Willamette Valley Wine Region – Portland, Oregon
One of our attractions to visiting Portland was checking out another wine region! We love incorporating a wine visit into our trips as we feel it greatly expands our knowledge of the area with hands on experience.
Off to explore the Willamette Valley! This wine region is known for their Pinot Noir – over half of all vineyard real estate is devoted to Pinot Noir grapes. This varietal thrives in the cool, misty, moist climate resulting in berry flavors with a lighter body which is a different expression than the California counterparts in Sonoma or Santa Barbara where the climate is warmer. There are seven sub-appellations in the Willamette Valley AVA and requires 90% of the grapes to be Pinot Noir to be called “Pinot Noir” wine – high standards!
From Portland, it is an hour drive to the northern part of Willamette Valley. When researching places to taste, I was pleasantly surprised at how many wineries cover this area and it made it difficult and time consuming to choose our top tastings. I had an aggressive wine tour scheduled, hoping to hit five vineyards from the tasting hours of 11AM-5PM.
Before we started tasting, we swung by Red Hills Market to pick up snacks for a picnic. While it was another gloomy day outside- cold and rainy- having food on the go would certainly help keep our efficient.
The Market is very cute offering cafe styled dishes, pastries, local wines, and a case of meats and cheeses. We grabbed some crackers, prosciutto, and goat cheese – armed for a day of wine tasting!
We started our wine tour at the farthest itinerary and worked our way north, hoping for a shorter commute back to Portland. Our first stop was Domaine Serene Winery and the journey to the tasting room consists of windy roads ascending higher and higher in elevation. When we finally turned the corner to visualize the estate, we were both stunned.
The estate was massive and ornate sitting atop what felt like the highest hill in all of Willamette Valley. The parking lot was lined with an elaborate display of floral arrangements, topped off with a fountain, of course. Oh, and the inside was nothing short of European majesty. I am not sure where I would have expected to find a tasting room like this but it certainly was not Oregon!
The wow factor when you walk into the tasting room and see enormous windows showcasing a breathtaking view of Willamette Valley is priceless! I can only image what the view looks like on a sunny day.
Since it was Kevin’s birthday celebration, I designated myself as the driver and would try sips of his tastings. The tasting here was a $25 fee which granted five wines. It was so fancy that I was only embarrassed for a second that we were only getting one tasting but got over that very quickly. It is not an uncommon practice to split tastings (especially in expensive areas like Napa where the price for a tasting can be over $50 each) to help save money not just on tastings, but on hiring a driver or paying for a DUI. Some people don’t drink wine (or alcohol for that matter) but may be traveling in a group that does. There are all sorts of combinations where someone visiting may not order a tasting. Heck, I attend all the beerfests and beer tasting but I don’t drink beer (thank you for all those that sell DD tickets! You’re greatly appreciated). Anyway, sorry for the tangent. Pick the tasting strategy that works for you and decide in advance what your plan will be for a successful day of fun.
The wines here definitely demonstrated that Oregon wine was in the game. To our surprise, we both found the Chardonnay most enjoyable. Before we left, we walked out of the terrace to enjoy the sweeping landscape that seemed so unexpected for Oregon.
Our next stop was Erath Winery, a vineyard that Kevin read as highly rated. Pulling up to this vineyard was more on par with both what we expected and what we preferred – a log cabin in the woods among the vines.
The tasting offered was $15 which included five wines. In addition to having great Pinot Noirs, the most shocking wine was their Pinot Blanc – it was incredible. We do not see many Pinot Blanc and this one was awesome. I think we easily would have grabbed a bottle if we could. Another fun wine was their Chardonnay – bonus: served with a side of caramel popcorn as a pairing!
One of my favorite things about tasting in these intimate environments is getting to know the vineyard and wines through the staff. They are so knowledgeable and excited about their wine. In our experience, when you show appreciation and interest, they will go above to give you an incredible experience. Here, our host Barbara gave us several Pinot Noirs off the tasting menu to help show us the difference in vintage years and terroir of the different AVAS in Willamette. Thank you Barbara for a great experience tasting at Erath!
Close by was our next stop at Penner Ash Winery. We came across this vineyard at Flying Fish in Disney World where we had one of their Pinot Noirs and took note to visit on this trip. The grounds here were gorgeous- there are so many flowers springing up framing the view in the distance- it took us several minutes of photo taking before even entering the tasting room!
The tasting here was $25 for five wines. Of all the wineries, Penner Ash showcased the most Pinot of all the places we visited as four of the five wines on the tasting were Pinot Noirs. If you want a tasting that is heavy Pinots, visit here. But that did not stop our gracious host, Jake, from showing us their extended catalog of wines as well. I know Penner Ash is particularly known for their Pinot (and why it is showcased in the tasting menu), but I have to say their other varietals were very impressive. They had a Riesling that was another bottle I would have definitely bought if we were local.
Penner Ash has outdoor seating that we were planning on eating our picnic snacks but looking at the time rounding 3PM, we opted to take the on-the-go strategy munching on our way to the next vineyard.
The sun attempted to break through the thick clouds as we pulled up to Trisaetum Winery. The glimpse of the sunlight on the vines only lasted a few minutes but it revealed a picturesque postcard of Portland wine country.
Next to the tasting room is an art gallery of the owner’s work so it is a two for one activity here. Unlike the other tastings, Trisaetum offers many styles of tasting include all white, all red, and a mix of both. Kevin chose the red tasting flight of five wines for $25 and our host, Alice, was kind enough to pour me a small tasting of their Riesling.
Thank you for showing us your wonderful wine Willamette Valley! I think more importantly is that Oregon has much more to offer than just Pinot Noir. Unfortunately, the availability of these other varietals is very limited outside of Oregon. Like most a wine regions, the “good stuff” is hyper local, not the “mass produced” you see on the wholesaler distribution circuit. This is what makes visiting these regions so special.