Although most people think of California as the wine capital of the West Coast, its neighbor Oregon is beginning to establish a reputation for quality wine production as well. Oregon’s Willamette Valley, in particular, stands out as one of the regions with the best wineries. The valley’s cool climate lends itself to high-quality, award-winning Pinot Noirs, but winemakers produce a number of other varieties too.
Check out the list of three of the best wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Domaine Drouhin Oregon
Located in Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley, Domaine Drouhin Oregon (DDO) follows a family tradition of winemaking that began in France. The terrain closely resembles that of the French Burgundy region, with hillside vineyards planted at an elevation between 400 and 800 feet. DDO features 124 acres of mostly Pinot Noir as well as 11 acres of Chardonnay planted next to the Pinot vines, as commonly practiced in Burgundy.
The estate’s staff hand-picks the grapes and sends them to the four-story gravity-run winery, which exclusively uses indigenous yeasts during the fermentation process before aging the wine in French oak barrels for 12 to 14 months.
DDO boasts a number of wines that have earned more than 90 points over the years, with its Pinot Noir standing out as its top wine. The 2016 Pinot Noir features a variety of flavors, from cherry and dark fruit to rhubarb and pink peppercorn. The 2016 Arthur Chardonnay offers equally unique flavors, including lychee, pear, and lemon custard.
King Estate Winery
Based in Eugene, King Estate Winery features stunning views of organic vineyards and orchards, rolling hills, and, on a clear day, even the Cascade Mountains. The estate stands out as the largest Demeter USA-certified Biodynamic vineyard in the US, with 1,033 acres planted with Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir grapes. Dedicated to organic farming practices, King Estate avoids all use of toxic chemicals, opting instead to control pests by using birds of prey such as kestrels and owls and by planting species that attract beneficial insects.
King Estate also features 14 acres of orchards with a variety of produce, from pears and apples to plums and raspberries. As part of its dedication to organic farming, King Estate Winery remains committed to crop diversity, and the on-site restaurant uses produce grown on the estate. Guests of the King Estate Restaurant can sample the superb wines paired with dishes made with locally grown ingredients. The menu features diverse starters and entrees inspired by local cuisine, including Pacific Northwest oysters, king salmon, and Northwest seafood stew.
When sampling these dishes, visitors should try the 2016 Domaine Pinot Gris, which won the award for the Best Pinot Gris at the 10th Annual Sommelier Challenge International Wine & Spirits Competition in 2017. Another excellent choice is the 2013 Domaine Pinot Noir, which earned 93 points from Wine Enthusiast. When sampling these and other wines, visitors should check out the winery’s unique four-tap wine system. In recognition of this sustainable method of wine service, both Oregon Tilth and Salmon-Safe granted the winery certificates of sustainability.
Argyle Winery has gained recognition as the winery that brought sparkling wines to Oregon. The winery grows grapes at three vineyards in the area: Knudsen Vineyard, Lone Star Vineyard, and Spirit Hill Vineyard. Knudsen is located in the Dundee Hills American Viticulture Area (AVA), while Lone Star and Spirit Hill are in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA.
Argyle Winery’s best fruit for its sparkling wines comes from Knudsen. Within this category, its 2014 Argyle Vintage Brut and the 2013 Brut Rosé both won Gold medals at the 2018 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Also winning at this competition was the 2015 Spirithouse Pinot Noir, which took home the prestigious Double Gold award.
Guests can sample these and other wines at Argyle Winery’s Tasting House, which opened in 2015 at the winery’s original location in Dundee. Committed to sustainability, the winery used repurposed material from the former building, including roofing, lumber, siding, and fixtures. Even the shelves, tables, and the bar were constructed with repurposed Douglas Fir rafters from the old cellar building.
Visitors to the estate should also stop by the Argyle Library, which features reserve wines going back to the winery’s inception in 1987. Guests can also visit the Tirage Library, a climate-controlled warehouse that stores more than 250,000 bottles of sparkling wine that are “en tirage,” or aging on the yeast. Argyle Winery has organized the bottles chronologically, allowing guests to see wines from every single vintage since 1987.
The above three wineries offer a great start to your foray into Willamette Valley wineries. The unique climate is conducive to the production of high-quality wines that rival those of some of the most widely celebrated wine regions in the world, including in France. When exploring the valley, keep an open mind and try wines other than just the award-winning Pinot Noirs, as winemakers are producing some outstanding wines that reflect the unique terroir and climate of this fertile region in Oregon.