The Willamette Valley is Oregon’s oldest wine region. It contains over 700 wineries in 12 nested AVAs and produces two-thirds of the state’s wines. While it is best known for its Pinot Noirs, it also produces Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Rieslings among others. With so many options, how does one decide which wineries to visit for wine tasting? Let us help. We love the region’s wines–especially its Pinot Noirs–and have visited the area many times.
While most wineries source grapes from multiple areas, we have sorted our recommendations by the location of the wine-tasting rooms. Admittedly, we have not visited all of the wineries and areas in Willamette Valley. And our tastes may not be the same as yours.
And remember that wines change year by year due to changing weather and winemaker decisions. We often find that what we liked one year may not be as enjoyable to us in subsequent years. Try to do a vertical tasting of years to help you understand the differences.
Willamette Valley Wine Tasting
The days of impulsive visits to wine-tasting rooms have gone away and most wineries now require appointments made in advance (although some places may allow walk-ins if they are not busy). One has to figure out how much time to spend in each place and how long it takes to get to the next place. It is not easy. Fortunately, Tom is a master planner.
And expect to pay more to taste wines, although some places waive the fees based upon purchases. More importantly, just go and enjoy the experience and your beautiful surroundings.
One last caveat: rather than attempting to characterize each of the wines we taste (we aren’t very good at detecting or naming the tastes that winemakers and critics use to describe them), we focus on the wines that express our own preferences. For the primary Willamette Valley varietals these are:
- Pinot Noirs. We seek out wineries that produce concentrated darker red and black fruit with a nice balance of earth and acidity.
- Chardonnays. We prefer dryer, medium- to full-bodied wines with moderate acidity and alcohol, little to no oak, and lower levels of malolactic acid (ML).
- Pinot Gris. Our tastes tend toward faint honeyed notes, flavors of lemon, lime, pear, and apple, integrated acidity, and a saline-like minerality.
And for all wines, we are always seeking those that offer good price/value.
For more about the different Willamette Valley AVAs, see our Primer on Willamette Valley AVAs blog. And now let’s just go and taste wines.
Wine Tasting in Dayton Oregon Area
What’s not to like at this winery? We always walk away with many wonderful wines. In 2022, our many favorites among the whites were the reasonably priced 2021 Vireton Pinot Gris and 2020 Dundee Hills Chardonnay. Our favorite 2019 Pinot Noirs included Archer’s Edge Vineyard, Archer’s Crest, Arcus Vineyard, and the whole cluster Archer’s Paradox. Of the 2020 Pinot Noirs, Archer’s Edge was credible and we enjoyed the Dundee Hills. Then there was the first (of which we hope to be many others) excellent Archery Summit rendition of a Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir. In the past we have also enjoyed its Looney Vineyard Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir and its Premier Cuvee.
Not only do we like the wines here, but the beautiful deck is also a pleasant spot to taste wines. Some of our continual favorites are its Laurene Pinot Noir, Arthur Chardonnay, and Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Mont-de Milieu 1er Cru French import. In the past, we have also enjoyed many of the Roserock label wines: Chardonnay and several Pinot Noirs (Dundee Hills, Laurene, and Zepherine).
For us, Domaine Serene wines are only for very special occasions (read, very good but pricy). But we never turn down the Recolte Grand Cru Chardonnay, Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir, or Coeur Blanc.
We genenally favor its Dundee Hills Pinot Gris over its Pinot Noirs. But in our 2022 visit, we found our sweet spot with two big, concentrated Pinot Noirs with black cherry fruit and touches of spice and tobacco: a 2018 Peach Tree Block Estate and a 2016 Old Vineyard Block Estate Pinot Noir. In the past, we have also enjoyed its Goosepen Block Pinot Noir.
This Dundee Hill winery focuses on cool-climate grapes that produce bright red fruit, earth, spice, silky, fine-grain tannins, and balanced acidity. Their Dundee Hills Pinot Noir and Reserve Chardonnay are particular favorites.
White Rose’s tasting room is located in an older building. We have long enjoyed the winery’s highly expressive, deep-flavored wine, many of which show dark fruit and earthy flavors. Our 2022 tasting did not disappoint. The preset tasting of three wines yielded two that closely matched our flavor profile: the Neo-Classical Objective and the White Rose Vineyard. With this as a foundation, our tasting guide took us through tastings of two or three additional vintages of each of these wines.
Wine Tasting in Dundee Oregon Area
On a past trip, we especially enjoyed the Gregory Ranch and Silice Pinot Noirs. The vineyard also produces Chardonnay, Syrah, and Rose.
Although we are not fans of Rose, we enjoyed its light, fruity, Yamhill-Carlton Rose of Pinot Noir and a nicely structured Yamhill-Carlton Incline Pinot Noir which overcame a slight smoke tinge with a small dose of sulfur. We also enjoy its Incline and Iron Filbert Pinot Noirs.
Duck Pond organically farms and hand harvests its grapes. Our favorite Pinot Noir here was only available to club members: the Volcanic Cuvees. Too bad.
Our favorites here are its Seven Springs Vineyard Chardonnay, Domaine de la Cote Estate Pinot Noir (from Southern California’s Santa Rita Hills AVA), and La Source Pinot Noir.
We have become accustomed to slow and sometimes reluctant service at this winery, but tend to return for their reasonably priced wines. This visit yielded three nice selections: a Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, a Yamhill Carlton Reserve Pinot Noir as an everyday wine, and the concentrated, full-bodied Foley Family Estate Pinot Noir. In the past, we also enjoyed the Dundee Hills Reserve.
Le Cadeau has always been at the top of our list of places to stop. But in 2022, we discovered that they are gradually phasing its more experimental Aubichon line (of which we enjoyed many of the Pinot Noirs and its Pinot Gris) to focus on its primary brand. This time, we uncharacteristically found only one wine of particular interest: the restrained 2019 Le Cadeau Vineyard “Diviersite’” (which is sourced from selected clonal blocks). In the past, we liked its Rocheaux and Equinoxe Pinot Noirs.
Our favorite Pinot Noirs are their Crawford Beck and especially its Shea Vineyard.
Wine Tasting in Newburg Oregon Area
Alexana specializes in Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. We particularly enjoyed the elegant, fruity 2016 “Signature” Chardonnay and 2020 Revana Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir. It also carries some wines of its sister wineries, Revana (a Napa Valley Cabernet producer), and Corazon del Sol ( an Argentinian winery that specializes in Grenache and Malbec blends). Of these, we especially enjoyed the Grenache.
Willamette Valley’s unofficial royalty, unfortunately, has prices to match. Its hospitality and its wines, however, almost justify the prices. Our favorite Pinot Noirs were the Beaux Freres Vineyard, the Upper Terrace, and the extraordinary and expensive Harmonie Cuvee.
We used to love the wines here: the Pinot Noirs, Estate Vineyard Old Vine, Freedom Hill Dijon Clone 115, Weber Vineyard, and the Notorious blend of the best wines from its best vineyards. But either our tastes have changed or the winery changed its wines after the co-founder’s 2017 death. The wines seem to no longer match our profile. Of the wines we recently tasted, The Freedom Hill Vineyard, Dijon 115 Clone, and Mysterious Pinot Noir (both from Dundee Hills) were the closest to our style. But regretfully, this one is falling from our recommended list.
Penner-Ash is one of Willamette Valley’s premier wineries. Its tasting room provides a lovely panoramic view over the vineyards from which it sources 98 percent of its own fruit from renowned vineyards. While we are not excited by its multi-vineyard blends, we like their Zena-Crown (Eola-Amity) and Shea Pinot Noirs. The Pas de Nom Chardonnay is too heavily oaked for us.
Not surprisingly, we especially enjoyed the Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir.
We mostly enjoyed its expensive Private Stash Pinot Noir.
Wine Tasting in McMinnville Oregon Area
This small family operation is another of our favorites. It sources its grapes from three of the winemaker’s (and our) favorite Willamette areas—Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity, and Ribbon Ridge. The winery focuses primarily on Pinot Noir. Yet it also produces a few Chardonnays, a Pinot Gris, and a Riesling. We enjoyed a number of its wines: Durant (Dundee Hills) Pinot Noir and Whistling Ridge Richard’s Cuvee Chardonnay. But our two favorites were the Durant Vineyard Heritage No. 11, and Temperance Hills Vineyard Pumphouse (both from Dundee Hills).
We especially like his Elkhorn Ridge and Autograph Pinot Noirs.
Although this winery has tasting rooms in multiple locations, we usually visit the one in downtown McMinnville. We especially like its relatively full-bodied Pinot Noirs: the Estate (a bit minerally with black cherry fruit and herbs), Tualatin Estate (red fruit and spice), and one of the best bargain, everyday wines of our tastings, its Whole Cluster Pinot Noir (tasty bright red fruit and not especially complex but a good price/value). We’ve also enjoyed past vintages: 2018 Founders Reserve and the 2016 Elton.
Wine Tasting in Salem Oregon Area
Although its Pinot Noirs are not especially to our taste, we do enjoy its dessert wines: the Win d’Epice Late Harvest Gewurztraminer and the pineapple-flavored Vin d’Or Last Harvest Sauvignon Blanc.
At this branch of the Napa winery, we enjoyed its Eola-Amity AVA Seven Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir.
We always find several wines that we like here. In 2022, we particularly enjoyed the polished 2020 Chers Amis Chardonnay (grapes from select blocks aged in 28% new French oak) and three Pinot Noirs: 2018 Estate (primarily Calera clone with concentrated dark fruit and big spice), the 2017 Estate (a more delicate, restrained red fruit wine from a cooler vintage) and 2019 “The Plow” (another more restrained wine from a cool climate and w 24 percent whole cluster).
We have stopped here many times and have always found enjoyable Pinot Noirs such as their Jesse, Eileen, Jefferson, and Paul Gerrie Vineyard wines. On our 2022 visit, we uncharacteristically found none of the wines to our taste. But we will come back for another try.
Wine Tasting in Yamhill- Carlton Oregon Area
This is not a winery but somewhat of an incubator for winemakers who use the studio’s facilities for making their own wine. The winemaker supplies the grapes, barrels and labor and get low-cost access to the studio’s crush, fermentation, bottling and even tasting and sales capabilities at a low cost. We have enjoyed some of its Pinot Noirs in the past including the Bacheldoer Johnson and Hamacher Signature.
Although we don’t stop here often, we have enjoyed its Dardis Pinot Noir in the past.
Wright is a legend in the Willamette wine industry, famous especially for his pioneering of vineyard designate wines. We especially like his Abbott Claim and Freedom Hills Pinot Noirs
In 2022 we found only one wine that we enjoyed—its Estate Pinot Noir from grapes salvaged from the 2020 fires. We smelled a little smoke when the bottle was opened, but it quickly blew off. In the past, we also liked many more Pinot Noirs including Jill’s, Eleanor’s, Kill Hill, and Le Nez.
The famed 200-acre Shea Vineyard was established in 1988 to grow, farm, and sell Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes to other producers. Its grapes are particularly known for their concentrated dark fruit, deep colors, structure, and ageability of its Dijon 114, 115, 777. Its Wadenswil clones are known for their structure, their bold dark fruits, and their ageability.
While more than 80 percent of its production is sold to premier wineries (Penner-Ash, Archery Summit, WALT, Purple Hands, and many others) across the valley and into California, it now produces its own Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We tasted and enjoyed several of these wines, beginning with a 2021 Rose (fermented in neutral oak vs stainless steel tanks).
We, however, came for the Pinot Noirs and we weren’t disappointed. Although we enjoyed all of the 2018s and 2019 that we tried, we were particularly impressed by the big red fruit of the 2018 Estate Pinot Noir and especially the dark fruit forest floor notes of its Pommard-dominant 2018 Block 23 and its premier offering, the 2018 Homer Pinot Noirs. Then, after all the Pinot Noirs, our host poured a taste of its 2019 Chardonnay (so as not to allow people to focus on the pinots for which most people come). Partially fermented in a concrete egg and aged in 20% new French oak, it shows lovely bright fruit and a smooth finish. Do not miss stopping here.
This is another winery that we try to stop at on every trip to Willamette Valley. We always end up enjoying (and buying) many of its Pinot Noirs. We love its big, expressive wines, especially its Estate Pinot Noir and those from its Kiana and Clairiere vineyards. And let’s not forget its Terres Basses or Triple Black Slopes Pinot Noirs. In the past we have also enjoyed the Pierre Leon, Gisele and Jory Hill Pinot Noirs.
IPNC (International Pinot Noir Celebration)