NORTHERN WILLAMETTE VALLEY
If you only wish to dabble for a day in the region’s pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay, the vineyards and wineries that lie north of Hwy 240 and south of Hwy 26, between Yamhill and Newberg, are the easiest to access from Portland. But convenience isn’t this pastoral area’s only attraction. A trip here also offers an excellent introduction to some of the valley’s top vinos. Even better, once you head deep into the undulating hills, you’ll be traversing the three different AVAs that make up the northern edge of the Willamette Valley, a striking tour indeed of the region’s varying landscape.
Cross-hatching most of the valley’s northern portion is the Chehalem Mountains AVA, an impressive uplifted mass of land that stretches some 20 miles long and is home to Bald Peak State Park—one of the area’s highest points (1,629 feet) and the perfect location for a picnic. To the west lies the northern half of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA, set in the foothills of the Coast Range. And tucked away between the two is the tiny Ribbon Ridge AVA. Somewhat overshadowed by the surrounding AVAs, Ribbon Ridge’s unique marine sedimentary soils have attracted Beaux Frères, Patricia Green and Brick House—wineries whose wines have achieved near-cult status.
To get a sense for the distinct wines made in each AVA, start out at two of the oldest wineries in the valley: Rex Hill, located on the eastern edge of the Chehalem Mountains, and Ponzi, the first winery to plant pinot gris in the area. Meander on to Brick House, whose Les Dijonnais pinot noir our wine critic has chosen as one of the top 10 Pacific Northwest wines. Brick House’s vineyards are also some of the first in the valley to be certified organic and biodynamic, an agricultural trend that’s just now beginning to sweep the entire valley. And if you work your way through those wineries? There are at least 30 others in the area to choose from.