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
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
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
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.