Destination: Pinot Noir Tasting in the Willamette Valley

Maya: “Why are you so in to Pinot?  I mean it’s a thing with you.”

Miles: “Uh I don’t know, I don’t know.  Um, it’s a hard grape to grow as you know.  It’s thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early.  It’s , you know, not a survivor like cabernet, which can grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it’s neglected.  No, pinot needs constant care and attention.  You know?  In fact, it can only grow in these really specific, little, tucked away corners of the world. And, only the most patient and nurturing growers can do it, really.  Only somebody who really takes the time to understand pinots potential can then coax it into its full expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they are just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and…..ancient on the planet.”

~Quoted from Sideways, one of my all time favorite wine themed movies.

John and I had the opportunity to visit the Willamette Valley, known for its world-class Pinot Noir last November.  Wine Enthusiast named this The Wine Region of The Year in 2016.  We were  extremely fortunate to have John’s brother James and his wife, Aletta as guides.  They live in Hood River, OR and are intimately familiar with several of the wineries and have connections with many of the wine makers in that region.  We were able to meet several of the growers and hear first hand what drew them to the wine industry as well what continues to feed their passion.  They work, day in and day out to tend to their vineyards thus producing amazing Pinot Noirs.  They were mostly smaller wineries, often times family run and without a lot of outside help.  This made the tastings and our appreciation for what is being produced even more interesting and exciting. If you are pinot lover, I would highly recommend a visit to this region. If you’re not sure whether you’re a pinot fan, a trip to the Willamette Valley will likely turn you into one.  This blog post will focus on where we stayed, a couple of the best restaurants we ate at and of course, some of the wineries we visited. We flew in and out of Portland for this trip.

Enjoy & Cheers!


We stayed at McMenamins Hotel Oregon for 2 nights. This was the home base for our Willamette Valley wine tasting weekend. The location was perfect. It is within walking distance of a variety of shops and restaurants as well as convenient driving distance to many fabulous wineries. The staff was friendly and accommodating. Check in and check out were quick.  We had a small room with a queen bed. The accommodations, while not modern, fit the historic theme of the building.  Important note: If you want a room with private bath (not shared) be sure to request this. We asked upon booking.
We visited both the rooftop bar and Carter the Great bar on the first floor. The specialty cocktails were well prepared and if you have a craving for a quick snack order the Cajun tots with peppercorn ranch dressing from the small bite menu, you can’t eat just one!
All in all a great stay, we would return.

We stayed at the Hilton in Portland on Saturday night to be closer to the airport for our flight out.

Our favorite restaurants in McMinnville & Portland

Breakfast at the Community Plate was fabulous.  This is a short walk  from McMenamins.  We enjoyed the hand crafted espresso drinks and the house-made pastries as well as hot off the grill breakfast foods.  The pastry chef was on site both mornings, turning out her heavenly muffins, scones, cakes etc… It was busy, but not overly so.  Taking time to relax over a latte while waiting for my breakfast wasn’t a challenge.

Lunches for our group consisted mostly of an amazing variety of cheeses, crackers, artisan breads and salami’s from the cooler James packed for us.  We snacked between wineries and it was perfect! I would highly recommend going this route as it helped us keep a good base of food while wine tasting and we didn’t have to take a large chunk of the day to go and sit in a restaurant. We tasted wine during the day and enjoyed leisurely dinners at night.

Loved these house-made scones and jam at The Community House

Dinner at Thistle: This restaurant is across the street from the hotel and has a locally driven, seasonal menu.  Ingredients come from farmers and ranchers in the Willamette Valley.  The menu is not viewable online, but is written on a chalkboard in main room.  The menu is not long on the number of dishes but definitely delivers on flavor and the dining experience.  We loved everything we ordered.  Our server could describe every aspect of the dishes and she made marvelous wine pairing suggestions. We actually began with a rose that paired wonderfully with our starters, which included oysters, then moved onto Pinot Noir with our meal.  This is a small restaurant and reservations are recommended.  Bonus: There is an eclectic little bar attached to the restaurant where we enjoyed after dinner cocktails.

Marvelous wine list at Thistle

We stayed overnight in Portland on Saturday night before flying out the next morning.  We had lunch and dinner there.  Here are the 2 restaurants we ate at during that time.

Le Pigeon boasts French inspired menu in an intimate restaurant space.  The bistro is small and reservations are highly recommended.  It is located in the Buckman neighborhood.  This was an unforgettable meal.  The fish of the day was perfectly cooked.  We started with the butter salad, which in and of itself does not sound exciting but the freshness of the ingredients and the simplicity of the dish made it outstanding.  I am planning to make this at home. The recipe is available in the Le Pigeon cookbook titled Cooking At The Dirty Bird.  We would definitely return for a meal here next time we are in Portland.

Fish of the day at Le Pigeon in Portland

Por Que No is the place to be in Portland if you are craving tacos that are authentic and full of the flavors of Mexico.  This was our second visit to Por Que No and if we lived in Portland we would be regulars.  The ingredients are fresh and bright.  The menu has a myriad of tacos made with fresh, house-made corn tortillas as well as salads, bowls, and of course margaritas.  There are no reservations accepted here. You will stand in a line, but it moves quickly.  Guests are not allowed to sit at a table until they have ordered and have received their number.  It seems like you would never get a table with this method but we did, and pretty fast.  It works well.  In fact, many restaurants in Portland operate this way.

The calamari tacos and pickled ginger at Por Que No in Portland

Winery Visits

I featured our four favorite tasting destinations from this trip below.  Please comment and share your experiences regarding this region or feel to ask questions.  Most of all – Cheers!

 1789 Winery at De Ponte Cellars is located in the Dundee Hills.  De Ponte is one of the oldest vineyards in this area.  They have been making Pinot Noir since 2001.  James was able to set up an afternoon tasting with winemaker, Isabelle Dutartre.  Isabelle’s devotion to wine making is contagious.  She spent a better part of the afternoon with us tasting her wines and sharing how she came to be a winemaker in Oregon after working in the industry for 12 years in Burgundy, France.  We tasted both the De Ponte wines and Isabelle’s first label, 1789, which is named for the French revolution.  In her own words,  “the wine is the symbol of my personal revolution, the move of my family from the South of France to the Oregon Wine Country.”

If you visit this tasting room, do call ahead and see if you can make an appointment for a one on one tasting with Isabelle.  As you can see by the photo below, the view of the  vineyards is breathtaking and the afternoon is one we will never forget.

Views of the Vineyards at De Ponte Cellars
Vineyards at De Ponte Cellars – Breathtaking from every location on the property

Walter Scott Vineyards was another favorite tasting destination.  Ken Scott and Erica Landon started Walter Scott in 2008.  The label honors Ken’s grandfather, Walter Scott who was a flight engineer for TWA. We had an incredible late morning tasting experience here.  We tasted 7 wines and Ken gave a memorable talk about each one.  He recalled the weather when the grapes were harvested, whether it was a cool summer/fall or a hot one and how that affects the grapes.  His enthusiasm about his wines was palpable.  If you are in the Willamette Valley make sure to reserve space for a tasting here.  They do not do tastings on Sunday.


Tasting one of the legendary pinots at Walter Scott Winery

Antica Terra Winery  is housed in a very nondescript building in Dundee, Oregon.  Blink and you might drive by it accidentally.  Once inside though it’s a game changer.  The room has an old world beauty that I have not experienced in many other tasting spaces.  The long, dark wood table was beautifully set for 12 people.  Our experience here was lovely.  We tasted not only the wines on the menu but were also treated to a few special ones that had just been bottled.  The afternoon tasting/food pairing lasts 90 minutes. The cost is $60 per guest.  See the info. below from the Antica Terra website.

Wines are served alongside hand-sliced Jamón Ibérico de Bellota, foie gras torchon, a selection of cheeses curated by Steve Jones of Portland’s Cheese Bar and Alma chocolates.

The tasting room table at Antica Terra Winery


Our tasting included a pairing with this freshly sliced jamon Iberico
The state of the art Enomatic Wine System in the Antica Terra tasting rom

Evening Land Vineyards has a wide range of tremendous wines on their tasting menu, from their own collection of Seven Springs Estates to a variety of limited release wines from other local vineyards that are available for tasting to wine list members only.  We experienced a notable side by side tasting of their 2013 & 2014 LA SOURCE Pinot Noir wines.  The tasting room professional took great care to not only explain the wines but also to discuss their detailed map of where the vines are located and the terrain where they are grown, and how this affects the wines.

LA SOURCE and SEVEN SPRINGS Wines shown on top of an area map

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