: Scott Kemp

Wine-Tasting Getaway Off the Beaten Path

Try new wines, eat pizza and play lawn games at Heart of Willamette Wineries.
February 7, 2024

Oregon’s Willamette Valley is known for distinctive, award-winning wines and friendly, approachable tasting rooms. Experience both with a getaway to a cluster of boutique wineries just an hour south of Portland that offer fewer crowds, a more personalized experience and limited-production vintages you won’t find elsewhere.

Three dozen wineries clustered primarily in Polk and Benton counties (around Salem and Corvallis) form the Heart of Willamette Wineries. In this part of Oregon wine country, you may be greeted by a friendly winery dog or cat, and there’s a good chance the person pouring your wine is a member of the family who owns the place. You might have to share the roads with a tractor or two, but the wines you’ll savor and the people you’ll meet make it a journey worth taking. This north-to-south itinerary will give you a taste of what makes this region special.

Namaste Vineyards (Photo by Scott Kemp)

Pair Pinot With Chocolate Truffles by a Cozy Fire

Start your tasting day at Namaste Vineyards, 18 miles west of Salem in Dallas, part of the Van Duzer Corridor. Here, a gap in the coastal foothills allows cool winds from the Pacific to sweep over the vineyards, forcing the grapes to develop thicker skins that make richer, darker wines. Admire views of those foothills from floor-to-ceiling windows that frame the stone fireplace in Namaste’s tasting room inside a restored barn. While you’re there, ask about their chocolate truffles, which are handmade with Namaste Reserve Cuvee pinot noir. 

Next head 6 miles south to Benedetto Vineyards, where you’ll find a sleek and modern tasting room overlooking plantings of pinot noir and chardonnay. Locals know Benedetto as a great date-night spot, with lawn games in the summer and a covered heated patio in the winter. (Tip: If you’re there on a Friday, don’t miss Fire Pit Fridays — wine served around a cozy fire, paired with bowls of homemade soup.) After Benedetto, drive scenic curving roads to Ankeny Vineyard in Salem, grab a seat on the deck and order wood-fired pizza to accompany your wine. Then grab a glass and wander a bit to see if you can find the 150-year-old pear tree planted by pioneers.

Spend the night in Corvallis, a friendly college town on the banks of the Willamette River. Hotel Corvallis is a funky downtown hotel with retro styling. Its eye-catching rainbow mural is one of 30 stops on Corvallis’ mural trail. The boutique inn also partners with local tasting rooms like Cardwell Hill Cellars and 4 Spirits Distillery to offer free tastings for guests who book rooms directly; inquire with Hotel Corvallis for current details. Enjoy downtown Corvallis with an evening walk along the riverfront, then stop at del Alma for tapas, cocktails and Latin-inspired cuisine.

Cardwell Hill Cellars (Photo by Isabella Medina)

Try Chardonnay Made From Sustainably Grown Grapes

Start day two by strolling three blocks to Bodhi on 2nd in Corvallis for a breakfast featuring house-made breads and local cage-free eggs. Then head 6 miles west to Philomath for your first tasting stop at Compton Family Wines, which uses regenerative grape-growing practices like allowing sheep, pigs and chickens to graze in the vineyard and improve overall soil health. Tasting-room flights change monthly for a new experience with every visit.

From Compton, head northwest to the coastal foothills. Cardwell Hill Cellars sits on the hill it was named for, and the views are a can’t-miss part of your visit. Enjoy a glass of sustainably farmed chardonnay or pinot noir on the terrace looking toward Marys Peak, the tallest mountain in the Coast Range.

The Little Cabin at Lumos Wine Company (Photo by Reed Lane Photography)

Just across the road is Lumos Wine Company. The current winemaker is the third generation to farm the vineyard and the second to make wine from the grapes. Once the site of a dude ranch, the tasting room still looks like a barn when you pull up the gravel drive. Inside it’s bright and airy, opening to a wraparound deck with covered seating. Nearby is another remaining historic structure: The Little Cabin, where you can book an overnight stay to fully appreciate the slower pace of life at Oregon’s smaller wineries. There’s no TV at the Little Cabin — instead enjoy a wood stove, a deck with spectacular views and the adjacent vineyard.

The Lumos tasting room offers charcuterie and small bites year-round and food trucks on summer weekends. For more dining options, visit nearby Philomath, where you’ll find Gathering Together Farm, a farm-based restaurant (open spring to fall) known for its hyperlocal cuisine, with organic ingredients grown on-site. Or try Eats & Treats Cafe, a dedicated gluten-free restaurant serving hearty favorites like sandwiches on homemade bread and barbecue with a variety of house-made sauces.

After your weekend of exploring, it’s normal if you’re not quite ready to say goodbye. Bottle purchase and wine-club memberships are available at most Heart of Willamette wineries, and the Heart of Willamette’s annual winery passport is a tantalizing way to fuel continued adventure. Passports are valid for a full calendar year, and go on sale in December for the year to come. Purchase one as a promise to yourself or a gift for a friend — a reminder that there’s so much more waiting to be experienced.

This project has been funded in part by an Oregon Wine Country License Plates Matching Grant.

About The

Jennifer Rouse
Jennifer Rouse relishes the chance to write about Oregon. A fifth-generation Oregonian, Jennifer loves running, wandering through bookstores, and feasting on local wine and cheese. Alongside her husband and three daughters, she likes to explore hidden corners of the state via car, foot, bike and canoe.

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