Discovering Willamette Valley Wine Country

July 19, 2013

Oregon’s Willamette Valley is noted for delicious wines, so it is no surprise that vineyard communities are increasingly turning to outdoor recreation for new ways to explore the countryside. Here are three unique discoveries in Yamhill County that may entice you to grab hiking boots, binoculars, a paddle and a life jacket. Plus, don’t forget your camera as we go over the river, across the hillsides and on the water.

In early morning, when the light is soft and the air is still, there’s a sense of peace in the world. But as dawn approaches at the Sportsman Airpark near Newberg, that serene silence is all too quickly broken. The gas is lit and our balloon grows to life so we can rise above it all in Yamhill County. This is where Roger Anderson gathers folks who travel from all over the world to let their hearts soar on one of his unique adventures.

Anderson’s Vista Balloon Adventures has been based in Newberg for the past decade, and Anderson is a veteran pilot with more than two decades experience in lighter than air flight.“The conditions for flying are perfect this morning. A light breeze and clear skies. We’ll be traveling across the Willamette River first and then head south towards Dayton and the wine country,” he said.

Within moments of our easy lift off, we are two, four, then six hundred feet up in the air and the other “giants” soon appear as tiny, thimble-sized floats on the ground below.

That wasn’t all;  it was easy to see how the valley near Newberg was ringed with hills that grow grapes – in fact, wine grapes! There are hundreds of unique wines produced by scores of wineries and each is easily reached within fifteen minutes of Newberg.“There’s the Dundee hills, Chehalem Ridge, Eola Hill; you can see it all and all of it produces some of the best wine in the world,” said Anderson.

It is the sort of travel that puts a smile on your face and brings joy to your heart, but there’s another exciting and unique way to see wine country that’s closer to the ground: on board an extra-large ATV with Alex Sokol Blosser, co-owner of Sokol Blosser Winery.

Alex proudly showed off his family’s vineyards from one end to the other. “We farm 85 acres of grapes and all of it is certified organic by Oregon Deptartment of Agriculture. We’ve been farming here since 1971,” he said.

The “Kubota RTV” is an off road vehicle seats up to 6 passengers for off road riding. It gets folks out to where the action is, across the grape-lined hillsides quickly and easier than on foot. “Not everyone wants to walk,” noted Alex Sokol Blosser. “85 acres is a lot of land, so the ATV Tours give folks an up close chance to see and learn where the wine comes from and how it grows on the vine.”

You’ll love a stop indoors at Sokol Blosser’s new tasting room too! The tradition of serving visitors wonderful wines dates back to 1978.

I was curious whether folks gain new appreciation for the craft of winemaking following a tour of the land. “Oh absolutely,” Sokol Blosser noted with a broad smile. “Seeing is believing, so when you go out and visit the vineyard, you do get a sense of the place.”

Melissa Rierson is a safety instructor who also rents you a canoe, a paddle and life jacket through the new nonprofit, community-based business. Rierson said that water safety is first order of business, “Especially when it comes to life jackets – they are not a fashion accessory and you must wear them if you rent from us.”

Since 2010, the remarkable community-based nonprofit tourism business puts newcomers in touch with a 2.5-mile stretch of water around Ash Island.

It’s a little-known section of the Willamette River, according to Dundee’s Mayor, Ted Crawford. “I have always known that we have access along the Willamette River and this is a great opportunity to open it up to the general public who wish to explore the river,” he said.

Crawford added that the newly designated water trail and rental operation can launch you into longer expeditions too. “It creates some options – some sticking points for people who want to come and stay in the area and spend some time in the Willamette Valley.”

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.