Oregon is famous hiking country and it’s noted for its delicious wines as well — so it’s rewarding to find vineyards and wineries where the Oregon outdoors takes center stage. The fall season provides a fine time to connect with small family-owned wineries that offer distinct outdoor elements and activities across their landscapes that will intrigue visitors and provide an extra flair under the autumn leaves.
The fall season turns quiet down country back roads where the big leaf and vine maples light up the scene in Oregon’s Benton County. Near Philomath, the Harris Covered Bridge remains only way to get from one side of Marys River to the other.
Amanda Sever said folks like it that way. “The bridge was built in 1929 and it was at the peak of the timber industry in this valley. We get many travelers who are just driving and looking for covered bridges and say, ‘Hey, there’s a winery here too.”
Harris Bridge Vineyard is a cozy, quiet winery that’s owned and operated by Amanda and her husband Nathan Warren. They produce unique Aperitif wines from their four-acre pinot vineyard. “These specialty wines extend that meal time,” noted Sever. “They force you to slow down, appreciate what’s in front of you and what’s around you. That is really the concept that we are after with our wines.”
It is a fine concept that links visitors to a timeless setting when the town of Harris was a bustling whistle stop timber town along a railroad that connected Corvallis with the Coast. “It’s our business, but it’s also our home,” added Sever. ”Nathan was raised here, by the river and below these trees and surrounding mountains. And then you have the bridge as a reminder of the beauty of the past; what’s come before us and that’s really the heart of it — the wine is the icing on the cake, really.”
Nearby, be sure to visit Tyee Wine Cellars and spend time with Dave Buchanan, a pioneer in the Oregon wine industry who boasts of five generations of family that have worked their Oregon Century Farm. He said that in the mid-1970s, he turned away from dairy to plant wine grapes. “Not very many people knew much about wine making back then, and I really didn’t know much. I actually had three or four winemaking books and they all said something different.”
Buchanan chuckles about it now, but he insisted that his family has learned much about growing and producing pinot and chardonnay during the decades. He has great pride in his daughter and Tyee’s winemaker, Merilee Buchanan, too. Her vintage pinot recently won first prize in a blind competition among regional wineries.
Buchanan is also proud of the fact that they operate an organic winery; no chemical pesticides or herbicides are used across their 15-acre vineyards. He said that his main role is protecting and restoring the forest and wetlands. “Biologists have identified 152 species of song birds here, plus we have western pond turtles in our wetlands. There’s over three miles of stream running through the more than 400 acres – and more than 300 acres of that is in a wetlands reserve.”
Be sure you make time for the Beaver Pond Trail, too; it will do much to settle your soul as you wander through a grove of 400 year-old oak trees. “This is a real farm, a working farm,” added Buchanan. “I think that’s kind of intriguing to people.”
Tucked into the northwest corner Washington County, just off Gales Creek Road, you can discover how the fruit of the vine partners with art of the season at Shafer Vineyards. Shafer Vineyard Cellars is the sort of place that makes you feel good and makes you smile! While the Shafer family wine business has been helping folks feel a bit happier for nearly forty years with their pinot noir, riesling, chardonnay and more – it’s the Christmas shop that sets Shafer’s winery apart.
Owner Miki Shafer said, “In the beginning, we never really knew if we’d sell anything, but it made us feel good – and so it’s been a great part of our business from the start.”
Their shop offers thousands of ornaments from across the world, hanging from scores of trees, and people will stop, stare and be amazed by the variety of ornaments. Miki’s daughter, Crystal Houseman, said, “People come to buy some wine as a gift and say, ‘Oh my gosh, there are ornaments here too! And they will spend hours looking at them all.”
The Shafer Christmas Shop offers a simple premise for your holiday: unique and time-tested traditions create lasting family memories where Miki Shafer likes to say, “There are no strangers, just folks we haven’t met yet.”