major hubs of wine country, in no small part because of the arrival of this wine bar-cum-deli. Opened just last year, this small-town eatery boasts an impressive case of artisanal cheeses and charcuterie, as well as frequent wine-tastings. 211 W Main St, Carlton; 503-852-6656
Joel Palmer House Since 1997, Oregon’s de facto Mushroom King, Jack Czarnecki, has prepared superb wine-country fare in the regal, 19th-century Joel Palmer House. Using wild mushrooms (and Oregon white truffles), Czarnecki infuses his menu with their earthy flavors, be it in his mushroom tarts or a loin of elk with chanterelles. 600 Ferry St, Dayton; 503-864-2995
Nick’s Italian Cafe When it opened in 1977, Nick’s became the hangout for local winemakers. This year, Nick Peirano’s daughter Carmen and her fiancé, Eric Ferguson, took over the kitchen, and the menu has since soared, offering everything from homemade pastas to house-cured meats. Locals go through Nick’s back door, where there’s a small bar and a pool table. 521 NE Third St, McMinnville; 503-434-4471
Painted Lady A mere piece of steelhead—slow-roasted, dusted with sea salt and served atop sautéed fennel and bacon—can elevate a diner’s relationship to food at this humble restaurant in the heart of Newberg. Set in a two-story Victorian, the dining room’s menu offers “refined modern American” cuisine made with local ingredients that have been prepared with a light hand. 201 S College St, Newberg; 503-538-3850
Tina’s Twelve bucks may seem steep for lunch in a town of 3,000 people, but one bite of Tina’s aromatic lamb stew with green lentils—or just about anything else on the menu—and you won’t question the price. A favorite haunt among winemakers and wine tourists, this bistro’s menu is as sophisticated as its clientèle. 760 Hwy 99W, Dundee; 503-538-8880
WHERE TO STAY
Abbey Road Farm Set on a working goat-farm just east of Carlton, the five bedrooms that make up this modern country inn are housed within three grain silos. Sure, it sounds odd, but the angular rooms—all with radiant-floor heat and soft wood tones*212;are sunny, spacious and inviting, and a home-cooked breakfast is served each morning. $195; 10501 NE Abbey Rd, Carlton; 503-852-6278
Black Walnut Inn By far the most opulent boutique hotel in the Willamette Valley’s wine country, this soaring Tuscan-style villa offers unparalleled warmth and comfort. Overstuffed leather couches and a roaring fireplace make the living room perfect for lounging, while the nine bedrooms have been decorated with modern art and European antiques. $295-495; 9600 NE Worden Hill Rd, Dundee; 866-429-4114
Brookside Inn Bruce and Susan Bandstra have transformed an old religious retreat in the woods, where alcohol was once strictly forbidden, into a cozy, nine-room wine country escape. One of the newest places to stay in the valley, the inn has clean, modern lines and sparse Craftsman charm. Homemade, fresh-out-of-the-oven scones are served each morning. $185-350; 8243 NE Abbey Rd, Carlton; 503-852-4433
Carlton Inn Bed & Breakfast Located right on Main St in Carlton, just steps away from more than a dozen tasting rooms, this four-bedroom inn offers not only convenience, but a friendly, affordable place to call home during your stay in wine country. For breakfast, expect homemade yogurt, granola and pastries, and a hot, savory entrée made from scratch every day by owners Heidi and Edward Yates. $125-175; 648 W Main St, Carlton; 503-852-7506
Lion’s Gate Inn Bed & Breakfast Just down the street from the Painted Lady, this 1905 Craftsman has been exquisitely restored as a four-bedroom inn with fir floors, exposed ceiling beams and lush bedding. Knowledgeable innkeeper Lauren Wylie will take care of every need and send you off with a hearty breakfast each morning. $150-200; 401 N Howard St, Newberg; 503-476-2211
Youngberg Hill Vineyards & Inn Offering what just might be the best view in wine country, this luxurious seven-room inn boasts a 360-degree vista of the Coast Range, Willamette Valley wine country and beyond. Only a 10-minute drive from McMinnville, Youngberg Hill’s porches, patios and cozy living rooms and bedrooms provide the perfect place to relax after a day spent sipping. $150-300; 10660 SW Youngberg Hill Rd, McMinnville; 503-472-2727
BACK IN THE 1960s and ’70s, the first pinot noir vines were planted in the Willamette Valley, and within a few seasons, the winemaking pioneers who planted them proved naysayers around the world dead wrong. As we all now know, the Willamette Valley has become one of the world’s most renowned pinot noir producers.
Now take that bit of winemaking lore and apply it to the Southern Oregon AVA, where some three dozen wineries have, in the past 10 years or so, just begun to explore the viticultural possibilities of the Rogue, Umpqua and Applegate Valleys that lie between Roseburg and Jacksonville. Comprising the state’s most mountainous—and perhaps most remote—wine region, Southern Oregon’s warmer climate is friendlier to Rhône and Spanish varietals, such as syrah, malbec and tempranillo (although there’s still plenty of pinot noir and pinot gris being cultivated in the region). That’s good news for those who prefer big wines with ripe blueberry fruit flavors and full tannins, as opposed to the subtlety and light acidity of our state’s pinot noir.
If there’s a downside to Southern Oregon’s relatively new status as a notable wine region, it may be that it’s taken many of the wineries up until now to determine exactly which warm-weather varietals grow best there. But a few, Abacela and Wooldridge Creek among them, have already figured it out, and have garnered well-deserved accolades for their wines as a result. In fact, it’s our prediction that Abacela co-owner and winemaker Earl Jones, who was the first to plant tempranillo in the area, may do for Southern Oregon what pinot pioneer David Lett did for the Willamette Valley: In 10 years time, don’t be surprised if tempranillo is this budding wine region’s international calling card.
UMPQUA VALLEY AVA
There are a dozen wineries located west of I-5 between Elkton to the north and Winston to the south, in a valley that’s been carved out by the steel-blue Umpqua River. The following three offer the best wines in the AVA.
1. BRANDBORG VINEYARD & WINERY It may seem an odd choice to produce pinot noir in warm Southern Oregon, considering the grapes’ affinity for cool weather, but Brandborg’s vineyards are located just three miles southwest of Elkton, almost spitting distance from the ocean and the Willamette Valley. The winery’s Burgundian-style pinot noir is surprisingly good, as is its syrah, although the latter is made from grapes grown in vineyards planted farther south, near Sutherlin. Owners Terry and Sue Brandborg staff the well-appointed tasting room, and a lovely patio makes an ideal perch for lingering come summer. 345 First St, Elkton; 541-584-2870; daily 11-5
2. ABACELA VINEYARD & WINERY It was Abacela’s owners, Earl and Hilda Jones, who suggested that the town of Aranda del Duero in Spain’s Ribera del Duero region, known for its tempranillo wines, become Roseburg’s sister city in 2007. Both cities are surrounded by sun-soaked, south-sloping rocky hills, which also explains why the Joneses and their winemaker, Kylie Evans, have focused much of their viticultural energies producing tempranillo. During a visit to their unassuming tasting room, be sure to taste Abacela’s tempranillo, as well as their albariño (another Spanish varietal), malbec and syrah. If you can get your hands on a bottle of their 2000 Reserve tempranillo while you’re there, buy it. 12500 Lookingglass Rd, Roseburg; 541-679-6642; daily 11-5
3. SPANGLER VINEYARDS The slightly funky outward appearance of Spangler’s tasting room, located south of Roseburg, definitely belies the quality of the wines that owners Pat and Loree Spangler vinify inside their winery. Although the Spanglers offer over a dozen different wines, it’s the last three superb vintages of their cabernet sauvignon, made from grapes grown on very old vines, that have won them the attention of oenophiles across the country. 491 Winery Ln, Roseburg; 541-679-9654; daily 11-5
ROGUE VALLEY AVA
Comprising the area that lies between Medford and Grants Pass—where the Rogue and Bear Creek Rivers converge to the east, and the Rogue and Illinois Rivers converge to the west—the Rogue Valley AVA is home to a dozen wineries. Pay these a visit to try the best wines of the region.
1. AGATE RIDGE VINEYARD Producing what are by far the best Rogue Valley white wines, Agate Ridge makes an excellent marsanne/roussanne blend as well as a crisp and floral viognier and a decent pinot gris. Located just north of Medford and a few steps away from the scenic Crater Lake Highway, the winery is part of a 126-acre farm and the tasting room is housed in a charming old white farmhouse. 1098 Nick Young Rd, Eagle Point; 541-830-3050; Tue-Sun 11-5
2. ROXYANN WINERY One of the most impressive tasting rooms in Southern Oregon, RoxyAnn’s is situated inside the historic, green-and-white Hillscrest Orchard pear barn, while the winery and vineyards sprawl across parklike acres in neighboring east Medford. You can taste and purchase RoxyAnn’s claret, merlot, syrah or viognier here, but any visitor to the winery should be sure to sample winemaker Gus Janeway’s other label, Velocity, which produces excellent malbec and syrah. 3285 Hillcrest Rd, Medford; 541-776-2315; daily 11-6
3. TRIUM A partnership among three vineyard owners in Southern Oregon and winemaker Peter Rosbach (owner of Sineann Wines in the Willamette Valley), Trium produces small amounts of Gold Vineyard viognier from grapes grown in one of the oldest vineyards in the region. The cabernet sauvignon is equally noteworthy: In fact, Trium’s 2004 Evans Creek vintage offered some of the best cab ever made in Southern Oregon. You can also taste and buy Trium’s wines at RoxyAnn. 7112 Rapp Ln, Talent; 541-535-4015; by appointment only
APPLEGATE VALLEY AVA
Southern Oregon’s second-youngest appellation, the Applegate Valley also happens to be the most picturesque. Situated just south of Grants Pass and west of the Bear Creek Valley, Applegate is home to a half-dozen wineries. While the area has a few impressive tasting rooms—like Troon and Schmidt Family wineries—the wines at the following establishments soar above the others.
1. WOOLDRIDGE CREEK WINERY Three-year-old Wooldridge Creek, surrounded by the wooded Applegate Valley, actually sources its grapes from a vineyard that was planted 30 years ago—which partly explains why the winery offers the very best wines of the appellation. Since most of its wines are sold to wine club members, to visitors of the winery or to restaurants—and since Wooldridge Creek only produces about 3,000 cases a year—it’s worth paying a visit to its new, and very pleasant, tasting room, complete with breathtaking views of the Siskiyou Mountains. If they’ve got any left, the Warrick Red blend should not be missed, but their lighter-bodied syrah and cabernet are also worth making room in your trunk for a case—or two. 818 Slagle Creek Rd, Grants Pass; 541-846-6364; by appointment only
2. VALLEY VIEW The winery’s impressive tasting pavilion isn’t the only reason to make this an essential stop in the Applegate Valley. Some 16 different wines, from tempranillo to claret to chardonnay, can be sampled here, but you’ll find the best under the winery’s Anna Maria label—especially notable for its full-bodied, powerful syrah. 100 Upper Applegate Rd, Jacksonville; 800-781-9463; daily 11-5
SOUTHERN OREGON TRAVEL GUIDE
When traveling to Southern Oregon’s wine country, it’s easiest to make a trip to the Umpqua Valley, which lies about 50 miles north of the Rogue and Applegate Valleys, on your way in or out of the region. Although more bed-and-breakfasts and noteworthy eateries are opening up in places like Medford, Roseburg and Jacksonville, Ashland is by far the liveliest town and thus the best base for jaunts afield.
WHERE TO EAT
Amuse The menu at this swanky, candle-lit, sunflower-and-green dining room is French in both style and technique—but with just a bit of our region’s rustic culinary flair thrown in. A pleasing wintry dish of black-truffle-roasted game hen with lacinato kale practically begs to be paired with one of Southern Oregon’s big red wines, while creamy Dungeness crab cakes offer a clean taste of the Pacific. 15 N First St, Ashland; 541-488-9000
New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro Set in an impressively renovated old service station in the town of Talent, the multiroomed dining area may be a little quirky (although less so since they remodeled), but don’t be discouraged: New Sammy’s boasts one of the most extensive wine lists in the state (about 3,000 labels last we checked), curated by owner Vernon Rollins. Vernon’s wife, Charlene, prepares delicious simple dishes made with organic ingredients, like roasted poussin and braised buffalo tenderloin. With only 10 tables, it’s essential to make reservations. 2210 S Pacific Hwy, Talent; 541-535-2779
Chateaulin Restaurant & Wine Shop When this old-school French restaurant opened back in 1973, it was Ashland’s very first fine-dining establishment. Since then, the menu has remained faithful to the French classics—escargot and filet mignon are standard fare here—and the food has remained consistently good. The prix fixe menus that Chateaulin offers, while not inexpensive, are a great deal: They include three courses, often accompanied by two glasses of Oregon or French wine. As a bonus, check out the restaurant’s well-curated wine shop next door. 50 E Main St, Ashland; 541-482-2264
WHERE TO STAY
Winchester Inn A classic inn set in an 1886 Victorian, the Winchester is within walking distance of Main St and Lithia Park. Rooms offer a flowery, cottage aesthetic without feeling stuffy, and the tiny dark-wood wine bar, headed by knowledgeable and friendly bartender Andy Phillips, offers Southern Oregon’s best wines, as well as a superb selection of bottlings from around the world. $135-295; 35 S Second St, Ashland; 541-488-1113
Ashland Springs Hotel Southern Oregon’s accommodations aren’t exactly known for luxury—except at this 75-year-old hotel set in the heart of downtown. The lobby and ballroom are graced with antique chandeliers; a palm-filled conservatory leads to a fragrant English garden; and some 70 rooms offer comfortable beds dressed with French-style botanical toile quilts. The hotel restaurant’s brunch menu—which includes Dungeness crab Benedict and Grand Marnier custard French toast—is especially popular among locals. $89-289; 212 E Main St, Ashland; 541-488-1700
10 BEST PACIFIC NORTHWEST WINES
(BUT DON’T OPEN THEM YET)
Our wine critic, Condé Cox, tastes more than 1,500 wines from all over the world every year. But his penchant for swirling and sipping goes beyond mere hobby. Cox, who lives in Southern Oregon, maintains his own wine-centric website (www.placeintheglass.com) and is the only active Oregon candidate for a Masters of Wine designation, an exclusive qualification that has been bestowed on a mere 264 people in the world. So it was with little hesitation that we asked him to choose the top 10 wines in Oregon and Washington. The caveat? They had to be so superb, we’d be better off not opening them right away. (Cox hasn’t provided specific vintages, in order to encourage readers to buy wines from multiple years; prices are for the most recent bottled vintage.) With this list in hand, then, go forth and stock those cellars. And if you decide to open these bottles now? We’re sure you won’t be disappointed.
ABACELA ESTATE RESERVE TEMPRANILLO
$70 (Umpqua Valley, Oregon)
Abacela’s tempranillo exhibits the typical tea-leaf scents, soft acidity and full tannins found in classic Spanish tempranillo. The winery’s 2000 vintage Southeast Block Reserve tempranillo is evidence that cellar-worthy wines can indeed be made in the Umpqua Valley.
BETZ FAMILY SYRAH LA CÔTE ROUSSE
$50 (Red Mountain, Washington)
Bob Betz, winemaker and owner, uses grapes primarily sourced from the Red Mountain AVA in the Yakima Valley. His intensely concentrated La Côte Rousse syrah exhibits scents of bacon fat, fall herbs and smoked wild game, just like the great syrahs from the Northern Rhône region in France.
BRICK HOUSE PINOT NOIR, LES DIJONNAIS
$46 (Ribbon Ridge, Oregon)
Organic and biodynamic grape-growing defines the wines of Doug Tunnell, the owner and winemaker of Brick House, whose Dijonnais bottling is perfectly balanced and boasts a lingering flavor that’s rare in Oregon pinot noir. In fact, this wine represents the Ribbon Ridge AVA’s most complete expression.
CRISTOM PINOT NOIR, EILEEN VINEYARD
$50 (Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon)
Grapes from the steep, east-facing, densely planted Eileen vineyard are expertly vinified by Cristom’s Steve Doerner. Finely textured, this pinot has a crisp acidity and woody tannins, partially the result of Doerner’s iconoclastic use of whole-grape clusters during fermentation.
DOMAINE DROUHIN PINOT NOIR LAURÈNE
$65 (Dundee Hills, Oregon)
Vinified by Veronique Drouhin, the Laurène bottling is a barrel-selection of the best from each vintage and is named after Veronique’s eldest daughter. This wine is perhaps the purest, cleanest and most feminine of Domaine Drouhin’s pinot noir.
EYRIE VINEYARDS PINOT NOIR RESERVE
$50 (Dundee Hills, Oregon)
Eyrie’s reserve bottlings, which are far better than the other Eyrie wines, are often almost transparent in color. Delightfully acidic when young, these pinots become ethereal with age, and are produced from fruit grown in an un-irrigated vineyard—which results in wines that vary considerably in style from one vintage to the next, but are always very good.
LONG SHADOWS PIROUETTE RED BLEND
$55 (Columbia Valley, Washington)
Made by a consortium of several winemakers from around the world who produce, under one label, a range of high-quality Washington Columbia Basin wines, the Pirouette blend consists of about one-half cabernet and one-quarter merlot. It represents a well-balanced, fruit-forward version of a traditional Bordelaise blend, but with far softer tannins.
ST INNOCENT PINOT NOIR, WHITE ROSE
Vineyard $45 (Dundee Hills, Oregon)
St Innocent’s wines are made mostly from grapes grown in the Eola-Amity Hills and the Dundee Hills AVAs, and they always improve with at least five years in the bottle. Carnation scents and well-integrated acidity mark this delicate wine made by Mark Vlossak, St Innocent’s winemaker and president.
STE MICHELLE/DR. LOOSEN EROICA SINGLE BERRY SELECT RIESLING
$200 for .375 liter (Horse Heaven Hills, Washington)
Reminiscent of a fine German trockenbeerenauslese—a sweet and very expensive dessert wine made from riesling grapes—this toothsome wine is remarkably concentrated and rich. Made from riesling that’s been harvested one berry at a time, literally, the wine’s residual sugar, at 40 percent, is screamingly high, but its acidity provides impressive balance.
WOODWARD CANYON OLD VINES CABERNET SAUVIGNON
$75 (Columbia Valley, Washington)
Woodward Canyon makes mostly Bordelaise varietals, but it’s the Old Vines cabernet sauvignon that shines. Sourced mainly from the 25-year-old Champoux vineyard in Horse Heaven Hills near Pasco, it boasts deep textures and rich flavors. With age, it develops a complex floral bouquet.