Wine Tasting in Willamette Valley, Oregon

This post starts a series on a May-June 2019 trip through the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver and Vancouver Island in Canada and ending in Alaska.

Written by Don

Wanting to get a feel for Oregon’s best known wine region we decided to take a driving tour of the area and visit a few wineries. Although not a significant wine producer until the mid-70s, the valley has turned out to have almost perfect conditions to grow Pinot Noir and is now home to more than 500 wineries. It has also become a major tourist draw.

Youngberg Hill Inn and Winery

We started just outside of McMinnville at Youngberg Hill. This small winery has a beautiful hilltop setting with sweeping views of the valley. In addition to the wine operation they run a 9 room B&B which would have been a candidate for us to stay in if they had offered a restaurant. They also have a couple of very friendly and photogenic Highland cattle strolling around.

On their 50 acres of hillside vineyards they grow the Willamette Big 3; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. All were quality efforts and although not my normal taste I particularly liked the zippy Pinot Gris.

VIDON Vineyard

We next headed north to VIDON Vineyard with a stop along the way for lunch in nearby Yamhill. VIDON was started and is still run by a retired NASA engineer (Don) and physicist and his wife (Vicki). Although well into his 80s he still runs around on his tractor and is very active in the operation.

It’s a small operation with a very homey feel but it caught my eye since it was one of the very few attempting to produce any red varietals other than Pinot Noir. He makes both a Syrah and a Tempranillo with a fun fresh, low-alcohol drinkability. The tasting, fermenting, aging and bottling areas share one relatively small barn-like shed.

 Note: Don and Vicki have recently retired (late 2020) but the new owners are a young couple who plan to continue in their footsteps.

Domaine Serene

In contrast to the homemade feel of VIDON, our next stop, Domaine Serene, was about as processed and corporate-feeling as any winery we’ve ever been to. With another beautiful hilltop setting, the sprawling visitor center has a gigantic indoor/outdoor tasting area, a gift shop, a banquet area and a smaller restaurant.

The owners also operate several wineries in Burgundy and their tastings are fun because they throw in some French wines with the local ones for comparison. These are high quality wines and we were particularly smitten with the chardonnay, again very out of character for us. It’s very lightly oaked and tastes like it’s straight out of Burgundy.

Domaine Drouhin

We finished right next door at Domaine Drouhin, the Oregon outpost of the Burgundy Drouhin wine family. Like Domaine Serene, Drouhin is a refined, well known and widely distributed label and one of the premiere Willamette producers. And like most of the wineries here, the setting is gorgeous.

Their wines are excellent and their Dundee Hills estate Pinot Noir was our favorite of the day.

In the southern part of the valley the wineries are pretty widely scattered and the vineyards small. This makes for a lot of driving through rolling farmland, which at this time of year was full of spring flowers. Further north, around Dundee, we started to see more of the grape covered hillsides we associate with the other big wine regions of the world. Overall the tour made for a great day which was only helped by the perfect weather.

For links to all the posts in this series see the Pacific Northwest page.

May 9, 2019