Wine tasting isn’t just for weekends. Several wineries throughout Oregon’s Washington County–located in the northern end of the famed Willamette Valley–are open daily, year-round. On a beautiful autumn weekday, a wine blogger and I set out to experience wine country, and found some surprises along the way.
We started out quite early and arrived at our first stop, Elk Cove Vineyards, at 10:30 a.m. Elk Cove has been family owned and operated since 1977, and today, the second generation is running the winery, and earning applause with its Pinot Noir and other varietals. Our tasting flight included Elk Cove’s highly-rated Pinot Noir, and a selection of whites, such as a late-harvest Riesling. The crisp wines complemented the views of the fog-filled vineyard, which was lit up with the colors of fall: Brilliant yellow, golden orange, deep rust and dark green. (Elk Cove Vineyards is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed some holidays)
Miki's Christmas Shop has the 2nd largest collection of German Smokers (incense burners) for sale in the U.S.
After lunching at 1910 Main — An American Bistro– a cozy restaurant offering modern twists on American comfort foods–we set off for Shafer Vineyard Cellars (established in 1978) and home to Miki’s Christmas Shop. We took in the breathtaking views of the foothills of Gales Creek Valley, as well as the vineyard, which was ablaze with yellow grape leaves, before entering the quaint tasting room. We were greeted by Miki Shafer, the owner and winemaker, who poured us tastes of her Pinot Noir, Riesling, and special holiday wine, the aptly named Holiday Magic (which, when combined with Shafer’s sparkling wine, makes a spicy, festive drink). Between sips, we ventured into the Christmas Shop, and perused the holiday decor from around the world, including what is the second largest collection of German Smokers in the U.S. (pictured, right). (Shafer Vineyard Cellars is open daily, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed on major holidays*)
The next stop was the quaint farmhouse tasting room at David Hill Vineyards & Winery, which boasts some of the oldest vines in the Willamette Valley. With sweeping views of Oregon’s Coast Range, David Hill remains one of the most picturesque wineries in the Willamette Valley, as well as one with one of the most diverse selection of varietals found in the northern valley. In addition to Pinot Noir (including the palate-pleasing BlackJack Pinot Noir, crafted with grapes from the estate’s oldest vines) and slate of whites, such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling, David Hill offers Merlot, Tempranillo, Port and more. (David Hill Vineyards & Winery is open daily, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed on major holidays)
Visit the "wild west" at the L-Bar-T Bison Ranch Gift Shop
With a little time to kill, we journeyed to the gift shop at L-Bar-T Bison Ranch to pick up some bison jerky. We were entertained with the signs warning passersby not to “tease” the wild bison that roam the fenced-off ranch in Forest Grove. As one of the most acclaimed ranches of its kind, it has an old, wild west feel to it, as does its gift shop (pictured, left).
Our final winery stop for the day was Oak Knoll Winery, one of the pioneering wineries in Oregon. Founded in 1970, Oak Knoll started with an “experimental” batch of blackberry wine; today, Oak Knoll produces a diverse variety of wines that appeal to all palates. I started with the 2009 Pinot Gris, which was named one of the “Top 100 Best Buys of 2012″ by Wine Spectator, and followed with the 2010 Rose of Pinot Noir. Oak Knoll’s tasting menu offers an interesting slate of blends and sweet reds not often seen in the northern Willamette Valley: “Toasted Cow Red Vintners Blend,” a blend of Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah; “Toasted Cow White Vintners Blend,” a sweet blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Müller Thurgau, Gewürztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris; “DEVIANT,” a sweet red billed as a “sweet red revolution”; and “Concord”, made from Concord grapes. (Oak Knoll Winery is open daily at 11 a.m.; closed on major holidays).
If you can’t make it to Washington County wine country during the weekend, plan a weekday to enjoy the warm and these warm and inviting wineries. Additional wineries that are open daily year-round include:
- Cooper Mountain Vineyards, the first certified organic, biodynamic winery in the Pacific Northwest (open daily, 12-5 p.m.)
- Kramer Vineyards, a winery that offers a variety of red and white wines, as well as on-site roasted coffee (open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
- Montinore Estate, a family-owned, certified organic and biodynamic winery (open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
- Plum Hill Vineyards, a small, family-owned winery built on a historical dairy farm (open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; opens at noon on Sundays; closed major holidays)
- Ponzi Vineyards, one of the pioneering Oregon wineries offering a diverse range of varietals (open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
- SakéOne, an American owned and operated, premium saké brewery (open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
*Most wineries are closed on the following major holidays: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Easter.