_It is a mixed blessing to have friends living all over the world. Obviously it is great to know people around the world when you can visit them. But what about when you can’t go visit them? Sure Skype, Facebook, and email help keep us connected but humans are social creatures in general (some are less social and more creature like but you know what I mean).
Recently a group of friends I happen to adore decided the solution would be to meet up somewhere “in the middle.” But where should we go? We decided it should be somewhere none of us had been, not far from a major airport, and it should be relaxing but still have plenty of things to do. After much debate we settled on Oregon’s wine country – Willamette Valley. None of us had been. It is barely an hour outside of Portland International Airport. And most importantly there is tons to do from the obvious food & wine, to golfing, hiking, horseback riding, and more.
_First things first! Please make sure you pronounce Willamette correctly. While the people in the area are friendly and laid back, correct pronunciation is important. So for the record: Willamette = Wi – LAM – it. And if that doesn’t help perhaps the t-shirt I saw is more to the point “It’s pronounced [wi.læ.mit] – dammit”
I organized a car and driver to take us out to the resort. Phil, the driver from Wine Country Car Service was waiting in a giant Chevy Suburban. Phil is the perfect driver. He’s been in the area for years and seems to be a maximum of one degree of separation from everyone worth knowing. Even more importantly he’s happy to chat with you, or not, depending on what kind of mood you’re in. He whisked us to our hotel, the Allison Inn & Spa - the new LEED certified hotel in Newberg. There are plenty of charming places to stay in the area but The Allison has a fantastic spa so for me there was no question of staying anywhere else. The spa is enormous, the treatments are rejuvenating, and the therapists seem to work miracles! One thing that stands out as a bonus in the treatment rooms is that they have towel warmers for you to hang your robe on so when your treatment is finished you can wrap yourself up in a perfectly warmed robe.
Food: Located in such a lush area it seems like just about anything will grow in Willamette. So many of the restaurants have incredibly fresh and local ingredients. You’ll certainly want to consider the following places:
The JORY – breakfast is all about the yogurt parfait for me. My tip here is if nothing on the menu sounds good have the waiter tell you about it because the descriptions are much more interesting than the menu.
The Painted Lady – This is apparently the #1 place in town and it was charming and the food was good albeit a bit heavy on the meat and the main course portions were a bit too large. Jetsetters will need to remember you're in Oregon not NYC/Paris/Tokyo.
Recipe Neighborhood Kitchen – This new place is worth checking out. Lunch was fantastic!
The Sweetest Thing Cupcakes – I’m not much of a cupcake fan but these were very good and the perfect pick-me-up in the afternoon.
The Horse Radish in Carlton – Wonderful place for lunch that serves plenty of the local wines by the glass. It is a great place to break up your wine tasting day.
Red Hills Market in Dundee – This is the place to go to pack up a picnic lunch to take with you while visiting all the wineries.
Wine: There seem to be over 400 wineries in the region…I lost count. Some have wonderful tasting rooms while others are rather casual and just have a counter for you to sample. There are tons of good options and you’re bound to find ones that you like. I tend to enjoy visiting the smaller places that aren’t on every menu back home. With that in mind here are my favorites of the places we visited.
Sineann - Peter Rosback the wine maker is fantastic and he has a broad array of products to show.
Roco - Corby Soles is charming and very passionate about their wines
Alexana - This tasting room in Carlton was enjoyable. The vineyard is a bit larger but they have some wonderful things to try.
Seven of Hearts - Bryon Dooley and his wife Dana are both former Silicon Valley executives who decided it was time to do something different after the Internet Bubble burst in 2000. Dana also has a fantastic chocolate shop Honest Chocolates in McMinnville but you can purchase a few in the tasting room/factory.
Brick House - This charming place is all organic and has the best place to have a nice lunch brought in to enjoy a picnic.
Penner Ash - This is a bit of a larger place but the view is lovely, the wines are enjoyable, and it is another great place to have lunch. Plus Lady Gaga had stopped by and made an appearance the night before my visit. It was very kind of her to make sure they were ready for me.
Golf: Two of the guys went golfing during our visit. They played at Charbonneau Golf Club and Chehalem Glenn. While they said both courses were enjoyable they found Chehalem Glenn to be the better of the two. Next time they want to play at either Pumpkin Ridge or Wildwood. Phil the driver said Wildwood was his favorite course because of the views and the course itself.
If the above spa, golf, food, and wine options haven’t piqued your interest in visiting the area then this certainly will. Jam tasting! This was by far the most memorable experience. Earlier this year Lynnette Shaw opened up a small jam company known as The Republic of Jam. Stop by and do the jam tasting. It is $5 and you get a sample of several different items that have used her jams or sauces. While I was there the stand-outs were a pork in her apple/sage mostarda and the Blueberry Lavender treats. The other three treats were lovely too. The tasting fee is waved if you buy a jam and trust me you’re going to buy at least one. These are special because Lynette uses less sugar, uses local crazy fresh fruit and ingredients, and she even makes her own fruit pectin. Now what happens if you go and buy things and want more…or even worse you can’t make it out there?? Fear not she’s got a great shop on line or you could just call her up.
You know you’re going to add Newberg to your list so why don’t you pour your favorite Willamette Valley Pinot Noir and open up your calendar app to figure out a date that works. Then let me know because I want to go back too!