Monday, May 14, 2012

Willamette Valley Vacation Part 1

I really like to travel, but when someone says “vacation,” I have particular requirements: relaxation, no agenda, sleeping in, and no pressure to see certain things. It’s why I haven’t been to Europe since I was 16. When Joe and I were planning our spring vacation, we struggled with location/price. Looking up random destinations on Southwest and Expedia just to cringe at ticket prices wasn’t very effective. Somehow we settled on Portland and the Willamette Valley. I’d never been further northwest than the Russian River Valley, and it seemed like a place where we could drink wine (check), eat good food (check), and enjoy beautiful scenery (check). Sounds like a good vacation to me!

Photo Apr 16, 10 29 50 AM

We flew over snow-covered mountains on our descent into Salt Lake City where we drank some locally-brewed, extremely low-alcohol beer. The flavor was good, but it tasted weak. We arrived in Portland, picked up our car (upgraded due to a mistake!), and headed to Newberg where we were staying in a VRBO. Along the way, we picked up our Dundee Hills AVA Passports that I had ordered. For $15 each in the month of April, the passports provided us with discounts and extra tastings all around the Dundee Hills AVA. It was a great deal and helped us organize our tasting room visits.

Photo Apr 16, 7 39 18 PM

After dropping off our luggage, we jumped back in the car to hit our first tasting room of the trip: Alexana Winery. The wine was good, and the tasting room was beautiful. The woman pouring sent us on our way to Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard to soak in some views and taste some more wine. They were incredibly hospitable, and the views were stunning. We headed back into town to get something to eat since our internal clocks were off. Red Hills Market came highly recommended, so we split a cheese plate, a margherita pizza, and a 375 ml bottle of, what else, Pinot Noir!

We took the opportunity the next day to really break in our passports starting with Archery Summit Vineyards. Archery Summit had some of the best wine we tasted all trip, but the prices were a little on the steep side for our budget. Next we headed to De Ponte Cellars where we tried a white, Melon de Bourgogne, that I’d never had before. As proof that I should’ve taken better notes, we hit a few other places that I can’t remember. Our least favorite place of the trip was Stoller vineyards. I was excited about their LEED certified building, but when I asked the woman working about it, she could hardly tell me anything. We ended our day at Four Graces, a cozy little place right outside of downtown Dundee. Several people had recommended it to us and with good reason.

Photo Apr 18, 3 08 01 PM

Some friends of ours came down from Portland for dinner at Subterra in Newberg. It was wonderful to catch up with them, and the food was reasonably priced and quite good. However, the service was lacking. Both Joe’s and my soup could’ve stood to be warmer. Fortunately, our company was enjoyable because our dinner dragged on and on!

Photo Apr 18, 4 06 10 PM

Based on a recommendation from our friends, we headed down the road a ways to the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. Personally, this was my favorite day of our trip. Cristom, St. Innocent, Bethel Heights, and Left Coast all welcomed us with relaxed atmospheres, incredible wines, and stunning scenery. Left Coast even has a little bistro with sandwiches and other food for sale along with wine by the glass. It didn’t hurt that the sun came out, so we enjoyed our hummus plate outside!

Photo Apr 18, 6 34 25 PM

We closed our the wine portion of our day at Youngberg Hill Vineyards, which is also an inn. The person working there invited us to relax on their balcony and take our time with our wine, even pouring us a little extra of the one we enjoyed the most.

Photo Apr 19, 12 18 41 PM

Joe caught me playing on my phone instead of enjoying the view.

Photo Apr 18, 8 12 04 PM

Winding up the wine portion of our day, we headed back into McMinnville for dinner, though we both decided we weren’t hungry. Fortunately we stumbled onto a bar with good local beers and free pool where we played nine-ball until we got hungry and ate at McMenamins.

We woke up the next morning to nearly impenetrable fog, which made winding our way up the gravel roads to the wineries a little touch-and-go at times. Bergstrom and White Rose were the highlights of the day, both with finely crafted Pinot. We took the tour at Domaine Drouhin, where they grow and produce wine exactly as they do in Burgundy – the only difference being terroir.

Up next: Dinner at Joel Palmer House, Columbia River Gorge, and a night out in Portland