Posted by: vlibrizzi | April 25, 2010

NoCal/Oregon Road Trip: Willamette Valley, OR

On Thursday we left Crescent City, CA and drove for 6 hours (yikes!!!) over the border to Dundee, Oregon.

To break up the trip a bit, we stopped in the super-cool college town of Eugene, Oregon. We ate lunch at the lackluster Barry’s Deli with too-big sandwiches and no ice cream 😦

Despite the meal at Barry’s, we really enjoyed our short time in Eugene. We walked around the University of Oregon campus, which was teeming with students riding bikes to class or practicing yoga on the lawn (my kind of place!). It was a beautiful, sunny day and we loved having the opportunity to feel like college kids again.

But, alas, we had miles and miles more to drive, so we headed back to the car and drove to Dundee.

You might wonder, how did we choose to stay in Dundee out of all of the other cute farm towns in the Willamette Valley. Well, the answer is quite simple (or “logical” as C. likes to say). We looked at a map of all of the vineyards in the Willamette Valley and found the town with the greatest concentration of wineries and tasting rooms; you can see what we were looking for in our time in Oregon 🙂

And, in proper fashion, before even checking into our hotel, we stopped at our first vineyard in Dundee: Vista Hills Winery, or as we liked to call it “the Treetop.” As you can see in the photo to the left, this vineyard is perched on top of one of the Dundee Hills, so the views from the top of this treehouse are amazing!

As we sampled our first of the wonderful Oregon Pinot Noirs, we gazed out the windows at the views of the vineyards below. So cool!

I think we enjoyed being in Dundee even more because C. and I have been dreaming about going to Oregon Wine Country for years now…Probably since the first time we tasted an Oregon Pinot Noir or an Pinot Gris and we thought to ourselves, “These wines are from OREGON?!?!? We have to go there!”

After tasting the wines, we walked outside to get a bit of exercise (remember, we had spent six hours of the day inside a car!) and to walk among the vines.

While we were walking, one of the vineyard’s employees was mowing the lawn between the vines, which was not so great for our grass allergies, but in retrospect, made what we though of the Oregon wine experience complete: local farmers taking part in a growing industry. As I walked around, I couldn’t help thinking that these new wine growers cultivating their vines are just like those people we met while visiting vineyards in France. It’s just that the French vineyards are hundreds of years old and these are fairly new. It’s no surprise, though, that even the French are impressed with the wines from the Willamette Valley; every glass we tasted was better than the previous one.

Later that evening, we checked into our hotel in Dundee, The Inn at Red Hills, a brand new hotel in the center of town.

I can’t even begin to say how much we loved our stay at the Inn at Red Hills. The rooms were immaculate, perfectly decorated, and equipped to the nines (sleep number beds…oh yes!).

Plus, the Inn had a fantastic restaurant and wine bar attached to it, Farm to Fork, where the helpful staff kept us entertained and satisfied from pre-dinner drinks to breakfast the next morning.

Luckily for us, when we arrived, the restaurant was having an Earth Day celebration and were serving free appetizers at the wine bar. We sat down at a table near the bar, I ordered a Oregon white wine flight and C. ordered a yummy Oregon Pinot Noir Rose (with very generous pours!), and helped ourselves to the different types of amuse bouches. For example, the chef prepared a yummy black olive tapenade, parmesan cheese puffs (which reminded us of dining at our dear friend Denise’s home in Fontainebleau), dungeness crab dip, and, best of all, truffle salted popcorn!

While we were drinking and snacking, the restaurant showed a film about local farming called “Ingredients.” It was the perfect film to see at a restaurant called “Farm to Fork” because it stressed the importance of eating locally and supporting local farmers (something that I’ve been taking to heart lately as I just finished reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal Vegetable Miracle” and now can’t wait for our CSA to begin in just a few weeks).

Although we were a bit tipsy from our wine and our bellies were filled from the appetizers, we couldn’t resist sitting down to dinner as well (heck, we were on vacation!). We shared a meal of all locally grown products, and everything we ate was fabulous! The menu at the restaurant changes all the time, in order to reflect the ingredients that are in season at the time, but if you’re ever there in April, make sure to order the beet salad, the local escargot, the hen as an entree, and of course, the warm apple cobbler with golden raisons for dessert. Honestly, I could barely drag myself to my room that night; I was so pleasantly full and didn’t want to leave the restaurant! 🙂

But after a wonderful night’s rest, we returned to the restaurant the next morning for breakfast where I had some of the best oatmeal I’ve ever eaten, and C. had the traditional farmhouse breafast (sausage, toast, and eggs). While we were waiting for our food, we perused the wine for sale at the restaurant (you can see C. in front of a bookshelf of wine in the photo above), which made us even more excited for the day of wine tasting ahead of us.

So, at around noon (when the tasting rooms in Oregon usually open), we got back on the road to drive to McMinneville where we visited our first winery for the day, Eyrie.

As we drove up to the building, we thought we had made a wrong turn. The place was nothing like the other wineries we’ve visited before. Instead of being in a new building atop a hill, this place was in the center of town in an old bottling factory. But, we didn’t judge this book by its cover and I’m glad we didn’t.  Despite its exterior, Jacques, the man who poured our wine, was the friendliest and most knowledgeable person about wine tasting and wine making that we’d met this whole week. He talked to us for over an hour about how wine is made and how to distinguish the difference between wine that has been opened for a day, or even a few hours, and those that are newly opened. And, the wines we tasted were out of this world, some of the best wine I’ve ever had. If you’re in the Willamette Valley, you must visit with Jacques and buy some of his wine. I guarantee you’ll love him, but love the wine even more.

Then, we went to the opposite type of winery. Back up the hill we went to Domaine Serene winery, a winery with a beautiful view, yummy wines, but with a pretentious attitude (a $15 tasting fee…yikes!)

Unfortunately, we had to make it to Portland, Oregon later that day, so we could only do two wine tastings. In retrospect, I wish we had planned for more time in the Willamette Valley (and spent a few more nights at the Inn at Red Hills), but I’m glad we had the time we did there. And, now we’re even more determined to return.

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Responses

  1. Glad you had a great experience here in Oregon. Next time you get the opportunity to visit, please spend a little more time in McMinnville (where Eyrie is located), visit the downtown with several tasting rooms, great restaurants like Bistro Maison, and come up to Youngberg Hill Vineyards and Inn where you can have a fabulous nights stay, enjoy estate grown Pinots, and the best views in the valley.
    Cheers,

  2. […] NoCal/Oregon Road Trip: Willamette Valley, OR « Polly Voo Franzay […]


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