Wine Country Itinerary: Willamette South Valley

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ribbonRidge.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Visitors to Oregon's wonderfully Pinot-centric Willamette Valley will do well to split their tasting excursion into at least two days, as the area's wide open spaces create not only lovely panoramic views but also drives of some distance between wineries. Thus, this itinerary starts in the centrally situated Dundee Hills and meanders from there to the nearby towns of Carlton and McMinnville. Along the way, you'll visit one of the region's best-known (not to mention physically striking) wineries in Domaine Drouhin Oregon, a start-up venture in Scott Paul Wines and the birthplace of Willamette wine in The Eyrie Vineyards. In all, it's a fabulously diverse lineup where Oregon winemaking is concerned - and one just waiting for you to savor.

For more on wineries further north, check out our North Valley itinerary.
Stop 1: Domaine Drouhin Oregon aka "DDO"
Though not the first winery of note in the Willamette, Domaine Drouhin Oregon is surely notable for other reasons: among them, its roots in Burgundy (DDO is owned by the 100+ year-old French house, Maison Joseph Drouhin, its spectacular view from the Dundee Hills out over the Willamette Valley and its sprawling tasting room and reception area reminiscent of something you'd find in Napa. Along with the view, plan on relishing your tastes of the spot's world-class Chardonnays and Pinots; to wit, the 2005 Laurène Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir ($65) - teeming with dark fruit, spice, bergamot, toast and mineral and boasting stellar length - is one of the finest red wines I've sipped in a while.

Tasting Room: 6750 Breyman Orchards Road, Dayton, OR 97114. Open Wed-Sun 11am-4pm  (tel) (503) 864-2700
Tasting Fee: $10
Watch Video of Me Outside DDO

Lunch: Cielo Blu
Drop into local haunt Cielo Blu in charming downtown Carlton for Italian-themed fare before moving on to Scott Paul Wines, just blocks away.
119 West Main Street, Carlton, OR 97111. Open Tues-Thurs, Sun 12pm-8pm, Fri-Sat 12pm-9pm (tel) (503) 852-6200

Stop 2: Scott Paul Wines
Founded as recently as 1999, Scott Paul Wines is operated out of two elegantly repurposed buildings in historic downtown Carlton, population 1,755. The tasting room - housed in a converted creamery that dates to 1915 - boasts design-forward elements like an eye-popping multi-hued ceiling (made of reclaimed siding from the spot's nearby winery - previously a granary) and salvaged railway ties that support the bar. But it's the wines that really demand your focus at Scott Paul. And while the 2006 La Paulée Willamette Valley Pinot ($30) offers plenty to like in its ripe, almost California-like structure, it's the extremely limited 2007 Audrey Pinot ($65) - made from biodynamically farmed vines in one of Oregon's oldest vineyards - that truly makes the visit worthwhile. Bonus: Proprietor Scott Wright also owns Burgundy import business Scott Paul Selections, which means tasters get to sample wines from both sides of the pond under the same (reclaimed) roof.

Tasting Room: 128 South Pine Street, Carlton, OR 97111. Open Jan-Feb Sat ONLY 1pm-5pm; Mar-Dec Fri-Sat 1pm-5pm (tel) (503) 852-7300
Tasting Fee: $5
Watch My Video of Scott at Scott Paul Wines

vineyardeyrie.jpgStop 3: The Eyrie Vineyards
The Eyrie Vineyards makes a fitting final stop for a regional tour, since its founder, David Lett, is known as the grandfather of Willamette winemaking. Having planted the first cuttings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the valley in 1965, Lett's Pinots later triumphed at French tastings in the 70s - effectively putting Willamette winemaking on the map. Today the legendary brand is helmed by affable second generation winemaker Jason Lett, who coaxes creamy, critically acclaimed Pinot Gris and nuanced, hauntingly layered Pinot Noir from his rustic winery in residential McMinnville. And though the Letts just recently got rid of the shag carpeting in the tasting room (true story), tasting here still feels like sipping in a comfy retro living room - albeit along with wines that are anything but quotidian.

Tasting Room: 935 NE 10th Avenue, McMinnville, OR 97128. Open Wed-Sun 12pm-5pm (tel) (503) 472-6315
Tasting Fee: $5
Watch a Video of Jason Lett at The Eyrie Vineyards


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