SOUTHERN WILLAMETTE VALLEY

 

wine hillhouse

The tasting room and winery at Bethel Heights Vineyard

SITUATED 30 MILES south of the famous winemaking region of Dundee, the Eola-Amity Hills AVA may be closer to Salem than Portland, but the slopes that lie between the towns of Amity and Lincoln actually produce some of the very best wines in the valley. Like those of Dundee, Eola-Amity’s best vineyards face south or southeast, are planted at roughly the same altitude (up to 800 feet) and are known for their iron-rich volcanic soils. Indeed, some say that both the Dundee and Eola-Amity AVAs are akin to the Côte d’Or in France, the heart of Burgundy.

Still, the Eola-Amity AVA boasts its own unique geographical and climatic conditions: Much of the area is exposed to ocean breezes, and its soils are also shallower, which makes for wines that are distinct from those of both Burgundy and Dundee. For instance, the AVA’s best pinot noir tends to have more acidity, structure and black fruit flavors (as opposed to the typical red fruit flavors of Dundee wines), and its scent is often a bit earthier.

wine grapes

Old vine pinot noir at Eyrie’s Vineyards

Tasting notes aside, however, a drive through the Eola-Amity Hills can be much more relaxing than jaunts through wine country farther north, partly because no major towns exist to interrupt the halcyon landscape of forests, orchards and vineyards. In fact, if you want to bypass the traffic of Hwy 99W altogether, you can ride a ferry partway there.

For more action, travelers can head northwest to McMinnville, the home of Oregon’s first pinot noir winery, Eyrie—not to mention some of the best restaurants in the region. As far back as the 1970s, winemaking pioneers gathered nightly at Nick’s Italian Cafe to debate the differences among soils and winds and temperatures. Just the kind of lively, wine-and-food-fueled debate that, after a trip to the Eola-Amity Hills, you too may find yourself engaged in—over a plate of Nick’s smoked-salmon lasagna and a glass of earthy, complex Evesham Wood pinot noir, of course.