Falling Into the North Willamette Valley

Domaine Serene, in early October

Domaine Serene, in early October

A simple search of the Travels With Two archives will tell you how much we love Portland, Oregon.  But, truly, we also sing the wine country praises of the nearby North Willamette Valley.

Of course, the singing usually comes an hour into tasting pinot noirs…

To get a feel for the North Willamette (pronounced WillAMette), click here for an interactive map.  The map doesn’t print very well, so I’d highly recommend contacting the vintner’s association to request a free copy.

To get to the wine country from Portland, we’d recommend two routes:

  • For the most direct, take the 99W straight out of town for about 50 minutes.
  • For the most leisurely, at 1 hour and 10 minutes, take the 26W to the Glencoe Road/219 exit, and head south into Newberg.  On this route you’ll see small towns and lots of farms.

Longhorn cattle on the way to WillaKenzie Estate

We’ve been twice to this agricultural heartland of Oregon, once on an August weekend, and again last October;  we’d agree that while summer is full of flowers, Fall is an even better time to go.  It’s a little sunny, a little cloudy, a little chilly, and sometimes, a little warm.  Furry cows graze in fields bordered by last-of-the-season blackberries and tangles of grapevines.  The nostalgic smell of burning leaves wafts on the breeze, and apples fall faster from the orchard trees than anyone can catch them.

Imagine, if you will, driving through a great big pie.

Both times we’ve journeyed here, we’ve made a day trip of it from Portland, leaving town by 10am and heading back by 5pm.

Once you’ve arrived, we’d recommend having an early lunch at the casually elegant Dundee Bistro.

Note that wine tasting rooms in the North Willamette Valley stay steadily open throughout the Fall, generally closing only for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve/Day, and New Years.

To taste area wines, visit:

August Cellars

August Cellars

August Cellars: This architecturally eco-friendly space belongs to family farmers and offer mostly pinot noirs and riesling through their own label, as well as wines from a few area micro-wineries like Toluca Lane, Laura Volkman, and Et Fille.

Argyle: In a tasting room set in a renovated Victorian house, indulge in classic Oregon pinots and the surprise of sparkling pinot noir blends.  Argyle’s beloved tasting room kitty, Snowball, has died since our visit last year, and a special flight dedicated in his honor benefits area cat adoption efforts.

Sokol Blosser: Their beautiful tasting room is set up on a hill amongst heavy old trees, and their lovely wines never disappoint

Domaine Drouhin: Yes, it costs $10 to taste a mere 4 wines here, but half the experience is the stunning tasting room and the best view of the NWV we’ve yet seen.  The sister winery to Burgundy’s exquisite Joseph Drouhin, DD’s French-style wines are generally dry, sophisticated, complex and more often than not, a bit too dear for our wallets.  C’est la vie…take a seat on the side porch and the

Just one view from Domaine Drouhin

Just one view from Domaine Drouhin

pain will ease.

Domaine Serene: Possibly even more elegant a tasting room than Drouhin, this dreamy place is literally a castle (see the first photo above).  It borders on a bit too touristy: The parking lot can accommodate buses and you can book a $40 VIP tasting tour, tell-tale signs of corporate vino-pimping.  However, with 6 different versions of pinot noir on offer, this is a good place to see the range of the NWV’s terroir.

Archery Summit: For your steep drive uphill to the parking lot, you’ll be rewarded with the second-best view of the NWV.  The vibe here isn’t super friendly, but their vineyard/caves/bottling room tour is a relative bargain at $25, and they generally offer a staggering 10 takes on pinot noir…as it’s all they do up here.

The Tasting Room:  Set in an 1800s storefront in small-town Carlton, Oregon, this is a great place to chat with staff about the area, check out affordable local artwork and taste the fruits of off-the-map micro-wineries.  We’re pretty wild about the Wind Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir from EIEIO (and their cool logo).
The old grain mill in Carlton

The old grain mill in Carlton

Carlton Winemakers Studio: To be honest, we didn’t love any of the wines here, but we give this collective of ten vintners props for fantastic architecture, an ethos of sustainable farming, and a peaceful setting.

WillaKenzie Estate: Gorgeous area, fantastic longhorn cattle, but a madhouse; come here for a rest on the patio, and if you can manage to get your hands on some wine, all the better…but highly unnecessary.

If you’d rather not drive an hour home after a day of tooling around and tasting, it’s safe to say that staying out here would be dreamy. Vintners we’ve met in the area recommend three places to stay, but you can always check them out for yourself on TripAdvisor:

Black Walnut Inn
Abbey Road Farm B & B
McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon




  1. Hi! I am contacting you from Afar Magazine, based in San Francisco. We’re currently working on a feature of great wineries to stay at, and are including the Black Walnut Inn. We found your image (the first one, of the vineyard with the Inn in the upper left corner) and would love to use it for print. Please contact me at Dani@afar.com and we can further discuss getting the high-resolution version from you and how to give you proper credit. Thanks so much! Hope to hear from you soon.


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