By M.L. Hilton
(OREGON) — Any trip to Oregon is like a homecoming to me. I spent my high-school and early college years there and if I didn’t have such a penchant for misadventure, it is likely that I would have stayed. Oregon called me.
Lava fields; volcanoes; rivers to raft, swim and fish in; mountains to hike and snowboard; verdant valleys that grow everything (the very smell of fertile); and deserts to explore; any step across its borders has me raising my face to the prevailing wind, wrinkling my nose, and wondering which direction leads to the newest exploit.
If you have time to give yourself over to an exploration of the Oregon wine industry, you will find (as I have) inviting places to perch, taste, sip, sleep, and converse. It is likely that you will go home with new friends, and if you are like a number of Oregonians, you may return to stay.
While the storied Willamette Valley has the strongest concentration of wineries and, until recently probably the most press, you may want to consider starting at the southern border. Here you will find gems of interesting winemakers (many self-taught – which means they are not just sharing their passion with you, but frequently any retirement that they may have saved up).
If you cross the border between Oregon and California on I-5, a stop at Weisinger’s Winery is a must. I had a breakfast winetasting there mid-September. Though it was probably a figment of my imagination, I was certain the flavors I was tasting were enhanced by the amazing morning outside the dual patio doors: sprays of flowers and vines clung to the banister, fragrant breezes and pastoral views washed over the guests and amidst the chatter of people, birds, bees, and insects could also be heard. Wine really is about the experience. Though I have my favorites, tried and true, that live in my cupboard there are other bottles and with them come stories, and memories.
After visiting John (the founder) and winemaker son Eric you have a couple of choices to make: meander over to Medford, or continue up the Applegate Valley and into the Rogue. Either way pick up a map, signage is dreadfully sparse and not like California where almost every winery, or wine region, off the highway is trumpeted.
Oregon, as they say, is about individualists – one grape grower plays loud tapes of Rush Limbaugh to keep the bears away from the berries. But now, many of the family-owned pioneer wineries are rolling into the hands of the second generation. The handsome young sons are definitely worth a winemaker fantasy if you would like to have one. But the other benefit is that process, education, and cohesiveness of the industry is ever-increasing.
So no matter what experience you would like to have: a trip down memory lane, new memories to make, or new adventures to share, in my experience a trip to Oregon wine country is sure to take you there.