About 45 minutes southwest of downtown Portland (which itself is technically located in the Valley), the rolling hills of this generally cool, often wet climate is suited to a more narrow range of grapes than its viticultural neighbors in California and Washington. However, the Willamette Valley is nonetheless famous for producing America's most highly-regarded Pinot Noirs. Declared an AVA in 1984, the still-young wine region attracts day- and weekend-trippers to its over 400 wineries, rural landscapes, farm-to-table bistros and romantic inns.
The Valley, which tends to focus on small-batch, eco-friendly production, specializes in grapes from the European regions and countries of Burgundy, Champagne, Austria and Germany. Its three million acres of vineyards are divided into four sections: East, Mid, South and North.
The East is the quietest, spread along the 213 between Oregon City and Stanton in an area equally known for farming flower bulbs. The Mid-Willamette includes one sub-region, the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, where most wineries include a sparkling wine on their roster. The South, which at its farthest point is about two hours from Portland, stretches from Salem to Eugene; the finest small-production wines here are rarely found outside the Pacific Northwest.
The North Willamette Valley is the most condensed and visited area, composed of five AVAs: Yamhill-Carlton, Ribbon Ridge, Chehalem Mountains, McMinnville and the most popular, Dundee Hills. You'll find the highest concentration of lodgings and eateries in the North Willamette, and the architecture of many winery tasting rooms rivals that of Sonoma and Napa.