At many Oregon wineries, you may be content to sip your favorite pinot noir, soak up the stunning views and head home for the day. At Eola Hills Wine Cellars in Salem, however, a day of wine tasting can be much more. You could be “wiking” — yes, wine hiking — along one of the property’s vineyard trails. You could be pedaling through wine country on one of Eola’s organized bike rides; cuddling with animals and enjoying yoga and pampering during the winery’s annual wellness weekend; or blissing out at one of its summer concerts, winemaker dinners or even its yearly all-inclusive European trips for true aficionados. There’s a lot to love about Eola Hills — one of the Willamette Valley’s heritage wineries, celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2021. Here’s what to look for on your next visit.
More Than Pinot Noir
You’ll find plenty of Eola Hills bottles at your local wine shop (or online), but the best selection is at either of the two tasting rooms. Both are in the mid-Willamette Valley near Salem, just under an hour south of Portland. Head to the Rickreall tasting room for a rustic barrel-room vibe and private garden, or plan an escape to Eola Hills’ Legacy Estate Vineyard 6 miles east, with gorgeous views, special flights and pairings, and even a campsite available as an add-on to special events for a deluxe overnight glamping experience. Both tasting rooms offer much more than just pinot noir and chardonnay, with more than a dozen varietals and styles including rose, muscat, pinot gris, riesling, gewurztraminer, zinfandel, sauvignon blanc, merlot, syrah, tempranillo, traditional Portugese port and more.
Eola produces these wines from its own estate vineyards — spanning more than 325 acres in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA — as well as those sourced from up to a dozen vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley, Southern Oregon and the Columbia River Gorge. “I’ve always felt if you’re going to build a wine club and tasting room appealing to a broad array of people, you’d better have some variety for them,” says Tom Huggins, who founded the vineyard in 1982 after working as an insurance agent for local wineries and vineyards. “We’ve gone to where the grapes grow best — that’s why we have so many different varietals.”
Everyday Wines at a Great Price
While Eola’s list of awards is long, the wine isn’t for elite drinkers only. Whether it’s for a picnic, a dinner party or a Tuesday evening at home, Eola wines can be found starting at $14, with a fantastic bottle of pinot noir priced at $20. “It’s a great value; that’s what we like to be known for,” Huggins says. Steve Anderson started as Eola’s assistant winemaker in 1993 and has been the head winemaker since 2000. He enjoys his freedom to work on special releases, like his latest small-lot reserve bottling — a slightly fizzy and sweet moscato made from a limited planting of Muscat Ottonel white-wine grapes he’s had in the vineyard since 1996. While the batch is exclusive, he’s always striving to make it accessible. “We’d rather have you enjoy the wine than wish you could afford the wine,” Anderson says.
Pioneers in Winemaking
Consistency makes for quality wine, and with 25 years under one winemaker, Eola Hills has it down pat. “I’ve been doing it so long,” Anderson says. “I’ve seen rainy years, dry years. It’s just easier to deal with the vagaries of weather when you’ve been on the job for so long.” As one of Oregon’s pioneer winemakers, Anderson has been a mentor to newer winemakers as they’ve had to deal with harvests under wildfires and other tests of Mother Nature. Eola also lends its fermentation tanks and other equipment to eight local vineyards and cider makers to use for their own labels in its custom-crush program.
Unique Events to Explore
While wine is always the focus, Eola knows visitors love to have fun while sipping, so they’ve always sought to curate dynamic experiences. “We do a lot of things that diversify ourselves,” Huggins says. “You have to be creative in this business or you don’t survive.” During the summer, the Legacy Estate Vineyard draws visitors with activities that are hard to resist. Check before visiting in 2020, but typically Monday nights are for yoga in the vineyard, when rosé is the drink of choice. Visitors can meander Legacy Estate’s 165-acre forested property on one of two dog-friendly “wiking” trails, combining two Oregon pastimes — wine and hiking. If you’ve always imagined camping at a vineyard, book a rustic RV site in one of Eola’s two shady groves. How about traveling to Europe with Eola’s founder and winemaker for an all-inclusive guided tour of premier wine-lovers’ sites? Look for information about the next exclusive trip in 2021.
More iconic Eola events (call the winery to check in 2020) include the annual Twilight in the Vines wine-pairing dinner series; the Summer Uncorked concert series with views of the rolling hills (and an apres-concert dinner as an option); and the Bike Oregon Wine Country bike series during Sundays in August, with 45-mile and 70-mile course options. With wine tastings at a few wineries along the way as well as refueling stations and gourmet breakfast, lunch, snacks and salmon barbecue feast at the finish line — not to mention a support vehicle for easy transport of wine bottles home — it’s the ultimate way to show your love for Oregon wine country. Finally, Eola Hills’ Thrive Wellness Weekend with Barre3 includes spa treatments, yoga and barre sessions and a chance to pet cuddly animals as you sip special-release wines. Up for the ultimate wine-country wedding? Eola’s tasting rooms make for a perfect setting for nuptials too.