Approximately 700 vineyards await visitors in Willamette Valley, Ore. // © 2016 John Valls
Feature image (above): Ponzi Aurora Vineyard in Willamette Valley // © 2016 Ron Kaplan
Visit the Willamette Valley Wineries Association website for downloadable maps of the valley noting all the tasting room locations, virtual tours of vineyards, extensive recommendations for places to stay and contact information for the numerous wine valley tour providers. This information will be available on Oct. 10.
With a potentially hectic travel season soon approaching, clients may be looking for beautiful, rustic, adventurous and no-fuss excursions. The wine country of Willamette Valley, Ore., is all these things and more, especially over the long Thanksgiving weekend.
Every year at this time, more than 150 wineries open their doors, tasting rooms and barrels to greet enthusiasts hailing from their own backyards as well as from around the world. In fact, it’s only during this one weekend that nearly 30 boutique wineries have tasting rooms open to the public.
The Willamette Valley wine country consists of roughly 700 vineyards and more than 3,438,000 acres. Within these, thousands of acres yield sip-savory varietals, including pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay, riesling and pinot blanc. This area has become such a hot travel destination — based on the stunning scenery, quality wine and contribution to the industry — that Wine Enthusiast magazine recently nominated Willamette Valley as a “2016 Region of the Year” for the publication’s esteemed Wine Star Awards (winner to be announced in November).
This year’s Thanksgiving festivities, celebrated from Nov. 25-27, will mark 34 years of celebrating successful harvests and greeting the holidays. Through a series of tourist-driven events built around special wines and regional foods, travelers can get up close and personal with some of the rock star legends of the winery world, taste samples from exclusive barrels and experience behind-the-scenes tours of some of the region’s most coveted labels.
Every participating winery offers something seasonally unique in terms of flights, new releases and special library selections. Guests can anticipate robust chef-inspired food pairings anchored by regional favorites, such as wild salmon, and accompaniments including delicious cheeses, artisan breads, mouthwatering chocolates and harvested nuts.
Touring the Willamette Valley wine country is a traveler’s dream because there’s so much to do within an hour from the main city of Portland, and agents can create memorable experiences for clients who have a wide range of interests and budgets. Picturesque country roads wind their way through verdant hillsides and lead to wineries and tasting rooms housed in old farms and barns.
Charming towns such as Carlton, Lafayette and Dundee offer cute antique shops, coffee houses, tasting rooms and galleries. Larger nearby cities such as Eugene and Salem feature museums, gardens and farmers’ markets.
Where to Stay
The variety of accommodations also reflects the range of travelers’ preferences and budgets. Clients can choose from dozens of beautiful bed-and-breakfasts in the country; private house rentals on farms and ranches; or something more luxurious, such as The Allison Inn & Spa.
Another option is the affordable and fun Vintages Trailer Resort. Centrally located in the heart of the Willamette Valley, these decadently refurbished trailers from the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s form their own neighborhood within the 14-acre Willamette Wine Country RV Park. Each trailer bestows a lodging experience designed to complement wine tasting, dining and exploration and includes amenities such as hotel-quality linens and towels, flat-screen televisions, use of cruiser bikes to peddle over to the neighboring town of Dayton and a retro clubhouse for hanging out.
Another distinct accommodation worth noting is the 3rd Street Flats, ranked No. 2 in USA Today’s list of 10 Best Wine Country Hotels in America. These reasonably priced flats are located above wineries, notable restaurants and chic boutiques. Each fully-appointed apartment is individually designed, and ambiances range from French-country chic to midcentury modern.
For sipping, sightseeing and keeping the planning relatively simple, the Willamette Valley is an ideal destination for travelers of all tastes.
Insider Travel Tip
For those interested in buying wine for the holidays, Willamette Valley wineries offer the best prices, specials and packages over Thanksgiving weekend.
Worried about getting it home? Alaska Airlines has an “Oregon Wines Fly Free” program for its Mileage Plan members. Fly from Eugene, Redmond/Bend, Medford, Portland or Walla Walla and check in a case of wine, free of charge.