The perfect blend: a stylish city with top-notch vineyards nearby.
Portland, Oregon, is famous for its cultural scene, gracious architecture, trendy shopping districts, fine restaurants and world-renowned gardens.
But to wine aficionados, this eminently civilized metropolis straddling the Willamette River is the gateway to the largest grape-growing region in a state known for its wine industry. The V-shaped northern Willamette Valley, which extends 100 miles south to Eugene, is home to more than 150 wineries and wine shops.
Thanks to a temperate climate and abundant rainfall, almost anything grows in Portland. But the city's famed gardens and farmers markets are only the prelude to this region's true bounty-the exceptional grapes that have stamped this portal to the Pacific as a wine lover's paradise.
The cool, wet climate west of the Cascade Mountains is especially nurturing to the Pinot Noir grape. So nurturing, in fact, that the varietal has become as emblematic to this region as cheese is to Wisconsin. Every summer, thousands flock to McMinnville (30 miles south of Portland) to attend the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration, which has been described as the Woodstock of wine festivals.
Pinot Noir Country
Most Willamette Valley wineries host open houses Friday through Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend. Veterans of these visits hire cars to take them from winery to winery so they are free to enjoy the samplings each one offers.
Just 45 minutes south of Portland, Dundee boasts more than 80 wineries. Owing to the color of the iron-rich soil, the area's rolling hills are aptly called the Red Hills of Dundee. Some consider this prime real estate for top-quality Pinot Noirs.
The Eyrie Vineyard, owned by David and Diana Lett, was the first post-Prohibition winery in the Willamette Valley. The Letts take a minimalist approach to wine-making, preferring to prepare it in the vineyard while striving for the best grapes they can grow, given the vagaries of nature.
Erath Vineyards perches atop a hill overlooking a sea of vineyards seemingly reaching for the Cascade Mountains. In this serene setting, Oregon wine pioneer Dick Erath is still very much involved.
Susan Sokol Blosser runs Sokol Blosser winery with the help of son Alex and daughter Alison. The family is committed to sustainable vineyard practices. Their winery was the first in the nation to receive the LEED 2.0 Silver Level Certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for their newly constructed barrel-aging facility.
More recent arrivals are Archery Summit and Domaine Drouhin Oregon. Domaine Drouhin Oregon is owned and operated by the Drouhin family from Burgundy, France.
The winery building of Archery Summit nestles into the hillside just outside Dundee. Wines are barrel-aged at a naturally constant temperature of 65° F and 85 percent humidity in caves dug into the hillside 50 feet below the surface.