We generally love the wonderful wines that come from Willamette Valley. This Oregon valley is protected from the east by the Cascade Mountains, from the west by the Coast Range mountains, and from the north by hills. That makes it perfect for cool-climate grapes. It is Oregon’s largest grape-growing region and is best known for its Pinot Noirs. It also produces Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Rieslings among others. Willamette Valley has multiple growing regions, including:
- Dundee Hills is generally characterized by red volcanic (Jory) soil which holds heat, resulting in deep, red cherry and plum-based fruit-focused wines with iron-based minerality and spices such as cinnamon, clove, and cardamom.
- Newberg, by contrast, typically has brown, loamy, sedimentary (Willakenzie) soil that drains better than volcanic soil, resulting in more intense, earthier, darker fruit flavors, with floral elements and subtle tannins and baking spices
- Yamhill-Carlton also has sedimentary soil and, since it is in a rain shadow, has a drier climate, resulting in dark-fruited wines that are relatively floral and spicy.
- Eola-Amity Hills’ Jory basalt soils, overlaid with Nekia red clay, combined with the area’s, particularly cool afternoon breezes, help produce bigger, darker wines with darker fruits.
Our last visit to this area was several years ago, when we found a lot of very interesting wines. Here are the wineries and wines we particularly enjoyed on this trip–especially some of Willamette’s deeply extracted, earthy, dark fruit pinots (which tend to be our favorite). And yes, we really did visit all of these wineries!
Where to Taste Wine in Willamette Valley
Here are some of our favorite places to taste Willamette Valley wines.
- Le Cadeau, for a number of its Pinot Noirs, including its 2015 Merci, 2016 Rocheux, and its 2015 Aubichon Cellars “Riverside Vineyard” Pinots;
- Four Graces, another favorite at which we enjoyed the 2016 Dundee Hills Preserve Pinot and especially the Yamhill-Carlton Reserve Pinot Reserve;
- Beaux Freres, Willamette Valley’s unofficial royalty, unfortunately has prices to match. Its hospitality and its wines, however, almost justify the prices. The favorite pinots of our tastings were the 2016 Beaux Freres Vineyard, the 2014 Upper Terrace, and the extraordinary and expensive ($150) 2016 Harmonie Cuvee;
- Cristom Vineyards is a perennial favorite at which we enjoyed the 2014 Estate, the 2015 Eileen Vineyard, and especially, the 2015 Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noirs;
- Bergstrom, where we especially enjoyed the 205 Gregory Ranch and 2016 Silice Pinot Noirs;
- Patricia Green Cellars is where we split our allegiances among five 2016 Pinot Noirs, the Estate Vineyard Old Vine, Freedom Hill Dijon Clone 115, Weber Vineyard, and especially the Notorious blend of the best wines from its best vineyards;
- Domaine Drouhin is where we hit the bonanza, especially with its 2015 Joseph Drouhin Secher Premier Cru Chablis, 2016 Roserock Vineyard Chardonnay, and several of its Willamette Pinot Noirs including the 2016 Roserock Vineyard, 2015 DDO Dundee Hills, 2014 DDO Laurene, 2015 Zepherine and 2015 Edition Limited;
- Archery Summit, for its 2016 Eola-Amity Chardonnay, its 2015 Looney Vineyard, Arcus Vineyard and Red Hills Vineyard Pinots;
- Stoller Family Estate, for its 2017 Dundee Hills and 2015 Reserve Chardonnay;
- Raptor Ridge, particularly for its 015 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir;
- Ponzi Vineyards, for its 2015 Avitine Vineyard Anniversary Reserve Pinot;
- Duck Pond Cellars, especially for t;e one Pinot Noir that is only available to club members, the 2016 Volcanic Cuvees.
- Sokol-Blosser’s 2016 Dundee Hills Pinot Gris and particularly its 2015 Goosepen Block Pinot Noir;
- Hammacher Wines 2014 “H” and 2013 “Signature” Pinot Noirs from the Carlton Winemakers Studio;
- R. Stewart & Co especially for his 2015 Elkhorn Ridge and Autograph Pinot Noirs; and
- Evening Land Vineyards, for its 2015 Seven Springs Vineyard Chardardonnay and two Pinots Noirs, its 2014 Domaine de la Cote Estate (from Southern California’s Santa Rita Hills AVA) and its 2015 Seven Springs Vineyard La Source.
New-to-Us Willamette Valley Wineries
We also visited a number of other wineries that were either recommended to us or whose wines we particularly enjoyed at IPNC. Among our favorites of these were:
- Goodfellow Family Cellars, a small, new discovery for its 2015 Whistling Ridge Vineyard, Fir Crest Vineyard, and our favorite, Durant Vineyard Pinots
- Lingua Franca, a new winery with a big pedigree and for its AVNI Chardonnay, its exquisite, but very expensive ($90) Sisters Chardonnay, and its 2016 Estate and especially its 2015 Ryan’s Plow Pinots Noir;
- Domaine Roy, where, after a multi-wine tasting, we came away with several favorites including the 2013 Incline, 2016 Stater Vineyard, 2014 Coattails and the 2016 Iron Filbert;
- Lenne Estate, for a number of its Pinot Noirs including its 2014 Pinot Noir, its 2015 Single Slope, Eleanor’s, Jill’s and Kill Hill Pinot Noirs, and its 2011 LeNez, 2015 cinq elus and 2012 Lenne Estate—in other words, virtually every wine that we tasted;
- White Rose Estate’s 2014 Neo-Classical Objective and especially its White Rose Vineyard pinots;
- Eminent Domaine, especially three of its Ribbon Ridge Estate wines, its 2015, 2016, and its 2016 Estate Reserve;
- Lemelson Vineyard’s 2015 Stermer Vineyard Pinot Noir;
- Failla, the recently established Willamette branch of the Napa winery, where we enjoyed its 2015 Eola-Amity AVA Seven Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir;
- Cooper Mountain’s 2014 Cooper Mountain Pinot and 2014 Pinot Blanc Vin Glace dessert wine;
- Montinore’s 2013 Alphabet City Pinot Noir;
- Roco, for its 2014 Private Stash Pinot Nor;
- Winderlea’s 2014 Crawford Beck and especially its 2015 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noirs; and
- Fairsing Vineyard for its 2015 Dardis Pinot Noir.
And these lists do not even include the relative handful of wineries whose wines did not quite match our tastes. Nor does it include the many very nice Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs that we enjoyed in restaurants, from the moment we arrived in Oregon through our last dinner. Among our favorites of these were:
- 2015 Ken Wright Shea Vineyard;
- 2012 Walt Shea Vineyards;
- 2016 Brickhouse Select;
- 2015 Bergstrom Gregory Ranch;
- 2014 Walter Scott Freedom Hill Vineyard; and
- 2015 Lavenia Winery’s Lazy River Vineyard.
In fact, we enjoyed so many of the Willamette wines that we tasted that we couldn’t control ourselves. We ended up packing our car with great wines that we plan to drink over the next few years.