Does it look like we tasted a lot of wine? Well? We did! But we hardly made a dent in what is out there. My trusty “Oregon Wine Country” book has several pages of maps with vineyards. We did a fraction of the Willamette Valley Central – Salem map. On that particular map, we went to: Airlie, 3 Fools, Emerson, Illahe, Johan, Firesteed, Van Duzer, Bethel Heights and St Innocent. On an earlier visit, we went to Willamette Valley Vineyards. Their Riesling is still one of my go-to wines and I can get it here. The Flying Dutchman is in Newport and Springhill is on a different map.
As I said earlier, my favorite places were the ones where the people pouring were the ones that directly worked with the wine. Illahe, Emerson and Airlie would be my top picks. The photo above is from Emerson. Tom Johns, the owner, was doing the pouring. My cousin and I had a great time joking around with him. He even offered me the vineyard if I could guess the 5 grapes in his blend. I’d never heard of most of the grapes. It was a pretty safe bet on his part. But they are listed in the trusty book! Emerson needs a MN distributor and they had great wines. While we were at Emerson, a person from 3 Fools was using their tasting room. They are there most Saturdays and they use the Emerson facilities. The three fools are actually down to one fool now.
Have you seen this label? I think they’re in all 50 states. They were right by the road so we stopped. They weren’t even on the map in the trusty book. Maybe I should’ve taken that as a cue. The wines were fine, but it’s a big production facility. They’ve got at least 300 acres in the area. I’d probably pass on this one and go to a smaller one, now that I know what I like.
With my Norwegian heritage, I really wanted to like Johan. I got a bottle of the Pinot Gris. But I didn’t get excited about their wines. The wine maker is from Norway and fell in love with Pinot Noir and decided to make it. They do all sorts of fun celebrations of Norwegian holidays.
Eola Hills has a tasting room right off 99W. You can pick seven wines to taste for free. I particularly liked their dessert wine. This was stop #4 on our first day, so we were a little happy at this point. Eola Hills sources their grapes from other locations, so they make a pretty wide variety. Some of their grapes come from Washington state. They have some fun activities that they host.
Van Duzer has a beautiful location and a great place to enjoy a picnic. They’re tasting room gets more traffic and have hired people to pour. I particularly liked the Zephyra dessert wine. They had a nice port style wine too. We were limited to 4 pours, so we were selective about what we tried.
Bethel Heights is a very beautiful vineyard. There are several right in that area. We first stopped at Bryn Mawr, but didn’t taste. It was getting close to closing time and I was the only one tasting reds. They had five different Pinot Noirs. Too bad I didn’t taste, but that’s for another trip. Bethel Heights had some good Pinot Noirs, but they were over $50 per bottle. They were a little out of the range that I like to spend. I think I got a bottle of their Gewürztraminer.
The last stop was St Innocent. Their Pinot Noir, Temperance Hill Vineyard was one of my favorite wines. We tried a variety of others, including their special blends that are used at their event center. This was at the end of the day and was our fourth vineyard. We were a little goofy and thanks to my cousin, my photos from St Innocent are all rather silly. Check out the website to see the location.
All in all, I love wine tasting in Oregon. It’s a nice, relaxed pace with fun interaction with the people making and working with the wine. There are so many wineries that you can’t hope to put a dent into your tasting repertoire. Decide on a strategy and go with it. Mine was smaller, lesser-known vineyards in an area that was easily accessible to our location.