: King Estate Winery

5 Fabulous Willamette Valley Tasting Experiences to Try

June 12, 2019

Tasting pinot while taking in vineyard views from a cozy tasting room is awesome. But tasting pinot after an hour-long, up-close-and-personal stroll through the vines that grew the fruit that’s in your glass? That’s the kind of day you’ll remember long after the bottle is empty. If you’re looking to level-up your next tasting adventure, these Central and South Willamette Valley wineries are ready to help you get you even closer to the action. Here are six ways to explore this quieter region and its many surprises.

Guided hike at Benton-Lane Winery

1. Take a hike

One of the best ways to soak up the remarkable landscape of the Willamette Valley is the slowest: by foot. Benton-Lane Winery near Eugene offers guided monthly vineyard hikes that explore the winery’s history, geology and agricultural practices. Post-ramble, retire to the tasting room with a cheese and charcuterie plate, plus a flight of current-release wines like the fruity whole-cluster 2016 Pinot Blanc.

Have a budding viticulturalist in tow? In Corvallis, Tyee Wine Cellars offers free family-friendly nature hikes that show off the winery’s wetland restoration efforts. Hike leaders also discuss how responsible agricultural practices can create habitat for threatened wildlife. Leave with a host of pollinator garden ideas to incorporate into your own yard. 

Willamette Valley Vineyards' Wagyu burger

2. Pair all the food

Just south of Eugene, biodynamic-certified King Estate Winery is the Willamette Valley’s only winery with a full restaurant — and it’s open seven days a week, serving produce grown onsite. Pair entrees like salmon with beluga lentils, crispy artichoke and parsley salad with King Estate’s award-winning pinot noir and pinot gris, and sample the estate-made pear and apple ciders.

Farther north, Willamette Valley Vineyards, outside of Salem, offers a menu of hot and cold bites tailored to pair perfectly with its wines. Savor the Dungeness crab and artichoke dip with the winery’s 2016 pinot blanc, or enjoy a Wagyu burger topped with black-pepper bacon and white cheddar alongside a glass of 2015 Berneau Block pinot noir, made from the very first vines planted at the estate in 1983.

Off-the-beaten-path tasting rooms give you an amazing opportunity to connect directly with the people behind the wine. Visit Five Fourteen Vineyards in Junction City on a Friday or Saturday afternoon to enjoy a guided tasting and cheese plate at this intimate family winery.

Sweet Cheeks Winery

3. Broaden your palate

Take advantage of Oregon’s wealth of expertise and accessibility by participating in a vintner-led deep dive. Book a private tasting with the winemakers at Silvan Ridge Winery, near Eugene. They’ll guide through a tasting of four wines plus a barrel sample alongside cheese and charcuterie while you get to ask all your most pressing questions about the winemaking process.

If you’re just beginning your wine journey, reserve a seated Wine 101 tasting at nearby Sweet Cheeks Winery. You’ll taste several different wines while learning about each one in a relaxed, casual setting that encourages exploration. Newly opened Civic Winery & Wines in downtown Eugene offers tastings as well as live music and educational events; check their calendar for their free barrel-room lecture series on a variety of topics.

And if you’ve become fascinated with the art of growing grapes, call ahead to book a tour at Antiquum Farm in Junction City. Here, grapes co-exist with livestock like sheep, chickens, and geese who graze cover crops planted between the vines, providing natural fertility and creating wines with a remarkable sense of place. Farm tours are offered by appointment and on Memorial Day and Thanksgiving Weekend, including a chance to meet the winery’s working draft horses.

Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway by Russ Roca

 4. Hop in the saddle

Oregonians love to ride their bicycles, and wine country is no exception. Every Saturday in August, Eola Hills Winery near Salem leads a full-day bike tour called Bike Oregon Wine Country. Each itinerary includes stops at local wineries followed by a barbecue and campout back at Eola Hills. Settle in to a wide-armed Adirondack chair and trade stories with your new bike buddies while you enjoy the pinot you absolutely earned.

One stop on Bike Oregon Wine Country is Emerson Vineyards in Corvallis, a designated bike-friendly winery that’s also the site of the cycling portion of the Triumph 3-day Iron Relay in August. In addition to 20 acres of pinot noir, Emerson also grows experimental plots of more obscure varieties such as rusticred hybrids marechal foch, baco noir, Leon Millot and Oberlin noir.

Cyclists may also enjoy pedaling a section of the 134-mile Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway, which rolls through the small towns and tasting rooms in and around Salem, Albany, Corvallis, Brownsville and Coburg, just outside of Eugene.

Iris Vineyards

5. Pack a picnic blanket

Pack a picnic from Eugene’s Provisions Market Hall (think housemade charcuterie, local freshly baked bread and pastries, and delicious prepared foods), then head for Iris Vineyards for live music most Friday evenings during the summer. Salem’s Cória Estates in Salem welcomes the whole family — canine members included — and offers Saturday-morning yoga classes and live music on weekend afternoons throughout the summer.

Many wineries are open by appointment only, which makes a patio picnic feel like your own private haven. At Illahe Vineyards near Salem, don’t miss their famous 1899 pinot noir, which is made using only techniques that would have been available to winemakers before 1900. Yes, that means no electricity or internal combustion engine — it’s even transported to the distributor by bicycle, horse and canoe. Amalie Robert Estate, also near Salem, is also open by appointment only, so visitors who plan ahead can relish the chance to enjoy these award-winning wines in tranquility.

 

Civic Wine Bar by Easton Richmond

If you go:

  • Lodging: Eugene and Salem make great home bases for exploring wine country here, but there are also plenty of wonderful bed-and-breakfasts and vacation rentals in the region’s smaller towns. Find lodging options for every taste and budget.
  • Hours: Confirm hours before heading out and book ahead whenever possible, since the warmer months are busy in the Willamette Valley. For a more uncrowded experience, plan to return in the cellar season.
  • Travel safely: Consider a car-free trip to wine country, which is just a matter of thoughtful planning. If you do drive, always designate a driver. Or hire a touring company for the day so your whole party can get in on the fun. Backcountry Wine Tours and A Great Oregon Wine Tour leave from Portland. From Salem try Prestige Wine Tours or Valley Vineyard Tours. Eugene Wine Tours and Cork and Barrel Wine Tours cover the South Valley.
  • Plug it in: The Willamette Valley’s robust network of EV charging stations makes it easy to tour wine country with an electric car. The Willamette Valley Bounty Electric Byway winds through the fruitful northern stretches of the valley. Find more EV trip ideas here.
  • Play Pinot Bingo: Check out the South Willamette Valley Wine Trail for more ideas on how to explore. In the Eugene area, you can play Pinot Bingo at participating wineries for to earn prizes for stamps earned in your wine passport.

About The
Author

Margarett Waterbury
Margarett Waterbury is a lifelong Northwesterner who writes about food, drinks, travel and agriculture for local and national press. She lives in a 90-year-old bungalow in Southeast Portland and enjoys high-octane coffee, low-ABV beers and walking long distances.

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