Wine Country Weekends

For the Value Hunter

The Eola-Amity Hills AVA offers affordable winetasting with a lot of bang for your buck.

By Hannah Wallace September 14, 2010 Published in the October 2010 issue of Portland Monthly


Hotel Oregon

Image: Liz Devine

If you think wine tasting is a luxury you can’t afford, think again. Although most Willamette Valley wineries charge $10–15 for tastings, the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, just northwest of Salem, offers an even better value. These verdant hills are home to many of Oregon’s most acclaimed wineries, and though you might have to crack the piggy bank to take the best vintages home, their $5 tastings are a steal.


Check In

Although the Hotel Oregon could use some sprucing up, its creaky charm is fine for a couple of nights. Themed for infamous local characters, rooms start at $60 with bathrooms down the hall. Be sure to get a drink at the rooftop bar, which has 360-degree views of Yamhill County. 310 NE Evans St, McMinnville; 503-472-8427;

Craving more luxury—or a private bathroom? Opt for the new Inn at Red Hills in Dundee. Conveniently located above the Farm to Fork restaurant, all 20 rooms come with flat-screen TVs and high-thread-count sheets. 1410 N Hwy 99, Dundee; 503-538-7666;; queens from $99


If you’re staying at Hotel Oregon, stop off at R. Stuart & Co Wine Bar, a chic boîte where locals linger over wine flights while listening to Django Reinhardt. Rob Stuart, formerly the winemaker at Erath, is known for his pinot noir, pinot gris, and an unusual bubbly made from pinot and chardonnay. 528 NE Third St, McMinnville; 503-472-4477;


Nick Peirano opened Nick’s Italian Café in 1977, and 30 years later his daughter Carmen and her husband, Eric Ferguson, took over the kitchen of what had become a Willamette Valley institution. They kept the menu’s old standbys (Dungeness crab lasagna and spinach-and-pork ravioli) while adding inexpensive new items like pizza ($12) and a daily antipasti and pasta menu. The wine list includes more than 100 Oregon labels, plus numerous Italian vintages, too. 521 NE Third St, McMinnville; 503-434-4471;



Step into the bustling Crescent Café for a journey back in time. A white-haired, formally attired maitre d’ leads you to your table, and sunny waitresses jauntily recite the daily specials. Chef and co-owner Danny Wilser bakes five kinds of bread and makes fresh sausages each morning. All eggs are cage-free, and he uses only locally sourced meat, some of it from his own Angus beef. 526 NE Third St, McMinnville; 503-435-2655


Start at Brooks Wines in the Eola-Amity Hills. Founded in 1998 by Portland native Jimi Brooks, this biodynamic winery is now owned by his 14-year-old son, Pascal, who is apprenticing with winemaker Chris Williams. The shady grove near the tasting room provides the perfect spot for a glass of Ara Riesling, which was served at a 2009 White House dinner. By appointment only; 9360 SE Eola Hills Road, Amity; 503-435-1278;

At Cristom, winemaker Steve Doerner focuses on single-vineyard wines such as the estate pinot gris, a floral viognier, and pinot noirs that Portland Monthly wine critic Condé Cox says are considered to be among the world’s best. Tue-Sun 11-5; 6905 Spring Valley Rd, Salem; 503-375-3068;; $5 tasting fee

Around the bend, you’ll find the equally renowned St. Innocent, where the tasting room’s burgundy walls and copper bar give it the feel of a stylish café. An avid foodie, winemaker Mark Vlossak offers unpretentious tasting notes, pairing his wines with the ideal meal. Tue-Sun 11-4; 5657 Zena Rd NW, Salem; 503-378-1526;; $5 tasting fee

Founded in 1977 by the Casteel family, Bethel Heights offers a range of estate wines: pinot blanc, chardonnay, and, of course, pinot noir. A leader in sustainable farming, Ted Casteel co-founded LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology), a nonprofit that certifies wineries that adhere to standards for sustainability in both grape growing and wine production. Tue–Sun 11–5, 6060 Bethel Heights Rd, Salem; 503-581-2262;; $5 tasting fee


When La Capitale opened two years ago, Salemites rejoiced. At this casual brasserie, chef David Rosales, a veteran of San Francisco’s Chez Panisse and Fonda, focuses on seasonal fare from Willamette Valley farmers and ranchers. Try the McK Ranch burger with heirloom tomato and Oregon cheddar cheese. Entrées are in the $20 range. 508 State St, Salem; 503-585-1975;



Stop in at the Red Fox Bakery for coffee, croissants, and a handful of sbrisolona (an almond butter cookie). 328 NE Evans St, McMinnville; 503-434-5098


Evesham Wood produces some of Oregon’s best—and best-value—pinot noirs. The winery’s rosés ($13.50) are a steal, too. Though winemaker Russ Raney is passing the torch, he’s consulting for the next two years, meaning more of his top-flight wines will be available. By appointment only; 3795 Wallace Rd, Salem; 503- 371-8478;


"If I had to pick a taco to go with pinot noir, it would be the goat taco," confesses Jason Lett, of Eyrie Vineyards. He especially likes those at Tacos el Paraiso, which also has a succulent carnitas taco ($1.25), as well as buches (pork stomach) for the more adventurous. 1621 NE Baker St, McMinnville

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