Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip

Over the next month, we'll visit the greatest wine regions of the northwest United States and southwest Canada:

  • Willamette Valley, Oregon: home to some of the best pinot noir on earth
  • Vancouver, British Columbia: home to urban wineries, farm-fresh produce, and islands galore
  • Okanagan, BC: the Napa Valley of the north
  • and the Tri-Cities and Walla Walla wine region in Washington state: home to budget-friendly cabernet sauvignons and many other bold red varietals

—surely an epic road trip in the making. I'll be traveling with travel mates Marcy Gordon, of Forbes Travel Napa Valley, and Kristin Kearns, editor and fiction author. Since I live in Portland, Oregon, the Willamette Valley portion of the road trip will focus in on the northern part of the Willamette Valley: Washington County. This lesser-traveled part of Willamette Valley is home to some of the area's most delicious artisanal cheese, meat, jam, cider, and sake products as well as excellent, under-the-radar wineries, such as David Hill, Apolloni, Kramer Vineyards, Ponzi Vineyards, Hawks View, Alloro, and Raptor Ridge Winery. The well-known biodynamic/organic-certified winery, Montinore, is also located here.


Fields of blooming clover

Northern Willamette wine country is just 40 minutes from downtown Portland, making it one of the  city's closest wine regions. Nevertheless, most travelers hit the 99W and drive straight toward Newberg and Dundee Hills. The wineries around those towns are great, but they're already in the national spotlight. For a more personalized winery experience, hit northern Willamette and the towns of Gaston, Forest Grove, and Banks. You'll appreciate the difference in bottle prices, too.





With an history based in agriculture, northern Willamette Valley has tons of great restaurants serving very local ingredients, and this makes all of the difference. In addition, northern Willamette has local producers that offer unique culinary experiences, such as cheese-making classes. Washington County is quite a bread basket. Here is a list of restaurants, hotels and B&Bs, and gourmet producers that are worth checking out:

Hotels and B&Bs:

  • McMenamins Grand Lodge, wow is Washington County short on hotels and accommodations in general. This is definitely the only non-chain hotel in the area, and it's pretty sweet. Typical McMenamins-style artworks and rustic rooms inside of a historic, Oregon building—in this case, a one-time Masonic lodge.
  • The Suite at Gentle Acres, a two-bedroom accommodation for up to 4 people, it has modern amenities and costs $225/night or $1300/week at the time of writing.
  • The Chains: Since northern Willamette Valley is home to major companies like Nike and Intel, a huge selection of business hotels exist, from Best Western to Budget Inn.

Restaurants:

  • 1910 Main Restaurant, (aka, the place I ate deep-fried meatloaf!) serves comfort food comprised of regional ingredients
  • Cruise In Country Diner, serving a huge selection of burgers and other diner fare comprised mostly of local and organic ingredients
  • South Store Cafe, for picnic lunches packed to go
  • Maggie's Buns, for gigantic, delicious pastries and complete breakfasts
  • Syun Izakaya, some of Oregon's best sushi served with a huge sake selection, including Sake One sakes
  • Chennai Masala, top notch, authentic Indian food
  • DeCarli Restaurant, Italian-style NW fine dining
  • Du Kuh Bee, one of those hard-to-find Korean restaurants that the area is famous for; don't let the strip-mall surroundings turn you off: this is great food
  • Nakwon, another authentic Korean joint

Artisanal Food:

  • Quail Run Creamery, Nigerian Dwarf Goat Cheeses my friend (and cheese-making classes)
  • Sake One, the first American-owned sake brewery in the United States, and boy, if you haven't experienced sake outside of a sushi restaurant, this place will blow your mind
  • Bull Run Cider, producers of hard cider
  • Smith Berry Barn, pick your own fruits and berries and tons of artisanal food products, including jams, relishes, honey, and herbs
  • L-Bar-T Bison Ranch, local buffalo/bison meat with onsite store
  • Hillsboro Tuesday Marketplace, farmers market with live music
  • Beaverton Farmers Market, most Saturdays, February-November
  • U-Pick, you can't miss them; there are tons of farms, such as Unger's Farms Store, welcoming you to shop local; find a huge concentration along Scholls Ferry Road.

Articles on these as well as the area's great wineries soon to follow. In the meantime, here's a map of northern Willamette Valley with food and wine attractions on it (click on the map to enlarge):



This article is part of the one-month road trip series, The Great Northwest North American Wine Road Trip. Follow along in real time on Twitter with the hashtag, #NWRoadTrip.

Portions of this article included information obtained during a press trip funded by the Washington County tourism board.

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