When the hustle of harvest and crush calms, cellar season begins in the Willamette Valley — a favorite time of year for Norma Buchholz, executive chef at Brooks Wines, 15 miles north of Salem in Amity. Winemakers can finally slow down and take time to connect with guests and community, says the Newberg resident. Firesides, candlelight and hearty winter dishes characterized by rich, savory slow cooking are emblems of the season.
If you’ve ever wondered about the magic behind wine pairing, Buchholz has several tips you might use at your next tasting experience, or at home. At Brooks Wines, Buchholz harvests squash, greens, root vegetables and herbs from the winery’s onsite garden well into the new year, and coaxes their earthy flavors into mingling with a variety of wines. Meat or vegetable dishes with a hint of spice, like a hearty curry, counterbalance the fruity notes of a viognier or gewürztraminer. To complement a pinot gris or chardonnay, she’ll wrap collards around fish or pork and pan-sear the bundles.
While fresh, seasonal ingredients are the star, there’s also science behind the pairings. Full-bodied, flavorful wines like pinot noir and syrah cut through the richness of stews and roasts. Pair deep-fried turkey with pinot noir because the wine’s dryness cuts through the fat, or with champagne so the bubbles offer a crisp contrast. Balance the mild flavors of herb-spiked roasted turkey with riesling’s acidity and hints of stone fruit.
Here are several of Buchholz’ favorite spots for great wine and food pairings during the winter throughout the Willamette Valley.
North Willamette Valley
Sokol Blosser Winery‘s Farm & Forage experience (offered several times per week) includes a six-course lunch highlighting the dance between wine and food. Locally sourced ingredients, some grown or foraged on site such as mushrooms and nettles, inspire weekly menus served at a 12-person table. Served midday Thursday-Sunday.
Find a thoughtfully curated selection of local and imported wine at Barley & Vine Tavern. Pair charcuterie, nachos or salad with a glass, flight or bottle. Also: 16 beer taps for hop-lovers.
At Soter Vineyards, feast on gourmet dishes paired with six wines at an experience called Mineral Springs Ranch Provisions Tasting, named after their own biodynamic farm and vineyard. The menu changes weekly to reflect the changing harvest. Cap your visit by strolling the garden and visiting the shaggy highland cattle.
Authentic Neapolitan wood-fired pizza stars at Pizza Capo. Their weekly rotating special features local seasonal ingredients like chanterelles and hazelnuts, while starters like fire-roasted carrots with honey, ricotta and herbs express the season. Pair with wines from the Pacific Northwest and Italy, available by the glass or bottle.
Brooks Wines, where Bucholz is executive chef, offers shareable cheese and charcuterie platters as well as entrées, each with a recommended wine pairing. Each month Buchholz collaborates with her onsite master gardener to craft a “Perfect Pairing” — an entrée with a 3-ounce pour. Dine on the heated deck year-round and feed the chickens after.
A soaring tin-lined ceiling and vintage brick walls contribute to the romantic atmosphere at DaVinci Ristorante. Dine at the massive curved granite bar, or linger at an intimate table overlooking the dining room from the interior balcony. Everchanging wine and food menus emphasize the seasons, but their wood-fired flatbread is a year-round favorite.
Castor Kitchen and Bar presents seasonal Northwest cuisine merging French techniques with Southern comfort. Try shrimp and grits paired with chardonnay or viognier, or a hearty duck cassoulet with a robust syrah. Celebrate with a four- or six-course chef’s menu with beverage pairing, or visit for “recess,” the Castor interpretation of happy hour.
Anchoring Albany’s main street since 2001, Sybaris Bistro’s spacious dining room and cozy fireplace offers an inviting retreat from winter’s chill. Local ingredients inspire the James Beard Award-nominated chef to craft a fresh menu each month. Come for imaginative cuisine, beautifully presented, and a lovingly curated list emphasizing Northwest wines.
South Willamette Valley
George + Violet’s Steakhouse offers classic American cuisine with a playful twist. Beef carpaccio comes with sweet potato chips; local grass-fed steaks are accompanied by a choice of butter including hazelnut miso or horseradish brown butter. Locals pop in for a burger or Reuben with house-made pastrami. Wines from the Pacific Northwest, France and Italy pair beautifully.
Pfeiffer Winery hosts an occasional bucket-list Winemaker’s Dinner in the owners’ private home. Twelve to 16 guests savor a five-course meal by candlelight, along with exquisite wines paired with each course. The chef grills entrees over old grape vines, and serves dessert by a crackling fire on the patio. Call the winery for dates and details. Anytime of year, sit down for a tasting flight and a charcuterie platter at one of three inviting spaces — their candle-lit Tuscan cave, grand fireplace pavilion or water garden.
J. Scott Cellars urban winery and tasting room is a casual, cavernous warehouse open Fridays and Saturdays, perfect for big informal groups. Enjoy live music and food-truck fare surrounded by barrels and stainless-steel tanks, then visit two right-next-door tasting rooms, part of the Westside Warehouse District in the industrial west edge of town.
If You Go:
The bountiful Willamette Valley is home to hundreds of wineries, restaurants, lodging options and adventures. Find a restaurant or convenient lodging for your trip, and see the self-guided South Willamette Valley Food Trail for more inspiration. Many businesses in this area operate on seasonal schedules, so make sure to call ahead for hours and availability. Also check with tasting rooms to see if they have any live music, special dinners or other events scheduled.
Consider making a car-free trip to the Willamette Valley to skip the hassle of driving, or book one of many guided wine tours for easy transportation and excellent insider info. If you do drive, make sure to appoint a designated driver and check weather and road conditions before you go.