Located within Oregon’s Willamette Valley region, the Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area encompasses 5,200 square miles near the cities of Portland, Salem, and Eugene, home to more than 500 wineries and noted for its production of Pinot noir wine. The cool, temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest coast provides a stable climate conducive to grape growing and wine production, with wet winters and dry summers providing relatively few agricultural-growing days below 90 degrees or above 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Concentrated grape-growing efforts in Oregon began in 1966, with more than 10,000 acres of vineyard land cultivated throughout the late 20th century. The region became most notable for its production of Pinot noir grapes, becoming one of the largest producers of the variety in the world. An American Viticultural Area spanning 5,372 square miles was established in 1983, spanning from the Columbia River near Portland to south of the city of Eugene along a strip of land between the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains. In 2002, the region was subdivided by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau into six more specific AVAs.
Wineries and Attractions
Today, the Willamette Valley AVA contains six distinct subregions which are home to more than two-thirds of Oregon’s wineries and vineyards. The region is recognized as one of the world’s leading producers of Pinot noir wine and serves as a popular tourist destination for wine connoisseurs and visitors looking for weekend getaway and bed-and-breakfast excursions. More than 70,00 acres are contained within the Chehalem Mountain AVA, which stretches along a 20-mile area southwest of Portland and features 31 wineries. The Dundee Hills AVA is the state’s most densely-planted region, with 12,500 acres of growing area divided among 50 vineyards, while the Yamhill-Carlton AVA is the region’s largest subdivision, spanning nearly 60,000 acres near the towns of Yamhill and Carlton. Other regions include the 40,000-acre Eola-Amity Hills AVA, located near the 45th parallel, the McMinnville AVA near Yamhill County seat McMinnville, and the Ribbon Ridge AVA, which showcases 20 vineyards along a spur of ocean sediment uplift within the Chehalem Mountains.
A variety of tasting loops are recommended to Willamette Valley visitors, including the Balanced Vines and Like Minds tour, which encompasses the Rex Hill, Bergström Wines, Beaux Frères, and Winderlea Vineyard wineries and emphasizes holistic grape-growing practices and environmentally-conscious production utilizing biodynamic farming techniques. The Off the Beaten Path in Washington County loop showcases small-producing wineries within the northern valley area, including the Blooming Hill Vineyard, Ardiri Winery, Blizzard Wines, Dion Vineyards, and SakéOne. The South Willamette loop spans boutique wineries and large producers near the Eugene area, while the Tualatin River loop explores the region’s northern area and the Head For the Hills loop encompasses popular wineries within the Eola-Amity Hills AVA area. Advance reservations are recommended for wineries within the Dundee Hills AVA loop, including the Alexana Estate, Winderlea Vineyard and Winery, Hyland Estates, and Archery Summit, all leading Pinot noir producers. The Family Wineries, Family Winemakers loop explores family-owned wineries such as the Bethel Heights Vineyard, Coeur de Terre Vineyard, Dominio IV, Lange Estate, and Trisaetum, and community partner shops, restaurants, and businesses complement the Downtown Newberg tour and the Connecting Community and Culture tour. Portions of proceeds from all wine loop tours benefit local and environmental charitable causes, and maps of all tours are provided on the Willamette County AVA website.
In addition to its wineries, the Willamette Valley is home to a wide variety of restaurants, shops, galleries, and accommodations. Art galleries such as Newberg’s Art Elements Gallery and The Gallery at Ten Oaks offer cultural experiences for visitors, while Precision Helicopter Tours and Vista Balloon Adventures provide aerial tours of the region for adventurous visitors. Fine and casual dining opportunities are ample throughout the region, including restaurants such as McMinnville’s noted Barberry Restaurant, the sustainability-focused Dundee Bistro, and the Golden Valley Brewery and Restaurant. A number of resorts, bed-and-breakfast facilities, and luxury inns and estates are also located throughout the region to accommodate overnight visitors, and the region’s close proximity to the Portland metropolitan area provides a variety of entertainment, dining, and lodging options.
The Willamette Valley region sponsors several annual special events, including the Oregon Truffle Festival, a three-day celebration in January celebrating the region’s truffle production. Festival events include the Joriad North American Truffle Dog Championship, the Oregon Truffle MacDown, and a variety of dinners, classes, and workshops related to various aspects of truffle growing and cooking. An annual Pinot Noir Auction, started in 2015, also showcases the region’s Pinot noir producers with a series of tasting events and a live auction.