Wine and Dine

A taste of Oregon’s Grape Escape

By: Judd Eustice

Oregon is enjoying a moment akin to a fine bottle of aged wine being uncorked. Wine aficionados from around the world from the simply curious to the connoisseurs are descending on Oregon’s Willamette Valley to taste and savor some of the world’s finest Pinot Noir. During the past few years, the small grape’s excellent wine ratings and delicate taste have spawned a cottage industry for vintners and their tasting rooms.

Several unique conditions contribute to the excellence of a bottle of wine from Oregon. Located in the foothills of the coastal mountain range, the wine region evades the damp conditions of the Pacific Northwest rains. And a variety of soils have been deposited here by Ice Age glaciers, volcanic ash flows and sediment left over from the ancient Missoula flood.

Guides at the Grape Escape Winery Tours offer these facts and others to clients. Ralph Stinson started this boutique business in 1994, providing an experience that ranges from an expensive multi-day haute-cuisine tour to an afternoon family tour of a few wineries.

A local chef caters each excursion with an atypical menu a comfort to clients and a challenge for Stinson. When designing a menu with Monica Grinnell of Eat Your Heart Out Catering, Stinson starts by looking for the best in local produce and choice ingredients, which usually involves wild salmon and Tillamook cheese.

While Grape Escape pulls in guests from around the country and the world, locals have also embraced the tours especially those from Portland and Seattle. Many local companies, including Nike and American Forest Products, book tours for their employees or vendors as entertainment or team-build experiences.

Tours average about 12 people, and because of the wineries’ rural locales between winding roads, clients spend a lot of time traveling via van. So the customized tours include frequent stops, and whether at a winery of interest or at a tucked-away picnic area, food is always served.

“It’s like a self-contained moving picnic,” said tour host Brian Branigan.

Time at the winery can range from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on the level of interest. The goal, according to Stinson, is not to see as many wineries as possible but to have a quality experience at each winery visited.

The wineries aren’t located along a plotted route, so each tour is catered to the customers’ particular interests from serious, sophisticated palates to lively bachelorette parties.

For those wanting to make a vacation of the wine country, Grape Escape can help with the arrangements from booking a hotel room to recommending or reserving a table at the finest wine-centric restaurants. The Portland area offers a variety of great restaurants almost too many to chose from. Acting as a concierge, Grape Escape can help visitors find what they are craving. Regardless of appetite, suits and ties are usually not required at dinner, and even socks and sandals can be found throughout some of the top restaurants.

Before a Grape Escape, clients should know the scale of wine production here is small more family size than corporate. Keeping it personal, Stinson said, is the way of Oregon.


Grape Escape Winery Tours

One week advance notice is recommended.