When people think of Oregon wine tasting, they generally think of the beautiful rolling hills of Willamette Valley, or the vibrant urban winery scene in Portland. But if you take the time to expand your horizons, there are many equally beautiful and worthwhile places to visit around the state.
Eugene, Oregon’s second-largest city, is a wonderful place to visit. Drive just two hours south of Portland, and you’ll experience Eugene’s great hotels, excellent restaurants, and a rich combination of both urban and off-the-beaten-path wineries in the hills surrounding the town.
When you’re ready to check out this politically active, football-obsessed, up-and-coming foodie city, here are some suggestions for your trip.
A host of mid-range hotels cater to students and families visiting the University of Oregon. But in the last five years, there has been an uptick in visitors looking for a higher end experience, and the Inn at the 5th is just the place. Centrally located, this upscale boutique hotel has a variety of accommodations and is surrounded by the Fifth Street Public Market where guests can shop, dine, and relax.
Eugene definitely has a burgeoning foodie scene and whether you’re looking for good brew pubs and pizza or innovative upscale dining, you’ll find it. Check out Belly Restaurant which serves a creative but affordable combination of American and European farmhouse cuisine with a Southern soul twist. If you’re staying at the Inn at the 5th, look no further than Marché, a Parisian-style café in the Fifth Street Market. And if it’s seafood you’re craving, a short drive across town will take you to Fisherman’s Market, where you can get local fish right off the boat grilled, fried, or cooked however you like it.
Whenever I’m looking for new selections for the Cellar 503 wine club, I start with Eugene’s active urban winery scene. The Eugene Urban Wine Circuit has six wineries in Eugene’s urban core. The Oregon Wine LAB features wines by multiple small producers and is a production facility for William Rose Wines. It holds weekly events and food carts park outside. Another favorite is J. Scott Cellars, whose astonishing range of excellent wines and fun weekend music make it a great place to visit with friends.
If you’re ready to move outside the city and see some gorgeous scenery, you won’t have to go far. There are close to a dozen wineries within an hour of Eugene. From big, grand chateaus to small, intimate houses, you’ll get a great glimpse into the range of wines made in the middle of the state. These wineries feature their own take on the Willamette Valley’s classic Pinot Noir, but they are also making darker, heavier reds and light, fruity whites.
Start at Iris Vineyards. This hidden gem will astonish you with stunning views. Once you trek over the river and through the woods to their gorgeous tasting room, you’ll overlook the entire valley. Here you’ll get a good sense of the style of Pinot Noir grown in the middle of the state, but don’t overlook the hearty reds and keep an eye out for a sparkling wine coming soon!
Move on to the smaller and more intimate Sarver Winery with an equally breathtaking view of the valley from its expansive deck. It’s worth sticking around to enjoy the food pairings, especially with the unusual Arneis and luscious red blend, Melange.
And if you’re looking for something fun and out of the ordinary, check out Chateau Lorane. This expansive resort was once home to a corporate retreat center and is now the scene for many summer weddings. The extensive tasting list shows off the winemaker’s talent for seeking out highly unusual grapes.
The Eugene area is a wonderful place to explore the breadth and depth of Oregon wines and to experience the best of both urban and rural wineries.
Carrie Wynkoop is the owner and creator of Cellar 503. She loves Oregon, she loves wine, and she loves discovering and sharing new bottles and flavors. Like many wine lovers, Carrie found herself joining a variety of wine clubs to experience new tastes. But none offered an Oregon-specific experience. Knowing the bounty Oregon has to offer, Carrie created Cellar 503 to share Oregon with wine enthusiasts across America. With Cellar 503, Carrie focuses on highlighting the hidden gems in every corner of Oregon, from tiny vineyards tucked around the corner of a country road, to urban wineries often housed in collaborative spaces. Cellar 503 is about celebrating and sharing the extraordinary range of Oregon wine and the diverse talents of Oregon winemakers. Carrie is also a storyteller. Cellar 503 members appreciate the stories of the winemakers and grape growers that arrive with each monthly selection. Carrie believes the magic of Oregon wine lies in the land, climate, grapes and people who pour their hearts and souls into their creations.