Outdoors

Grape Escape

A Willamette Valley road trip

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

If you need a few days break from “real life,” consider heading south to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Sandwiched between the coastal mountains and the North Cascades, the valley is the state’s burgeoning wine country, where lush, meandering hills and dales are heavily populated with wineries, the majority of them small, family-owned enterprises.

I spent the night at one of them, the Black Walnut Inn and Vineyard, a Tuscan-style inn that sits high up on a hill overlooking rows of neatly planted vineyards. The 15-acre property has expansive rooms, cozy, fireplace-lit nooks and warm decor, making it a fabulous place to breathe in the beauty of the region.

My first night I sat before an outdoor fireplace on the terrace, soaking in the quiet beauty of the wine country. At breakfast the next day my frittata came adorned with edible flowers and herbs snipped from local farms. Fueled and fortified, I set out to explore.

The valley is home to 700 wineries and tasting rooms, and within a 20-mile radius of the inn there are no less than 250 of them. The fabulous wines being produced in the valley are garnering industry awards, international attention and respect for their sophisticated notes. If you appreciate good wine, you can’t go wrong in this neck of the woods.

Our first stop was Zenith Vineyard for a tasting of pinot gris and a chat with hostess Jenn Stein. “Our winemakers received a huge confidence boost in 2016, when Wine Spectator named the Willamette Valley wine region of the year,” she told us. “It gave us the assurance that our wine profiles had validity and could hold their own.”

Over glasses of Zenith’s auxerrois, pinot noir and tempranillo, we learned about the 90-acre sustainable wine farm where no pesticides or herbicides are applied. 

Sustainability is a key word at several of Willamette Valley vineyards. At a picnic lunch at Maysara Vineyard, Mo Momtazi discussed his biodynamic farming, a series of holistic practices focused on pesticide-free, clean, conscious plantings.

“We believe this allows for a superior expression of our terroir in our wines,” he said. It’s certainly reaping results for Momtazi, who planted the vineyard in 1997 and treats his vines with a steeped tea made from stinging nettles.

Later, I spent an indulgent afternoon sauntering around McMinville. Once a hub for walnut farming, the walnut groves have been replaced with vineyards in recent years. As a result, the sleepy city of 33,000 is enjoying a renaissance as brewers and vintners become increasingly successful.

The historic downtown is lined with mom-and-pop cafes, wine-tasting rooms, gift shops and boutiques. Outdoor concerts have become a summertime staple in the Grainery District and old grain warehouses have been reincarnated into coffee shops, breweries and cellars. This is the place to hang out and people-watch on a gorgeous sunny day. With a cold drink in your hand and a farm-to-fork meal on the horizon, this is a place that makes “real life” feel far, far away.

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