Willamette Valley: The Way Wine Country Should Be

Written by Noelani Zervas • Photographed by Noelani Zervas // Say it with us: ‘Will-AM-it’ — never WILL-am-ETT or WILL-am-etty!! Perfect. Now you may proceed full steam ahead as we guide you through a wine-soaked tour of the Willamette Valley, Oregon.  

Why the Willamette? Because you’ve already been to Napa, and shuttled through endless, overflowing wineries, all the while never scoring that reservation at French Laundry. The Willamette in one word? Approachable. It’s what we imagine Sonoma was like 20 years ago, an utterly charming community of growers, eager to talk viticulture while they not only pour, but join you in a glass of wine.

Where to stay in the Willamette Valley

BijOU tested and approved the Atticus Hotel in McMinnville.  The Atticus hit all the right notes with its beautifully designed rooms, central location, and fully stocked espresso bar—with barista at the ready 24 hours a day! Bonus points for their loaner Dutch bike program, which allows guests to borrow a bike for some responsible wine tasting.

Where to eat in the Willamette Valley

From the Atticus, it’s a quick stroll to Community Plate, where you can belly up to the counter and start your day with a hearty breakfast or lunch. Also within walking distance is Thistle, a cozy bistro that serves up ‘nose to tail and farm to fork’ seasonal fare, along with a mean cocktail should you tire of wine. And don’t you dare miss a stop at Red Hills Market in neighboring Dundee.  Stock up on snacks, or pack a delicious lunch (or breakfast, or dinner) for your wine tasting road trip. The pizza is killer!

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Where to taste wine in the willamette valley

While we have many, many favorites from the Willamette, we were absolutely wowed by Antica Terra, Purple Hands, Bergstrom, and Beaux Frères. Purple Hands has a tasting room in Dundee that is open for drop-ins, along with a space by appointment in their Haakon/Lenai Vinyard. Be sure to plan ahead for Antica Terra, Bergstrom and Beaux Frères, which are by appointment only for tasting and totally worth the extra effort.

We recommend balancing road trips with shorter strolls through Dundee and McMinnville, where many wineries maintain tasting rooms within walking distance of each other. On the hunt for some new wines? Pick the brain of your pourer. The winery staff are more than happy to share their favorite stops with you. This is the perfect way to discover something off the beaten path, or still emerging.

Should a visit to the Willamette not be in the cards, keep an eye peeled for Pinot in the City, which visited Boston this past May and heads to Chicago in July. For a great resource in planning your trip, visit: https://willamettewines.com/