Across the Willamette Valley the grapes have all been harvested, fermentation has begun in vats, young wine is aging in barrels, and the vines are resting in the frosty vineyards. The air is brisk, there may be fog or even a dusting of snow blanketing the gentle rolling hills.
Winemakers have their feet up by the fire, a swirl of Pinot in their glass, and they are dreaming of experimental small batch wines, new varietals, and tried and true award winners. "Cellar Season" —generally the quiet, slower time between late November and early March— is an idyllic time in wine country, especially for wine aficionados.
Here are seven reasons you should visit Oregon Wine Country this winter.
1. South Willamette Valley's Winter Beauty
In winter the Willamette Valley has a whole new look. You may be familiar with its fresh green of springtime or the valley's golden appeal of summer and fall — but winter also delights with its foggy vistas; the stark drama of empty fields, bare vines and leafless trees; and the cozy glow of lighted farm houses and rustic barns. Any oasis of warmth shines twice as bright and feels even more merry when its surroundings look bleak and chilly!
If blessed with a blanket of snow, the beauty of the winter landscape is striking — romantic even, with puffs of smoke from the farmhouse chimneys and the sweeping white sparkle across the land. But this is not an every year occurrence. Still, if you have the opportunity, a visit to the winter countryside is a chance to expand your visual enjoyment to all seasons.
2. Meet the Winemakers in the Tasting Rooms
Days are shorter, the darkness comes early and tasting room days and hours are more limited. Fewer people drive the country roads and stop in for a taste, but those that do often are treated to a more in-depth, personalized tasting experience. With summertime staffing over for the season, tasting room pours are frequently handled by vineyard workers, winemaker family members, or the winemaker personally. This is your opportunity to get to know intimately about the grapes, the wine and the production processes.
Bring all your questions, enjoy the biographical sketch and personality of those involved in the process, listen to insider opinions, discover the latest trends or the resurgence of traditional practices.
With winter’s slower pace, you might even stumble upon an impromptu special tasting of a small batch wine, a sampling of a young wine still developing or a tour of the facility.
3. Award-Winning Wine
Oregon's Pinot Noir has drawn international acclaim since the 70s when "Papa Pinot" —winemaker David Lett— introduced Eyrie Vineyard's first commercial Pinot. With the Willamette Valley's temperate climate and rich soil, this region enticed the influx of winemakers from California and even from Europe, eager to take a gamble in a new region.
Today, the wine growing region around Junction City has been designated the "Lower Long Tom AVA", and wine stories across the Eugene, Cascades & Coast region include generationally owned and operated estates, biodynamic and sustainable practices, a destination for sourcing quality rootstock, selected wines gracing the Presidential table at the White House and, of course, awards of all kinds! Follow the South Willamette Wine Trail along Territorial Highway and discover a plethora of top-notch wines — some shipped across the U.S. and others only available in small batches right here.
4. Build Your Cellar
Stock up on favorite bottles for your personal wine cellar. This is the time of year to replace wines consumed or gifted over the holidays and add new discoveries and varietals to your collection. With the increased opportunity to chat one-on-one with the winemakers, selected wines will come with meaningful stories and personal experiences that you can share with friends the next time you uncork a bottle.
Consider joining a wine club to meet other wine enthusiasts and swap favorites. As wine clubs vary from winery to winery, the benefits may include first access to new releases, volume discounts, exclusive access to limited batches, regular deliveries or VIP tours and events. If you’re flying into the region, here’s a deal: You can check one case of wine from participating wineries for free when flying on Alaska Airlines out of the Eugene Airport.
5. Farm-to-Fork Food Pairing
Alongside the vineyards are local farms, dairies, ranches, artisan markets and forests. Local chefs select fresh produce, grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken, river-caught trout, seafood from the coast, foraged mushrooms, preserves, milled grains and more to create delectable dishes that pair perfectly with the local wines. Many tasting rooms offer cheese and charcuterie platters, some have in-house menus and others have food trucks parked on-site. But even if accompanying food is not offered at the winery, you can pack a picnic put together at a farmer's market or a local deli. Some excellent sources for your picnic basket shopping include Provisions Market, Creswell Bakery, Camas Country Mill, Longs Meat Market, Our Daily Bread, Sundance and the Kiva.
Always inquire about a wineries specific food options before heading out.
6. Easy Driving Distance & Personalized Wine Tours
Most of the wineries are within 30 minutes of downtown Eugene, but as you wander the byways you'll cover a lot of miles. Between the wineries are small towns, historic covered bridges, granges and seasonal markets. One of the easiest ways to tour the nearby wine country is with a driver. Hiring a limousine or booking a tour ensures that you can enjoy wine tasting safely, learn more about the region from a knowledgable local, and sometimes get introductions or inside access to places that might have otherwise been closed. There are a number of excellent tour packages offered — some groups and some private and most customizable.
7. Nearby Overnight Lodging
In Oregon wine country there are vacation rentals in the smaller towns and communities, or you can stay in the heart of downtown Eugene and still be a short drive out to the wineries. Choose comfortable accommodations and make a weekend out of your wine adventure!