Oregon’s flourishing wine region
But don’t underestimate the delights of visiting stand-alone tasting rooms, too. On the main road in the town of Dundee, Argyle Winery, which grows its grapes nearby in the Dundee Hills and in other Willamette Valley AVAs, offers a flight of four sparkling wines, including a rosé and a brut blended with pinot noir grapes. As an adventurous option best saved for spring, summer or fall, when the days are longer and the rain lighter, ditch the car and ride a bicycle between tasting rooms to more intimately experience the rolling hills and cloud bursts. Bike rentals are available in Portland at numerous bike shops, but you will have to either drive the bike to wine country or take it on the train as far west as you can go. Beginners should opt for an organised tour leaving from Portland; try Pedal Bike Tours which offers 10-mile intermediate-level tours for $89 per person and stops at three wineries before returning to town with you and the bikes in a van.
The Willamette Valley’s wine country tourism infrastructure is still developing. There is a wide range of bed and breakfasts – from the high-end, Tuscan-styled Black Walnut Inn three miles west of Dundee, to Abbey Road Farm, 10 miles west of Dundee, with its grain silos converted to guest rooms – and only a handful of non-chain hotels.
One of those is Hotel Oregon, an excellent budget option that is part of the McMenamins empire, which turns historic buildings in Oregon and Washington into whimsical lodging, dining and drinking destinations, In addition to 48 European-style guest rooms with shared bathrooms, the hotel offers a four storey-high rooftop bar with views of the town of McMinnville, 12 miles from Dundee. You don’t have to wander far from the hotel to taste wine. Head to nearby Willamette Valley Vineyards Wine Center, R Stuart and Co, or Panther Creek Cellars.
As the first large-scale luxury resort in the region, the Allison Inn and Spa in the town of Newburg, five miles from Dundee, offers a posh launch pad for wine aficionados. Rooms are well appointed and have views of the property’s own vineyard and surrounding hazelnut orchards, while the onsite spa treatments feature herbs, grapes and other natural ingredients. Its Jory restaurant serves farm-to-table cuisine, including house-cured meats, a grilled Wagyu beef burger made with pinot noir and Pacific oysters on the half shell, and has an impressive wine list with hard-to-find local drops.
For the most part, the best wine country restaurants are located close to each other in the towns of McMinnville, Dundee and Newberg, although there are exceptions, including the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, six miles from Dundee, which specialises in wild mushrooms, including a crème brulee made with candy cap mushrooms, and the French-focused Cuvee in Carlton, 14 miles from Dundee, which serves boeuf bourguignon and steak and frites.
This past spring, the revamped Paulée restaurant in Dundee opened to rave reviews for its modern cuisine by chef Daniel Mondok. All the ingredients on the menu are locally sourced, from the tuna poke – a raw fish salad with apple and ginger – to the peppercorn duck with rice, baby bok choy and smoked black tea jus.
In McMinnville, Thistle offers an intimate setting complete with chalkboard menu and candlelight. Dishes of duck liver paté, braised oxtail and gnocchi with black trumpet mushrooms are inspired by deliveries from local farmers and harvesters. Around the corner, Nick’s Italian Cafe remains an established classic, with exceptional wood fired pizzas and handmade pastas.