From the first Oregon Pinot Noir vine and trailblazing biodynamic vintners to family-run roadside stands selling local, organic produce, artisan cheeses and much more, the Willamette Valley is a patchwork of cities and towns that offer unique experiences for every traveler.
Now that the country is opening back up and people are anxious to hit the road, the region offers a less-hectic alternative to California’s Napa Valley, which often is overrun with tourists during the summer vacation months.
Nestled between the Coast Range and the Cascade Mountains, the Willamette Valley follows the Willamette River for more than 100 miles from the central Cascades through Eugene and north to Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory.
While Pinot Noir is grown in several areas of the state, it attains star status primarily in the Willamette Valley. Through the years, the variety has become synonymous with the valley, and there’s even an annual international festival devoted to Pinot Noir held on a college campus in the heart of the valley.
Where great Pinot Noir grows, one normally will encounter equally great Chardonnay. Interestingly, that’s not the case in the Willamette Valley. There, the Chardonnay is very good, but much more common are exceptional bottlings of Pinot Gris, a.k.a. Pinot Grigio.
Various wineries offer other varieties as well, and you never know what you’re going to encounter as you drive from winery to winery on the quiet country roads.
For wine lovers who also are history buffs, the town of Albany makes an excellent day trip between the visits to tasting rooms.
Situated at the intersection of the Calapooia and Willamette rivers, Albany boasts four historic districts with more than 700 historic buildings and homes, including the 1849 Montieth House Museum, Albany’s first frame house.
The museum normally is open mid-June through mid-September, but given some of the lingering restrictions that may be in place, be sure to verify the hours before making the side trip.
For more on Albany, go to albanyvisitors.com, or call 800-526-2256. And for more on Willamette Valley wine country, go to oregonwinecountry.org. There, you’ll find not only everything you need to plan a fun, wine-focused excursion, but also the latest travel alerts for the region.