Drive a mere 40 minutes outside of Portland and you’re surrounded by gently rolling green hills with the familiar and beautiful patterns of vineyards crisscrossing all around you. There’s really no bad time to tour and wine taste in Oregon’s renowned wine country of Willamette Valley, but the sun and warmth of summer certainly make it one of the most attractive seasons to visit. From smell to taste to sight, you can experience it all at some of our favorite wineries and vineyards this summer.
REX HILL Winery & Vineyards
Set atop the idyllic Rex Hill just as you enter Willamette Valley wine country sits the REX HILL Winery & Vineyards. If you have an opportunity to join a tour of the vineyards, do. The extremely knowledgeable staff makes wine education (even more) fun, and only adds to the overall experience of the visit. Once inside the tasting room, soak up your surroundings. The arched tunnels and exposed brick walls are remnants of the building’s original use as a hazelnut processing facility. Now, they add to the décor and serve as a reminder of the history of the land you’re standing on. Make sure to taste the REX HILL Reserve Pinot Noir as you wander around the impressive building, or step outside to sit at a charming bistro table overlooking the vineyards that have lovingly produced some of the finest Pinot Noir you’ll ever taste.
Blue skies meet the deep green of trees all along the horizon as you gaze out from the new state-of-the-art winery and tasting room at Ponzi Vineyards. Officially opened to the public on June 15, the new glass-clad venue captures the stunning views of the Avellana Vineyard and offers guests an opportunity to explore the four-level, gravity-flow winemaking facility with guided winery tours. Take advantage of the Signature Winery Tour & Tasting and enjoy four Ponzi wines paired with “Nancy’s Antipasti Plate” created by Ponzi co-founder Nancy Ponzi. The dish consists of ricotta cheese spread, pâté with grape must mustard, smoked salmon, marinated olives, grissini and house crackers. End your visit by soaking in the vistas and sipping on the light, fruity Chardonnay Reserve while sitting fireside or under the covered terrace.
Apolloni Vineyards at the North end of the Willamette Valley is a small, family-owned vineyard and winery with Italian roots that really shine through. From the potted trees resembling the large cypresses of Italian wine country and stuccoed exterior of the wine cave, to the bocce courts that will be completed in July, visitors may feel they’ve left Oregon entirely. Walk inside the large tasting room with natural light flowing in through the windows, and the focus becomes exclusively on the wine. We recommend a spot right at the granite countertop where you can nibble on cheese and crackers while the sommeliers are pouring tastings. While the grapes may be grown above ground, visitors now have the opportunity to go below ground to sample wine. The underground wine cave opened in mid-May and is similar to those found in some wine growing regions of Italy. This unique experience at the family-owned Apolloni Vineyards wouldn’t be complete without tasting the traditional Pinot Noir and Italian-style wines (including dry, crisp and fruity whites) that they specialize in. If it’s a warm day, buy a bottle of the crisp, citrusy Pinot Grigio and enjoy it outside on the shaded patio.
Serene is certainly an apt description for one of Oregon’s most picturesque wineries. Large windows in Domaine Serene’s tasting room fill the space with light and provide guests with unparalleled sweeping scapes of vineyards and the valley beyond. The luxurious décor and styling of the tasting room itself adds to the experience. Charming chandeliers hanging from the wood beam ceiling and an impressive fireplace almost make you think you’re at a tasting at a chateau in Europe. Step outside onto the patio, and you will not want to leave. It’s there that you should spend the rest of your afternoon, sipping Domaine Serene’s flagship Pinot Noir, or perhaps trying the refreshing single-vineyard Chardonnay.
Photos courtesy of Domaine Serene Winery, Ponzi Vineyards and REXHILL