A short jaunt southwest from downtown Portland, the Willamette Valley is known by wine lovers worldwide for its delectable pinot noirs, often produced in small batches. This picturesque region is also dotted with tasting rooms and is a popular spot for wine-tasting excursions from Portland.
The Willamette Valley has long been celebrated by those in the know, though it didn't actually get American Viticultural Area (AVA) status until 1984. With multiple smaller AVAs and more than 400 wineries, the valley stretches hundreds of miles. Numerous wine tours depart from Portland for those who want to sample wines without having to worry about driving.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Oregon has strict drinking-and-driving laws. There are plenty of tours and driving services for those wanting to go wine-tasting safely.
- Most wineries charge a small tasting fee, which is often redeemable against purchases.
- Always bring rain gear: The weather can turn at any time (and does).
How to Get There
The Willamette Valley is the fertile stretch of land that flanks the Willamette River, from its confluence with the Columbia River south to Eugene, Oregon’s second-largest city. To reach the “wine country” part of the valley from downtown Portland, drive along Highway 99W. If you’re headed to wineries around Salem or Eugene, hop on Interstate 5 South.
When to Get There
The Willamette Valley is best visited in late spring through autumn, when the weather is comfortably warm and relatively dry. Summers here are particularly pleasant: There’s lots of sunshine, but it rarely gets oppressively hot. Note that while the area can be charming just before Christmas, especially in and around small towns such as McMinnville and Newberg, many Willamette Valley wineries and tasting rooms close for winter.
While wine is the big draw for most visitors to this region, there are plenty of teetotaler-friendly attractions in the area. The town of McMinnville is worth a visit for its good restaurants and old-timey feel, and there's a great indoor water park just outside town called Wings & Waves. The region also produces fabulous olive oil; stop by Red Ridge Farms near Dundee for a mill tour and lots of free samples.