July 30, 2015
The Willamette Valley has served as savoured destination since the first wagons rolled in from the Oregon Trail. Though Henderson Luelling first planted grapes here in 1847, his fellow pioneers never could have imagined that their homesteads would transform into one of North America’s premier wine regions. Hitch a ride, grab a glass and check out some of the best Oregon wineries within an hour of Portland.
More than seventy-five wines from the Domaine Serene Vineyard have earned Wine Spectator scores of 90 points or higher, but it’s the ten-year old tasting room atop Winery Hill that ranks highest among local producers. Located in Dayton, just 35 miles from Portland, founders Ken and Grace Evenstad and geologist turned winemaker Erik Kramer offer three different tastings, including the “Exquisite Oregon Wines Experience”, which begins with a tour of the five level, gravity flow operation, followed by a seated tasting of flagship vintages.
The best tasting rooms reside in the heart of the vineyard, and Strangeland Vineyards offers a simple tasting room within arm’s reach of their award-winning vines. Located outside Salem, less than an hour from the Portland Airport, Strangeland’s 30-year old Pinot Noir grapes continue to produce exceptional, well-priced wines. The vineyard is perched on top of a 350-foot hill affording outstanding vistas of the Willamette Valley landscape.
Winemaking families count on legacy, but someone has to plant that first vine. Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser saw something in the Willamette Valley that few others had seen before, establishing their first Dayton, Oregon vineyard in 1971. One of the best Oregon wineries, their pioneering spirit helped established a viticulture hub that boasts over 400 wineries today. They also raised two future winemakers, Alex and Alison Sokol Blosser, who manage the winery today. The modern, exposed timber tasting facility includes a test kitchen, intimate library, tasting gallery and two distinct terraces overlooking the vines. The most dedicated oenophiles sign up for a three-mile guided hike through the 120-acre estate.
Oregon’s place as the epicentre of organic culinary fare is well known. The same can be said for organic wines, beginning with King Estate Winery, located just south of Eugene, about 90 minutes from Portland. Founded in 1991 upon “1,033 Oregon Tilth certified organic acres,” Ed King’s original hay farm now features fruit orchards, vegetable gardens and a raptor research facility. The restaurant’s terrace yawns toward the shallow bowls that comprise the estate winery, serving dishes largely comprised of estate grown produce.
Many of us consider tastings the best component of a day spent touring the best Oregon wineries, but boutique wineries present a different appeal: purchasing that hard-to-find bottle. Winderlea Vineyard and Winery is one such example, producing small lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that rarely make it out of the tasting room to commercial stores. Drawn from Boston by their love of Pinot Noir wines and the Pacific Northwest lifestyle, founders Bill Sweat and Donna Morris commissioned Portland architect Ernie Munch to design the Winderlea tasting room using sustainable materials, employing passive energy use and installing an electric vehicle charger. The modern shed sits among the Dundee estate, less than one hour’s drive from Portland.
ENSO Winery: The ENSO Winery + Tasting Lounge blends urban winery with Portland grit, producing a raw wood and concrete interior serving Enso White, Rosé and Red table wines for under $20 a bottle. Signature wines include several Pinot Noir blends and even the ENSO Bubbles sparkling wine. The four-year old winery and wine bar continues to create small batch vintages from grapes sourced throughout the west coast. ENSO also serves other Portland area wines, offers classes and features discounted glasses from 4-6 pm every afternoon.
Seven Bridges Winery: While breweries will always dominate Portland’s drinks landscape, the rise of urban wineries invites a day of wine tasting without ever seeing a vine. Further, the importation of grapes mean these incubators are free to blend away without any fidelity to the Willamette Valley terroir. The Seven Bridges Winery favours Malbecs, sharing new vintages during “Happy Hour Release Parties.”
Southeast Wine Collective: The party is always happy inside the Southeast Wine Collective, an ensemble of several small wineries, including the Division Winemaking Company, Helioterra Wines and Jackalope Wine Cellars, that offers tastings six days a week. Collective Collaboration Dinners merge culinary stars with Collective wines in an animated, long table format. The winemaking facility, located onsite, offers state-of-the-art winemaking equipment from stainless steel tanks to automated bottle labelling, while the tasting room features all ten current members of the Collective by the glass as well as an innovative La Growlette “Artisan Jug Wine” filling station. Not surprisingly, the SE Wine Collective serves as a hub for PDX viticulture, including guest winemaker lectures, winemaking classes and special events associated with Portland’s many food and beverage festivals.
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Written by Crai Bower