In the northwest part of Oregon, the rain of winter has tapered off, the sun is shining, and the state's largest wine producing region is ready for a new growing season. With more than 200 vineyards, tasting trips are the main attraction in the area between early April and harvest in late October. Here's a weekend itinerary that includes superior sips, fantastic food, and just a touch of adventure—all within easy access of Portland.
Explore Carlton: After grabbing breakfast in Portland, head out into the Valley, where you'll drive through vast green fields edged by breathtaking mountainscapes. About one hour away lies the quaint, one-block town of Carlton. Established as a railroad hub in the 1800s, Carlton was once the center of commerce for local produce. Today, despite its small size, it is home to about 40 tasting rooms, including Ken Wright Cellars, located in the historic train depot. It's a great place to prime the palate before sampling the wares at the Republic of Jam, an entire market devoted to artisan preserves made from local fruit, in every flavor from apricot to tomato and basil. Shop for some "wine art" at Valley Emporium (125 W. Main St.) before lunch at the Carlton Bakery, known for fresh-baked pastries, quiche, soups, and sandwiches. Once the belly is full, it's time to hit tasting rooms of single wineries, such as Terra Vina, or collectives such as the Carlton Winemakers Studio or the aptly named Tasting Room, located in the town's former bank.
Though most of the tasting rooms close at 5 pm, there's no rush to end happy hour on Friday nights, when participating spots like Scott Paul Wines stay open late for the weekly "Friday Night Flights" event. After so much sipping, a hearty, country French dinner at Cuvee should hit the spot, followed by a nightcap at The Horseradish which serves two purposes: entertainment, with great live music, and provisions for a picnic the next day. Spend the night at the lovely The Allison Inn and Spa, a luxury resort with 85 rooms, all with fireplaces and balconies.
Visit the Vineyards: After a leisurely breakfast at The Allison's Jory Restaurant, head out to the 235-acre Montinore Estates in Forest Grove, about 35 minutes away. Known for its pinot noirs, riesling, and gewürztraminer, Montinore is the second-largest certified organic and biodynamic winery in Oregon. Take a tour, do a tasting, then enjoy its sunny and scenic grounds with a picnic lunch. Then head to Bergstrom Wines about 25 minutes away, in Newberg, another winery known for its biodynamic practices. The 13-acre Bergstrom made its name with chardonnay, a rarity in Oregon winemaking. Their harvest dinners during crush time are always a big draw. After, zip to Penner-Ash nearby. The tasting room is open all day, but winery tours are by appointment only. Book a slot to learn about their sustainable, gravity-flow system for their pinot noir, syrah, viognier, and riesling, which runs the fruit from crush pad to fermentation tanks to barrels without the "bruising" of forceful pumping.
Spending the night at the Painted Lady Cottage, right in Newberg, is a great idea not only for the comfort of a private, charming two-bedroom Victorian cottage, but for a knockout dinner, too. Take advantage of the 5-course tasting menu at the adjacent restaurant, where chef/owner Allen Routt might serve seared scallops on warm hearts of palm or quail with pancetta cauliflower puree and date jus, all paired with local wines, of course. The best part: no driving required after dinner.
Take to the Trails: Enjoying the hearty, and popular (reservations required) campfire breakfast at the Flying M Ranch about 15 minutes away, is a great way to start a Sunday before heading off on a guided horseback ride among the 200 acres in the shadow of the Trask mountains. Rides can be booked from as little as an hour to an entire day. Cap it all off by savoring the hand-tossed pizzas, handmade pastas and the lengthy wine list at The Dundee Bistro on the way back to the city, before bidding the wine-soaked weekend farewell.
Photo credits: Courtesy of Hernan F. Rodriguez