If you’re an oenophile or experiential wine traveler with a passion for cooler climate varietals, lush green countryside, unique boutique accommodation, and delicious eats, the Willamette Valley wine region is sure to accommodate your travel desires.
The Winetraveler team has spent the past couple of months focusing on exposing some of the best Willamette Valley wineries, restaurants, hotels, and things to do in the region. We went out and spoke with regional experts, winery owners, and certified wine professionals in an effort to help our readers craft a Willamette Valley Itinerary tailored to their tastes. You can also browse wineries in Willamette on the free Winetraveler App.
IN THIS GUIDE:
The closest airport to Willamette is Portland International (Airport Code PDX). You can get updates on flight deals as they arise here. It’s recommended that you rent a car from PDX, as most of the wineries are within an hour of the airport. Also be sure to check out some of our favorite hotels in the region at this link, although we do make additional recommendations throughout the itinerary below. But first, some background on Willamette Valley and why it should be at the top of your list as a New World wine region to visit this year.
Willamette Valley is producing some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the world…
In 2021, Wine Spectator rated three Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs and two Chardonnays on its Top 100 Wines for the year.
Not only is the Willamette Valley producing some of the finest cool-climate wines, but last year the E.U. awarded Willamette Valley PGI (Protected Geographic Origin) status. The only other wine region with this designation is Napa Valley, and comparable to “Champagne” and “Port” for place and name protection.
Willamette Valley offers travelers an opportunity to explore a unique landscape and diverse visuals dependent upon seasonal preferences…
Whether you’re a fan of the colors of autumn foliage, prefer the lush green colors of the summer months with minimal humidity, or you’re simply trying to escape the heatwave pounding South Florida in mid-December — Willamette Valley has something for everyone.
Take a laid-back country car ride through the rolling hills, stop at boutique cellar doors for wine tastings, pair local wines with the local cuisine or take a horseback ride through the vines.
Explore a vast and diverse wine culture and landscape…
This area offers so much more to do beyond wine tasting. If you’re planning to be in the Willamette region for any period of time, below you can find some of the most highly related experiences and tour options in Willamette from our partners and friends. Many of these are private and guided, or can be customized to your personal travel preferences if there are particular sights or flavors you’d like to experience.
Take a Willamette Valley full-day tour that departs from Portland, visit 3 – 5 wineries and have lunch included by the vines. This tour focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling and includes transportation.
If you prefer to keep your wine tour completely private yet guided, take a day trip with our buddy Niko from Works4Wine. Transportation to and from Portland is included, and the focus of this experience is boutique wineries throughout Willamette. You can schedule right here.
Visit majestic Mt. Hood and the Columbia Gorge and combine a day of stops at waterfalls, epic mountain views and wine tasting with lunch and transportation included. This is a great option for those looking to do experience the outdoors and do more than taste wine. Schedule ahead of time as this tour tends to sell out.
Prefer to see the Columbia River Gorge and Mt. Hood from the air? Envi Adventures offers a fantastic experience on a private plane for just you and your group.
Visit 3 hand-picked wineries on a guided day trip that departs and returns to Eugene. Includes tastings and small bites along with transport.
If you’re interested in focusing on the fantastic Pinot Noir coming out of the valley paired with local wood-fired pizza, there’s both a half-day or full-day tour option operated by Willamette Valley Tour. This privately guided experience is sure to appease your palate as you indulge in some picture-perfect pairings whilst dining in a vineyard setting.
Willamette Valley offers wine tourism enthusiasts an opportunity to explore one of the quintessential wine regions of Oregon. Being Oregon’s largest AVA, the valley spans over 5,000 square miles between Oregon’s Coast and the Cascade Mountain Range. With about 700 wineries within its borders, no matter what kind of experience you’re looking for – you won’t be bored.
Within the low-lying valley areas, you can witness beauty beyond the grapevines. Hazelnut and berry crops dot the region at lower elevation, with picturesque vine-scapes caressing the hillsides. Given Willamette’s proximity to the Coastal Mountain Range, you can also get some great views of Hood and Adams Mountain – visible from some special wineries such as Youngberg Hill Vineyards and Red Ridge Farms.
With so many things to do, the following Willamette Valley itinerary is designed to help tourists narrow down their options in terms of wineries, routes, hotels, restaurants, and activities.
Touring Willamette Valley by Wine Style
Carl Giavanti is a local winery publicist and wine industry writer and has worked with over 50 wineries in the last 14 years. He also co-manages the McMinnville Wine Classic Competition and is familiar with many other Willamette Valley wines entered and judged each year.
“Willamette Valley competes for wine tourism dollars as a relatively small winegrowing region. Its wineries excel at delivering price-quality, accessibility and outstanding hospitality. Wines in Willamette Valley consistently rate highly with critics, while prices remain low compared to Burgundy and California, for instance. I think the thing that’s most impressive to visitors is accessibility – both to wine country from major airports including Portland, Salem and Eugene – but also to the “wine characters” behind the bottle. You still commonly find winery founders, growers and winemakers pouring in tasting rooms, telling their stories, explaining their wine style, and surrounded by talented staff who create memorable and referenceable visits for their guests. Our industry has grown largely by word of mouth and delivering exceptional consumer experiences.”
The Best Seasons to Visit Willamette Valley
This really comes down to personal preference. However, we’ve asked some of the local experts what times they think are best to visit the region.
According to Jeff Knapp, Executive Director of Visit McMinnville — one of Willamette’s sub-appellations — Winter may be the most opportune time for a visit.
“The most popular time to visit is between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The weather is the sunniest and the vineyards are waking up. In my opinion the best time to visit is in Winter. Our winters are mild. Traffic at this time of year is slower. You are more likely to spend time with the owner or winemaker at wineries that you visit. If you love eating, Oregon has year round access to locally grown produce. In fall through spring we have stellar seafood like dungeness crab, native Oregon truffles and mushrooms to be foraged and on and on. It is a food lovers’ mecca.”
For those who are okay with a little bit more foot traffic, the Summer and Early Fall can also make for ideal seasonal visits.
While Willamette has unfortunately received a reputation for being a rainy region, this isn’t entirely true. Jeff notes that Willamette really doesn’t receive much rain during the Summer and Early Fall. So if you’re looking to enjoy warmer (but not oppressively hot) weather, the Summer is actually a great time to visit.
On the other hand, if you’re looking to be more immersed in the harvest season, early Fall offers wine fanatics an opportunity to witness and in some cases be involved with the harvest and wine production process. It’s also a beautiful time of year as the leaves are beginning to change color.
Recommendations for Exploring Willamette’s Sub-Appellations
Wine tourism doesn’t need to be complicated. Luckily for travelers visiting the area, each sub-appellation offers some pre-packaged routes tourists can embark on.
Regions like Chehalem Mountains AVA are ideal for first-time visitors for its close proximity to Portland and the opportunity to discover some hidden gems like Bells Up Winery and Potter’s Vineyard.
If you’re an experienced wine traveler, you might be more inclined to visit the Eola Hills and or Ribbon Ridge since these regions are a bit more off the beaten path. Not only are these areas more secluded, but they also offer some of the best Terroir in the world – specifically, the dirt – for growing Pinot Noir.
The Dundee Hills region is easily accessible off Highway 99, and features some of the best-known wineries in the valley.
Want to try something unique? Consider touring Willamette Valley by Helicopter. Tour deVine, operated by Precision Helicopters offers wine tours throughout 5 of Willamette’s AVAs. For only $399, your group can tour the region by air, enjoy pre-flight festivities, experience 3 unique wineries, have a delicious lunch, get all tasting fees included, and more with this special, immersive experience.
One particular route and activity that is a must for any visitor to Willamette is The McMinnville Wine Walk. The walk offers a great perspective of the charming and historic downtown McMinnville area. Once you’re done tasting, try out some of the local restaurants on foot and continue to sample the local wines from fantastic producers on the wine lists. Jeff Knapp of Visit McMinnville notes that there is a printed map for the Wine Walk available at any tasting room in McMinnville.
Exploring Southern Willamette Valley
For those planning on spending time within the Southern reaches of Willamette — Lane County offers opportunities to try a diverse range of New World and Old World styles of Pinot Noir. In fact, the entire area is roughly on the same latitude as Burgundy, France — famous for Pinot Noir (aka Red Burgundy).
We asked Travel Lane County’s Stephen Hoshaw what his recommendations were for traversing South Willamette:
“One great way to experience Oregon wine is with the South Willamette Wine Trail – A route designed by Travel Lane County and the South Willamette Wineries Association. This connects over 24 wineries in and around Eugene and is a superb way to explore the wine and food scene in the Willamette Valley.
Many of these wineries can be spotted on a drive down the Territorial Highway (also known as our Territorial Wine Trail) which journeys straight through Willamette Valley wine country. This continues into Eugene and Springfield’s metro areas, which are lined with tasting rooms. Sprinkled throughout the area, visitors will find an array of culinary options for lunch, dinner or snacks. While in the area, visitors can find more farm-to-table eateries along the South Willamette Valley Food Trail!”
Stephen also notes that tastings in Southern Willamette Valley are very well priced. It’s not uncommon to find $10 – $15 flights here. Sometimes tasting fees are waived when a purchase of a bottle is made. He says that visitors can expect great value, with a number of tourists claiming that it’s a great spot to begin a premium quality wine collection without breaking the bank.
If you’d like a crash course into Pinot Noir, Stephen also suggests exploring Pfeiffer Vineyards. Winemaker Robin Pfeiffer hosts a Pinot Clinic, taking guests through a vertical tasting of the winery’s Blue Dot Reserve Pinot Noir. In a 45-minute course, participants learn how to evaluate a Pinot from the aroma to the finish of a glass.
There are also free hourly winery tours at King Estate. This is a spectacular way to see one of the largest wineries in Oregon and the largest Biodynamic® certified vineyard in North America.
Many of the wineries offer incredible views, but Sarver Winery offers a phenomenal look at hills through the valley and into the mountains in the Cascades.
In general, Willamette as a whole offers a number of settings where travelers can simply relax outdoors at any number of the wineries that have outdoor patios and picnic areas. Many of the local restaurants also offer outdoor patios to enjoy the beautiful weather.
If you’re looking for an active itinerary throughout the valley, you can tour the region by Hot Air Balloon, go Horseback Riding or explore the region by hiking trail. If you happen to visit Willamette during the Winter season, you can actually go snowshoeing to a number of the waterfalls in the area. During the warmer months, you can fish the McKenzie River.
Golf enthusiast? Stephen suggests playing the incredibly scenic Tokatee Golf Club near the McKenzie River or challenging yourself on more difficult courses like Ocean Dunes or Sandpines in Florence. There’s a golf course for any level of expertise throughout Lane County.
Along the Oregon Coast, Florence is actually home to one of the godfathers of Sandboarding and the dunes there make it a natural home for the sport!
The small town of Oakridge in the Willamette National Forest is known as the Mountain Biking Capital of the Northwest with over 300 miles of single-track trail.
Stoller Family Estate: One of the most highly recommended wineries to visit is Stoller Family Estate according to many regional experts. Not only is Stoller a winery, but it also has guest homes and epic vistas. It’s also the world’s first LEED Gold Certified Winery – a leader in sustainability. There’s also a disc golf course on the property, seasonal running races, a tire swing, and a large food garden.
Elk Cove Vineyards: One of the founding wineries of the Willamette Valley, family-owned and operated Elk Cove Vineyards was the first vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. Owner/Winemaker Adam Campbell is a second-generation winemaker and a fifth-generation Oregon farmer specializing in Pinot Noir and cool-climate white wines. Elk Cove is 100% estate-grown sourcing fruit from its 6 sustainable vineyards across the northern Willamette Valley.
Coeur de Terre Vineyard: Family-owned, the views here are incredible.
Domaine Serene: This posh-styled winery recently won #2 Chardonnay in the world per Wine Enthusiast. That in and of itself is worth checking out.
Bells Up Winery: Offers winemaker-led private tastings, one party at a time. You can expect an intimate tasting experience at this boutique winery.
Carlton Winemakers Studio: This is a co-op, where a number of producers work to produce premium Oregonian wine. A good opportunity to taste the breath of Willamette.
Cristom Vineyards: A modern tasting experience and premium producer making great Pinot, but also wonderful Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. A true expression of Willamette Terroir’s capability. Located in the premium Pinot Noir region of the Eola-Amity Hills.
Bryn Mawr Vineyards – Bryn Mawr is a Welsh name meaning “High Hill.” Winemaker Rachel Rose crafts innovative wines that tell the story of a dynamic, exposed vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills. Standard Tastings are $20/p or elevate your experience for a Private Tasting for $50/p. Bryn Mawr hosts a range of events including blind tastings, Taco Tuesday, and Drink Pink.
The Grape Varieties of Willamette Valley Oregon
Pinot Noir reigns king in Willamette. As we mentioned earlier, three producers are ranked in the Top 100 Wines for this varietal – in the entire world. That being said, believe it or not, other grapes do grow here and taste great.
Experts advise keeping an eye out for some of the white grapes as well. There is an abundance of Chardonnay, but many will also advise sampling the excellent Viognier, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris of Willamette. Riesling does well here too and one winery, Brooks Wine, produces nearly 20 of them. Sparkling wines are also on the rise in this region.
In terms of red wine outside of Pinot Noir, make an attempt to ask Vintners if they produce any Syrah, Tempranillo and/or Gamay. If you’re able to access it – it may be a library wine – you won’t be disappointed. Wine professionals also advise seeking out unique red wines within the Rogue Valley for a breath of fresh air.
Jeff Knapp also notes that although the Willamette Valley’s predominantly planted grape varietal is Pinot Noir, Willamette growers also experiment with and produce other grape varieties as well.
“The Willamette Valley’s hillsides, ancient soils, coastal influence, mild summers and wet winters set the stage for world-class wine production. The climate here is perfect for growing food-focused wines with high acid and delicate complexity.
The Pinot Noir of Willamette Valley
Paul Gregutt has been writing about Willamette Valley wines for the past 35 years. His current project covers the entire Northwest wine industry with in-depth reviews, interviews, and recommendations.
“Pinot Noir put the Willamette Valley (and indeed Oregon) on the global map, and the years have only confirmed the early promise. The vast diversity of sites, soils and clones, as well as the imprinted styles of the individual winemakers, means that there is no single description that accurately covers the region’s wines. In recent years the trend has been to pick when grapes have ripened to the point of physiological perfection rather than aiming for fruity, high sugar/high alcohol wines that emulate California. So current wines are increasingly aromatic, elegant and well-balanced, age-worthy Pinots that may be cellared for a decade or longer. While visiting in the spring and summer be sure to try some of the many Pinot Noir rosés, and be on the lookout for champagne-method sparkling wines from Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.”
Depending on your budget and desired travel style, there is an abundance of hotel options throughout Willamette.
If you’re looking for a luxurious experience, the Allison Inn and Spa is a great option. For a more immersive wine travel experience, check out the guest homes at Stoller Family Estate and Red Ridge Farms. For a unique and lower-cost experience, check out The Vintages – which is a trailer resort located in the Dayton area.
Within McMinnville, check out Third St. Flats – each “flat” is designed differently, so each time you return you can expect a different stylistic experience.
For a unique hotel experience, McMenamins Hotel Oregon is a quirky hotel that includes a number of different bars and restaurants. There’s also a rooftop bar that offers visitors a beautiful view of the McMinnville area and the Willamette Valley as a whole.
Bed & Breakfast style accommodation can also be found throughout the Newberg and McMinnville areas.
Chehalem Ridge Bed and Breakfast in Newberg is a quaint, 4 bedroom B&B with some stunning vistas of Oregon wine country. Some rooms also come with fireplaces, balconies, and jetted bathtubs. 60 wineries are within a short 20-minute drive of its location. This is a great inn to explore if you’re looking for a private, romantic getaway.
Youngberg Hill Vineyards 10 minutes outside of downtown McMinnville is a charming 10-bedroom B&B with some stunning vistas of Oregon wine country. All rooms come with fireplaces, some with balconies, and jetted bathtubs. 60 wineries are within a short 20-minute drive of its location. This is a great inn to explore if you’re looking for a private, romantic getaway.
If you’re looking for another unique experience, such as staying in a lodge, cabin, or resort nestled beside giant Douglas trees, sweeping sand dunes, scenic lakes, and rushing rivers — there are a couple of options. Big Bear Campground and Retreat Center and Eagle Rock Lodge offer this style of accommodation complete with nearby nature trails, hot mineral spring pools, and kayak launching areas.
Cottage Grove, Eugene, and Junction City are all towns that offer hotel options very close to wine country in South Willamette. Per Stephen Hoshaw, options that are within wine country include the Blue Rooster Bed and Breakfast (which is nestled close to King Estate and Iris Vineyards) and Territorial Bed and Breakfast (nearer to the north end of the drive close to Benton Lane, Brigadoon, and more). Both are excellent options for those looking for a bed and breakfast experience with wine to pair.
Cottage Grove’s Village Green Resort is just a short drive from the south end of the Territorial Wine Trail, and thus a popular option for folks looking to tour the South Willamette Wineries.
If you’re just arriving in Portland and need a place to stay on your first night, or you’re planning to explore Portland and take a day trip to Willamette — we recommend the Kimpton Hotel Vintage. The 117-room boutique property is a wine-themed hotel and underwent a major renovation. Each of the guestrooms is partnered with an award-winning Willamette Valley Vintner, such as Adelsheim, Ponzi, Rex Hill (really, 117 of them), after which the room is named. Photos from that winery and/or vineyard adorn the walls and they also provide two bottles of exceptional wine in-room for guest purchase. If someone prefers a bottle from another room’s winery partner, they can order it from the hotel’s expansive wine list. Not your average minibar. Hotel Vintage also hosts an evening social hour, a free amenity for all guests, at which the winery partners come and pour – a new local winery and multiple wines, often rare or tasting room-only wines, every night.
We left these recommendations to the experts, given their length of tenure here. Jeff Knapp was kind enough to offer our readers a hefty list of some of his favorite restaurants within the McMinnville area.
Thistle — This small restaurant, which sources its entire menu from farms within 20 miles of McMinnville, was named Restaurant of the Year by the Oregonian. It has an excellent wine list and the top cocktails in the county.
Nick’s Italian Cafe — This historical restaurant was established in 1975, and was a gathering place for early Willamette Valley winegrowers. In 2014 Nick’s was named a James Beard American Classic Award Winner.
The Joel Palmer House — This outstanding restaurant focuses its menu on wild truffles and mushrooms. It is a favorite wine country destination.
Pastorcillos Taco Truck – A well-known eatery in the area. So good in fact that this is a favorite for winemakers themselves to come and enjoy a taco paired with a glass of Pinot Noir.
Other great options in the area if you’re looking for fresh and authentic cuisine include:
JORY Restaurant – Fine dining located at the Allison Inn & Spa – offers authentic Pacific Northwest Cuisine with great views of Willamette Valley. Universally this is one of the best known and admired fine dining establishments in the state.
The Painted Lady in Newberg is Oregon’s only Forbes four-star and AAA Four Diamond dining restaurant.
Recipe – Local produce, a great wine list, and a highly rated seasonal menu with Victorian aesthetics.
Bellhop Restaurant in Corvallis prides itself on creating farm-to-table food with locally sourced ingredients. Can’t beat them for comfort food at its best.
If you have time to plan a bit in advance, don’t miss Dinners in the Field. Attendees are greeted by a glass of wine and given a tour of the farm before relaxing into six courses celebrating locally farm-grown produce and wine. Since 2014, dinners have even been offered March through December, with “barn dinners” during inclement-weather months.
Tina’s – Located within the Dundee area, a seasonal menu but with more New American-style cuisine in an intimate setting complete with a fireplace.
Community Plate – If you’re looking for an upbeat atmosphere, this restaurant offers great beer and cocktails in addition to a great wine list. Great for American-style breakfast and lunch plates at modest price points.
Southwest of Eugene, King Estate’s restaurant offers exquisite estate-grown and organically farmed. Dishes are paired with library wines only available on the estate.
Also in Eugene, French-inspired Marche is an excellent option for any meal. Farm to table is no fad with head chef and owner Stephanie Pearl Kimmel, who is a James Beard Award nominee. Marche is also an Oregon Wine A-List restaurant.
Visit Iris Vineyards’ “Wine Bar” on historic Main Street in Springfield. Estate wines and inhouse inspired “Wine Cocktails” served 11:30 am to 8:00 pm Thursday through Sunday. Springfield, home to Ken Kesey and The Simpsons offer lots of dining and shopping options.
How to Get Around Willamette Valley
Local experts – myself as well – recommend renting a car to get from Portland into Willamette.
Renting a car is also a great method of transportation if you want the freedom to explore this beautiful region. From boutique wineries tucked away in the hills, to fantastic photo opportunities roadside, having flexibility is nice here.
However, if you’re new to the area and/or have a low tolerance, it’s best to consider hiring a tour company as you’ll likely catch a decent buzz throughout your trek. Regional guides also note that using services such as Uber and Lyft are not worth relying on given that their presence hasn’t really permeated the region just yet.
If you’re touring Lane County or South Willamette Valley — visitors are encouraged to drive by rental car from Benton Lane on the north end to Chateau Lorane at the very south end. The entire route only takes about 50 minutes, and the drive through the rolling hills is beautiful.
If you are staying in the Eugene – Springfield area, be sure to visit the new Iris Vineyards Wine Bar, for award-winning wines and in-house craft wine-based cocktails. They are located on historic main street in downtown Springfield.
If your entire crew wants to taste through the trip there are several great wine tour options as well.
Other Things to Incorporate into Your Willamette Valley Itinerary
There are a plethora of things to do and places to see away from wine tasting in Willamette:
- Olive Oil tasting is also a favorite thing to do for both locals and newcomers.
- Durant Olive Mill is the only Oliotecca within the entirety of the Pacific Northwest which can be found at Red Ridge Farms.
- The Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, home to an amazing array of historically significant aircraft
- Downtown Shopping in McMinnville
- Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose in McMinnville, housed in the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum
- Wings & Waves Waterpark – Oregon’s largest indoor waterpark. Look for the 747 on the roof, and try out the 4 waterslides indoors.
- Live Music
- Lawrence Art Galley
- Live Theater
Tips for Planning and Touring Willamette Valley
If you’re traveling on a budget and/or looking to keep costs down – consider visiting some of the sub-appellations that are off the beaten path. Elk Cove and Kramer tend to have lower-cost tastings and tours.
Tasting fees are typically waived when you purchase bottles of wine, and you can also get case discounts.
Try to book your flight out of Willamette Valley with Alaska Airlines. They have a program dubbed “Wine Flies Free.” Travelers who are part of the Alaska Mileage program can check a case of wine for free when flying from 32 West Coast cities.
Wineries throughout Willamette can be very spread out. Do your research ahead of time and calculate distances with Google Maps.
Pack heavy rain jackets for your visit. Depending on the time of year, the rain can come down hard.
Expect to taste more Pinot Noir than you ever have (it’s the region’s #1 grape variety).
Willamette Valley offers a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. A stark contrast from a region such as Napa Valley.
Don’t load your itinerary with too many tours. Local sommeliers recommend taking your time, relaxing, and walking the area to get a feel for the local vibe. Willamette is a place to relax and take a load off. Leave your stress at home.
Visiting Red Ridge Farms is also ideal if you’re looking for a place to stay and want to incorporate Olive Oil Tasting.
Jeff Knapp notes that many wineries throughout the region will offer complimentary tours with a paid wine tasting arranged in advance. You can also get tasting refunds if you choose to purchase a bottle at many of the wineries or tasting rooms.
Holiday Weekends, such as Memorial Day weekend and Thanksgiving are popular for tourists. During these weekends, a number of small production, boutique wineries only open their doors to tourists on those dates.
Many wineries allow visitors to walk between the vines. Wear shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty or muddy.
In terms of what to wear — layers of clothing are a good idea as chilly mornings can ultimately turn into beautiful, warm afternoons.
Touring Willamette’s main concept is “slow travel.” Take time to smell the vines, relax and enjoy the moment. The “small town” feel here is special. Jeff notes that there’s often a good chance the person sitting at the table across from you made the wine you’re drinking. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation, ask questions, and put a smile on your face!
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