Next week is the biggest week of the year in Oregon wine. By tradition, Thanksgiving weekend is when almost every Willamette Valley winery opens its doors and puts out a cheese plate—see our picks on here.
But if you're forgoing the doorbusters to venture down to Dundee, Newberg or McMinnville, you may be surprised to find how many new spots have popped up in the past year.
Willamette Valley wine country has had a massive influx of money and ambition. It seems like everybody from Argyle to Panther Creek has a shiny new tasting room. One winery is now making a pinot without any electricity and delivering it to Portland by canoe. In Newberg, a wine shop that opened in the summer of 2014 is now our top pick in the valley. We found two new, stellar, super-casual eateries that alleviated some of the disappointment of the block-long dining complex in a former McMinnville radio station. We even found a standout cannabis dispensary and a crazy-good new apricot cream ale.
Domaine Roy & Fils
8351 NE Worden Hill Road, Dundee, 687-2600, domaineroy.com. 11 am-5 pm daily.
[PRINCE OF DUNDEE] Many of the valley's respected old-guard wineries are in the process of passing to a second generation. The three men behind Newberg's Beaux Frères—Robert Roy, Michael Etzel and Etzel's brother-in-law, Robert Parker Jr., who happens to be the world's most influential wine critic—are not yet ready to hand over the reigns. And thus, sons Jared Etzel and Marc-Andre Roy have struck out on their own, converting this former hazelnut farm into a pinot-focused vineyard and winery with newfangled concrete fermenters and a gorgeous tasting room. The two vintages on offer at Domaine Roy & Fils came from purchased fruit and were excellent—everyone in our party left with a bottle of 2014 Petite Incline. But it's the exceptional tasting-room experience that really stood out. Showing up without a reservation and not announcing ourselves as media, we got an in-depth, one-hour tour from a knowledgeable, personable and down-to-earth guide. In a wine region where it's typical to get a brisk pour and a little boilerplate commentary beyond the tasting notes, it's a rare treat to spend some time in the cellar before sitting at a large, round dinner table with a 270-degree view of the foggy hills. If you were to visit only one winery in the Willamette Valley, this should be it. MARTIN CIZMAR.
2580 SE Stratus Ave., McMinnville, 971-261-2191, thedinermcminnville.com. 8 am-8pm daily.
[GREAT CLUB] In the parking lot of a Comfort Inn on the eastern outskirts of McMinnville sits a partly corrugated box called the Diner. Pretty much every food item on the menu is also on the menu at Denny's: eggs Benedict, patty melt, biscuits and gravy. But it is home to wonders. Last fall, Kyle Chriestenson, former sous chef at swanky Thistle, started making his own sourdough and rye and curing heavenly corned beef. And, dear Lord, he makes one of the best sandwiches I've ever had in Oregon, a fried-chicken club in which each layer is seasoned and the chicken's breading provides a satisfying crunch that a middle slice of bread never could, with a house aioli that you'll only hear them call "mayo." As a pairing, we recommend the gin and juice, which mixes Ransom dry gin with grape Fanta. It reads like a punch line, and tastes like the kind of joyously alcoholic childhood that only exists in the heart of the country. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
691 Highway 99W, Dundee, 538-8520, argylewinery.com. 11 am-5 pm daily.
[BUBBLES POPPIN'] Forget New Portland, welcome to the New Valley. Argyle Winery's brand-new, barn-sized tasting room—a beautiful glass-and-wood-beam Frankenstein assembled from reclaimed materials and surrounded by a tastefully sterile garden—is as sparkling as the wines that built Argyle's reputation. At a reasonable $15 for a three-glass flight (the bubbly "pop flight" is recommended, particularly for the 2011 brut rosé), you will be walked through each glass, with enough room left for a second flight or a whole glass of your favorite. If you're in luck, they may even slip you a sample of the delightfully unorthodox 2011 black brut, a sparkling pinot noir as crisp as cranberries, with a cinnamon finish that tastes purpose-built for Thanksgiving. WALKER MACMURDO.
508 E 1st St., Newberg, 971-832-8198. 9 am-9 pm daily.
[MEXCELLENTE] Considering that Oregon's wine industry runs on the skilled labor of Mexican-born agriculturalists even more than California money, it makes sense that there's something of a history of Oregon wine country chefs making tacos. A few years ago, Eric Bechard, the infamous pig-fight aggressor who is probably the most famous chef to ever set up shop in the valley, ran his own late-night shop, Tacos de los Muertos. Now we have Luis Jimenez and Cristina Gonzalez, former sous and pastry chefs, respectively, at Dundee Bistro, taking over Taqueria Guerrero. It's everything you love about a great taqueria, but with flawless technique and a few light chef-y touches like locally roasted coffee. We highly recommend the massive mojado burrito ($8.95) and all the chili oil you can stand. All the bright, hot salsas are exquisite on street tacos with handmade tortillas that shame almost anything in Portland. MARTIN CIZMAR.
213 N Yamhill St. (at Omero Cellars), Carlton, 971-303-9773, stateracellars.com. Contact winery for visits.
[CHARDONNAY ONLY] "People act like we know what we're doing," says Meredith Bell, winemaker at Statera Cellars, which she formed with Luke Mathews in 2014. "We don't. We've only been growing grapes for a few generations. In France, it took centuries to know which grapes grow best in each place." Is pinot noir really the best grape for the Willamette Valley? Statera aims to test that chestnut by opening what it says will be the first all-chardonnay winery in Oregon—in part because chardonnay is what Bell and Mathews truly love. They're also growing it in a way Bell believes is the truest expression of both grape and soil: small lot, single vineyard, native yeast, no additives, neutral oak barrels that have deposited their oakiness into previous batches. Bell, a 10-year winemaker and UC Davis viticulture graduate, is knowledgeable and passionate enough that some prestigious plots are offering Statera their fruit, including Corral Creek in the Chehalem Mountains, Anderson Valley and Johan Vineyards. Statera's first corking of the 2014 vintage will be in January, with sales starting this spring. From what we've tasted in barrels, it'll be well worth grabbing. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
645 NE 3rd St., McMinnville, 857-0457 (the Barberry), kaosmac.com.
[TGI WINE COUNTRY] Downtown McMinnville's new KAOS building lives up to its name: It's all over the place. The downstairs portion of the two-story, wine-themed complex is a steak, salmon and rotisserie-chicken house called the Barberry, which has opulent chandeliers and '90s earth tones. It looks loosely like a theme restaurant, if the theme were "Orange County money." That said, $20 will get you a guided tour through six wines from small, local makers—plus a "bonus" off-track wine that currently is a much-sought-after Minimus. Upstairs, the vexingly spelled 1882 Grille has the look of a suburban wine bar, but with country music and football on TV. It has a 16-tap beer menu that includes root-beer-flavored beer from Illinois, and an Absolut-heavy cocktail list that could charitably be called upmarket TGI Fridays. It also serves egregiously undercooked arugula-salami pizza ($16) made by chefs in whites. The fish and chips, though? Damn good. And the service is almost perplexingly excellent—the bartender gently decrumbed us after clearing our pub fries. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
1178 Highway 99W, Dundee, 487-6523, chalicefarms.com. 9 am-6 pm daily.
[WEED WITH WINE] In one perfect block in Dundee you'll find Chalice Farms, a taco truck, Deception Brewery and a spiritual life coach. If you had a Westfalia, you would never have to leave the parking lot. You could spend your days getting high and eating tacos, your nights drinking apricot cream ale, and when it all falls apart, your spiritual life coach could help you put it back together. Start at Chalice Farms, one of the state's finest cannabis growers. The place has a cozy, woodsy feel, with products arranged under glass and accentuated by polished wood. Chalice has a wide selection of strains, including its Mango Kush, which crushed all comers in the state's largest cannabis competition this year, the Dope Cup. Pick up a pre-roll and smoke it while you wait for your tacos. LIZZY ACKER.
Winderlea Vineyard and Winery
8905 NE Worden Hill Road, Dundee, 554-5900, winderlea.com. 11 am-4 pm daily.
[NEW HISTORY] At the top of a hill on the edge of Dundee sits Winderlea Vineyard and Winery. The views are spectacular and the tasting room, which was finished in 2008, making it much older than the other things on this list, takes advantage of every angle. The walls are windows, and a patio stretches along one entire side of the small, modern room. Ask the friendly Scotsman serving your pinot who owned the land before it became Winderlea in 2006, and he'll say, "A man named Goldschmidt. Maybe you've heard of him? He was a bad boy." Disgraced former Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt owned the land that this winery now occupies, and farmed the grapes here until 2006, two years after this newspaper revealed that he had sexually abused a young teenage girl while he was mayor of Portland in the 1970s. Now, Winderlea serves functional pinot noir to tourists, Goldschmidt lives in exile in France and the woman he abused is dead. She died at age 49 in 2011, after years of suffering from PTSD and drug and alcohol abuse. The pinot's fine, but the history is what you should remember. LIZZY ACKER.
Illahe Vineyards Project 1899 Pinot Noir
[OLDIE STATION] Oregon winemakers employ some weird concepts, like burying a cow horn filled with a lactating cow's manure at the equinox to dig up later and use for fertilizer. But Brad Ford's Illahe Vineyards in Dallas might win for the most unique idea. It's also the most basic: Make a pinot noir without any modern equipment or electricity. Transported by horse, de-stemmed by hand, pumped into barrels by bike power, fermented without inoculation, tagged with wood-printed labels and delivered to Portland by canoe—Illahe's Project 1899 pinot proves that a simple concept doesn't make for a simple process. "The first time it enters your car, it will be in a whole different time," reads the winery's description. Maybe more time is what it needs—our bottle (No. 830 of 1,494) of 2012 Project 1899 poured a mild, dare I say gulpable, pinot noir with little more on the nose than lukewarm, grape-infused water. But at $65, this is not the wine to wash down leftovers. After 15 minutes of breathing, it grew a tinge of tannins on the finish. After 30 minutes, it had a whisper of diesel-tinged fermentation, which is ironic. In a simpler world, hard manual labor and artistic vision would yield the most sumptuous pinot. Isn't it pretty to think so? ENID SPITZ.
Valley Wine Merchants
112 S College St., Newberg, 538-5388, valleywinemerchants.com. 11 am-6 pm Thursday-Tuesday.
[TOP OF THE SHOPS] Valley Wine Merchants, which opened in the summer of 2014, is something very hard to find—a wine shop in the provinces that's in no way provincial. It's deeply knowledgeable locally, but with a global perspective that comes from owner Andrew Turner's time as a chef at Alain Ducasse's Le Louis XV restaurant in Monte Carlo, and at now-closed Fleur de Lys in San Francisco. The shelves are stocked mostly with nearby grapes that include much smaller brands—with more than 200 local pinot noir labels, along with more than 100 half-bottles. But Turner's tasting list stems from his itinerant chefhood and deep connections in the Willamette Valley after 10 years of running Ponzi Vineyards' bar, from a 1998 St. Innocent the vintner says is the best he ever made, to rare French marks like Georges Roumier Burgundy or Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fumé de Pouilly. Tasting prices range up to $24 for a 2-ounce taste of a vintage bottle you might never afford, but go as low as $6 for more economical favorites. Stop in on your way back to Portland and ask what's good. It almost certainly will be. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
1174 Highway 99W, Dundee, 971-832-8054, deceptionbrewingco.com. 4-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 4-11 pm Friday, noon-11 pm Saturday, noon-9 pm Sunday.
[APRICOTS AND CREAM] Dundee's smallest brewery is situated alongside a Nectar dispensary and a taco truck in what is probably the chillest parking lot in the Willamette Valley. Served by a grizzled ex-Portlander—who we learned left town because of the city's ample opportunities to blow one's paycheck on drink—we sampled all 10 of Deception's brews, the gleaming kettles from which they came on view in the back. The velvet-smooth apricot cream ale, winner of best beer at McMinnville's Oregon Brews & BBQs festival, is the decidedly best beer in the building, enough so that it is worth carting a growler or two out to the valley to bring home reserves. If you're hungry or driving, make sure to take advantage of Deception's bring-your-food policy, or order delivery from La Sierra Mexican Grill across the street, as onsite food is limited to Kirkland Signature beer nuts. WALKER MACMURDO.
Ransom Tasting Room
525 NE 3rd St., McMinnville, ransomspirits.com. 11 am-7 pm Tuesday-Sunday.
[LIQUORED UP] If you've never stood on the border between Willamina (Timbertown USA) and Sheridan (home to the penitentiary where Suge Knight took a five-year, federally-mandated break from the record business), you probably don't know about Ransom Spirits' hidden distillery and winery. Ransom's distilled goods have been a staple in the Willamette Valley bar scene, but for the most part, an obscurity in Portland. Ransom aims to increase visibility with a new tasting room in downtown McMinnville next to Nick's Italian Cafe. Ransom isn't building out a new space, but instead claiming a wall of the Peirano & Daughters deli, the former retail shop of the now-defunct Fino in Fondo salumi line. You can still get Olympia Provisions charcuterie or artisanal cheeses and enjoy them with a glass pour of Ransom's equally great wines, which start at $5, or a cocktail flight, which on our visit featured a Martinez with Ransom's nutty Old Tom gin and orange bitters. ZACH MIDDLETON.