: Elk Cove

How to Explore Tualatin Valley Wineries

May 5, 2020

Encompassing roughly 300 square miles just west of Portland, the Tualatin Valley includes some of Oregon’s oldest wineries, its most eco-conscious vintners and its newest generation of diverse, effervescent winemakers. There are no crowds here, and the wineries and vineyards are more of a wine community than a wine country. 

There’s endless variety here for visitors to explore — from Victorian-farmhouse tasting rooms to hillside bocce courts and tasting rooms built from historic barns and dairies. A really nice food-and-wine pairing here is $35, and an exceptional pinot noir or pinot gris can be had for $15 to $25. It’s incredibly accessible, and locals, families and wine-club members who pack the patios and pourings adore the Tualatin Valley’s best-kept secrets. Here’s what to look for on your next wine-focused road trip. 

Meet Oak Knoll's mascot, basset hound Lucee, who greets visitors to the cozy barn-style tasting room.

Pioneer Winemakers

Former Milking Parlor: Just 6 miles south of downtown Hillsboro sits an old dairy farm that dates back to 1917. Ronald and Marjorie Vuylsteke had other ideas for it after they began making wine with any grapes or fruits they could get their hands on in 1970. They eventually moved production into the old dairy and took the dairy’s name, Oak Knoll. The former milking parlor now serves as a wine cellar. With the cows long gone, winery basset hound Lucee is the only creature greeting guests at the cozy barn-style tasting room and event center/bottling area. 

Tasting Terroir: Much like Oak Knoll, Elk Cove Vineyards is on its second generation of winemaking since planting its first vines in 1974. Joe and Pat Campbell founded this winery in Gaston along the Coast Range, but today their son Adam is in charge of the 380 acres and six vineyard sites. Visitors can sample wines from various fields and get a sense of each area’s distinct terroir. Or sit down to a lunch of chef-prepared seasonal courses paired with a wine flight  — just book by phone or email 72 hours in advance. 

Sip a flight at David Hill's farmhouse vineyard or take a self-guided hike with help from their downloadable app. (Photo by Paul Loofburrow)

Farm-Style Wineries

Hidden Helvetia: Here’s a bit of trivia — Swiss homesteaders arrived just north of Hillsboro in the 19th century. When they saw the fields, low ridges and mountain views, they dubbed it Helvetia, after the allegorical female symbol of Switzerland itself. To Helvetia Winery founder John C. Platt and his partner, future Oregon Congresswoman Elizabeth Furse, it was an ideal winery location. They planted their first 5 acres here in 1982. On the former Swiss-owned Yungen farm, Platt still hosts tours of the vineyards. He also hosts private tastings of wine and smoked salmon in the winery’s 1889 farmhouse.

Deep-Rooted Vines: Meanwhile, a few miles away amid the Christmas tree farms of Forest Grove, David Hill Vineyards & Winery greets visitors in a farmhouse tasting room dating back to 1883. Its original inhabitants, the Rueter family, also made wine and won a gold medal for their Alsatian pinot blanc at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. Charles Coury planted its first vines in 1965, making this one of Oregon’s pioneering wineries. Today David Hill offers farmhouse wine flights and hosts sit-down tastings for groups. Visitors can also take a self-guided hike of the vineyard with help from the winery’s mobile app, available at either Apple’s App Store or Google Play for Android devices.

Say cheers to bubbly; Kramer Vineyards produces lovely sparkling wines for your next celebration.

Sparkling Wines

Where the Fizz Is: The Tualatin Valley built its reputation on pinot noir. Yet shortly after planting its first vines in 1984, Kramer Vineyards in Gaston began making more room for white wine grapes and fizzy sparkling wines. While all that bubbly attracts its share of weddings on the property, the Kramer family suggests bringing a picnic to the big deck, tasting a flight of sparkling wines (or some wine right from the barrel), and sitting beneath the oaks and Douglas firs to enjoy the intimate courtyard.

Italian Villa-Inspired: Inspired by his family’s Italian vineyard and villa, Alfredo Apolloni continued the rich winemaking tradition in Forest Grove when he founded Apolloni Vineyards in 1999. Here he produces traditional Italian-style wines as well as pinot noir, pinot blanc, pinot gris and chardonnay from nearly 100 acres of vineyards. The winery’s L label — named for Apolloni’s wife and business partner, Laurine Apolloni — features its white and sparkling wines, showing there’s more to Italian sparkling wines than prosecco. Taste a bit of Italy in the villa-style tasting room, on the patio or on the bocce court. Book an appointment for a tour and tasting in the geothermal barrel cave, which holds 400 barrels as they age year-round. 

Meet Raptor Ridge winemaker Shannon Gustafson, one of a growing number of women winemakers in Oregon.

Women Winemakers

The Next Generation: Shannon Gustafson made wine in France, Australia and California before joining Hillsboro’s Raptor Ridge Winery in 2017, now the second winemaker in the winery’s 25-year history. Sample her wines from the tasting room’s perch atop a ridge in the Chehalem Mountains, with panoramic views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. Track passing falcons and owls, and enjoy a vineyard tour from the barrel room all the way to the tasting room, with garage doors that open in warmer weather.

A Family Affair: Just south of what is now downtown Hillsboro, Dana Blizzard grew up on a vineyard property her parents bought in 1981, where they used to sell grapes to several of Oregon’s founding wineries. Today Blizzard and her husband, Nick, run the Blizzard Wines tasting room on the property, after many years of making wine in their garage. The winery offers guests a view of the family vineyard, verdant farmland and rolling hills of nearby Tualatin Valley communities. Stop in for the $35 grand tasting that includes Blizzard’s overview of her family history along with her personal wine and food pairings.

Montinore Estate Vineyards plants roses by its vines to detect pests, among other biodynamic farming methods. (Photo by Richard Duval)

Keeping It Natural

Biodynamic Stewards: Like many winemakers, Rudy Marchesi followed in the footsteps of his parents, Carlo and Rosa, who made wine in northern Italy. Marchesi saw them as stewards of the land and worked to apply their sustainable practices to his more than 200-acre Montinore Estate Vineyard in Forest Grove. Today Montinore is one of the largest producers of certified estate wines made from biodynamic grapes in the United States. The winery’s continuous cycle of pruning, fertilizing, composting and harvesting brings consistency to each wine — each batch is produced to taste exactly like the one before it. Take in majestic views of the Coast Range while tasting the biodynamic influence for yourself.

Urban Biodynamics: Perhaps nowhere makes a better argument for biodynamic winemaking than Beaverton’s Cooper Mountain Vineyards. Owner Bob Gross first planted wine grapes here in 1978, on a hillside 6 miles southwest of what is now downtown Beaverton. He opened the winery in an old barn in 1987 and worked to achieve both organic and biodynamic certifications more than 20 years ago. Visit the tasting room — located in the original barn — and tour the vineyard to learn about the fascinating process of making balsamic vinegar from the would-be spoils of the pinot noir and chardonnay harvest. 

About The

Jason Notte
Jason Notte is a longtime journalist based in unincorporated Washington County. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Entrepreneur Magazine, Oregon Business, Portland Monthly and the Portland Business Journal.

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