The Willamette Valley’s distinction as Oregon Wine Country is rooted in famously fertile land and a cool climate that nurtures wine grapes and other natural delicacies.
Chefs take cues from this bounty, cooking seasonally and pairing wines with their offerings. When you’re ready to experience the signature flavors of the Willamette Valley, follow this primer.
The Willamette Valley is known worldwide for its Pinot Noir; its climate is akin to that of Burgundy, France, where the varietal thrives. Yet, this American Viticultural Area (or AVA, a recognized wine-growing region) excels at many cool-climate grapes, including Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling. Sample these at more than 300 regional wineries, extending from just south of Portland to Eugene, the eastern slopes of the Oregon Coast Range and the foothills of the Cascades. Measuring more than 200 kilometers long and 95 kilometers wide, the Willamette Valley is Oregon’s largest AVA. Organize your exploration by touring one sub-AVA at a time: The Willamette Valley boasts six sub-appellations, each with a distinct terroir.
Wine and Food Pairings
To best appreciate those variations in terroir, along with the seasonal harvest, look for Willamette Valley wineries with on-site restaurants and specialty pairing lunches and dinners. At King Estate Winery in Eugene, for example, you might enjoy brunch, lunch or dinner onsite, and your entrée, perhaps meatballs with preserved summer tomatoes, will be paired with a King Estate wine.
Chefs and farmers collaborating to ensure each plate is a work of art
Foraging and Fresh Ingredients
The same land that grows such excellent wine grapes also produces hazelnuts, hops, berries and truffles. Chefs collaborate with farmers, and forage on their own, to create seasonal, local menus. For an array, visit Agrarian Ales’ hop farm in Eugene for craft beer and scratch-made fare, or reserve a seat at a summer garden dinner hosted by French Prairie Gardens in St. Paul, a family farm. Off the farm, reserve at Sybaris in Albany, Marché in Eugene or The Painted Lady in Newberg, where you might find slow-roasted wild steelhead served with barley risotto on the menu. At the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, chef Chris Czarnecki personally forages for the truffles and mushrooms that inspire his offerings – try the wild mushroom tart for a taste. Or, visit Eugene in January for the Oregon Truffle Festival, featuring chefs’ preparations of wild-foraged fungi.
Craft beers and local, seasonal fare at Agrarian Ales’ hop farm in Eugene
Unique Scenery and Tours
Such culinary experiences are unique to this place, where lush vineyards and farms give way to spectacular waterfalls and distant mountains. Lucky you – it’s possible to experience the flavors and scenery of the Willamette Valley at the same time. One way is to cycle along the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway. The route winds through nearly the entire valley, past vineyards and orchards and through historic towns.
Getting There: Two airports make it easy to access Eugene: Portland International Airport (PDX) and Eugene’s Airport (EUG). The Eugene Airport offers direct connections to Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Denver.
Touring the gorgeous area via the Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway