A Guide to the Best Willamette Wineries
Willamette Valley – home to arguably the best Pinot Noir in the United States. With 931 vineyards and 736 wineries as of 2021, Willamette Valley is certainly making its mark on the wine industry.
During my last visit there in 2018, I was blown away by its rugged beauty and friendly hospitality. Willamette is an easy day trip from Portland and well-worth the adventure!
About Willamette Valley
The nerdy stuff. 🤓
Pronounced “Wil-lam-it” (or try saying “Willamette dammit” if you forget… it rhymes!), this region is home to over 70% of Oregon’s total vineyard acreage. The area is a marginal-cool climate with early winter rains that challenge winegrowers each year with a race between ripening and frost.
No grape variety is as reflective of climatic and site differences (aka terroir) as much as Pinot Noir. That is why it demands a cool climate to thrive and why small differences in location in the valley often yield wines of distinctively different character. General attributes that make the Willamette Valley suitable for cool climate grape growing include the protection given by the Cascade Mountains to the east, Coast Range mountains to the west, and a series of lower hill chains to the extreme north of the valley.
Fast Facts About Willamette Valley
Primary Grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc
Climate: Marginal-cool with early winter rains
Things to Look for: Terroir-driven Pinot Noir
Unique Fact: Willamette Valley’s sub-AVAs are very terroir-driven and make a huge impact on the final wines from each area, especially when it comes to Pinot Noir, which is a temperamental variety.
Sub-AVAs: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton, Van Duzer Corridor, Tualatin Hills, Laurelwood District, and Lower Long Tom AVA. (The latter was just added in November of 2021!)
Where to go in Willamette Valley
Portland Wine Country Day Trip Itinerary
Willamette is an easy drive from Portland – just a little over an hour. Be sure to plot your ideal wineries ahead of time and leave plenty of time to get from place to place! I recommend creating a personal google map to help you visualize your plan.
Below are the four stops I hit up during my day trip to the area, and I loved each and every one!
Owned by a wife and husband duo, Boedecker Cellars crafts a lineup of distinct Pinot Noirs, including one named for each of them in their personally preferred styles. It was fascinating to see how the same winery could churn out such distinct wines from the same grape, including a Pinot that is rich, muscular, and fruity, AND another that was in a more delicate, refined old-world style. Up and down the line, all the wines were phenomenal. And the best part is, you don’t even have to leave Portland for this one! Boedecker Cellars is an urban winery near and part of all the Portland action.
Brooks was a must-visit on my trip because of its famed Riesling. I absolutely fell in love, and their wines have been a regular part of my wine collection back home ever since!
Brooks is the only winery in America to be a Certified B Corp, a member of 1% For The Planet and Demeter Certified for Biodynamics. And all the wines are outstanding! Their patio overlooking the vineyards is the perfect place to sit back, relax, and enjoy a good glass of wine.
Ken Wright Cellars
Ken Wright is a key player in the Willamette Valley. First-established in 1994, he crafts world-renowned Pinot Noir. Dedicated to showcasing the terroir, their cellar produces 13 different single-vineyard wines. They believe that with a clarity and breadth that is unequaled by other varieties, Pinot Noir best expresses the character of these sites. Rather than stamping wine with a varietal trademark, Pinot noir is the ultimate vehicle for conveying the aroma, flavor, and texture of the location in which it is grown. A must-visit on any itinerary.
Located elevated on a hill and surrounded by vineyards, Fairsing Vineyard is a stunning must-see. “Breathtaking” may sound cliche, but here it absolutely held true. Those views were amazing.
Fairsing is a family-owned, sustainable grower of world-class Pinot noir and Chardonnay. They grow for outstanding winemakers in the Northern Willamette Valley, but reserve a small quantity of fruit for themselves and craft their own wines as well.
Other Notable Places
4 Spirits Distillery – Located in Corvallis, 4 Spirits Distillery was established in 2011 with a mission to create superior craft spirits while honoring all service members both past and present. They create award-winning whiskeys, rums, gin, and premium vodkas. Each day is an opportunity to honor, remember and raise a glass.
Sokol Blosser – While I have yet to visit Sokol Blosser in person, I’ve sipped their wine at home many, many times. Originally planted in 1971, they’re one of the oldest wineries in Willamette and are now led by their third generation.