Ultimate Guide to Oregon Wine Country

By: Alia Hoyt

Oregon's world-class vineyards produce many respected and award-winning wines.
Oregon's world-class vineyards produce many respected and award-winning wines.
Russell Illig/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Everyone's heard of major wine locales like Napa Valley, Tuscany and the Bordeaux region of France. Many wine aficionados, however, have found Oregon's thriving yet quiet wine country to be the hidden gem of America's Pacific Northwest. It's easy to become overwhelmed when planning a venture to the state, as it's home to four major wine regions: Willamette Valley, Eastern Oregon, Southern Oregon and Columbia Gorge, which spreads into Washington state.

Oregon's wine industry began in 1852, when the state's first winery was established in the city of Jacksonville, located in Southern Oregon. The Columbia Gorge area hopped on board in 1880, and Eastern Oregon followed suit in the early 1900s when settlers planted zinfandel vines that still actively produce. Willamette Valley joined the party in the 1960s when California farmers decided to take a chance on the area's cool, gentle climate during the growing season to produce grapes for wines including pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay and riesling. To date, the state boasts more than 300 wineries, 72 varieties of grapes and the fourth largest production volume in the country.

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Next, learn how to actually sample some of the mouthwatering offerings of Oregon's best vineyards and wineries.

Oregon Wine Tours

Touring the vineyards of Oregon is a prime opportunity to not only sample top-tier wines, but also to enjoy the picturesque and diverse landscapes unique to the region. Beaches, mountain ranges, canyons and impossibly green prairies can all be found within the state's wine countries.

Visitors can choose between solo or guided tours, but many wine enthusiasts swear by the value of group excursions. The best tour leaders provide interesting facts and behind-the-scenes info that would otherwise be difficult to learn. You'll have multiple companies to choose from for guided group tours, but make plans (and reservations, if possible) in advance. Tours book up quickly during the peak season, and it always pays to do a bit of research before you hop on board.

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Before choosing a tour, you should know:

  • What Kind of Vehicle You'll Be Traveling In: Tour rides range from limousines to older compacts, so choose carefully.
  • If Tasting Fees Are Covered: If the tour price excludes tasting fees, you'll pay an additional charge to sample each winery's wares, which can be quite pricy on outings with multiple stops. Unfortunately, pay-to-taste tours are becoming the norm.
  • The Length of the Tour: An experienced tour guide can take a group through multiple wineries over several hours, so make sure you know how long you'll be gone before departing and whether lunch will be provided.
  • What the Guide is Drinking: Which should be nothing alcoholic, since he'll be the one driving.

No matter which region you choose to visit, you're sure to enjoy your stay, especially if you plan your trip around some of the state's memorable wine festivals, which we'll cover on the next page.

Oregon Wine Festivals

You're sure to have a great time at one of Oregon's many wine festivals!
You're sure to have a great time at one of Oregon's many wine festivals!
George Doyle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

Good food, music and even a road race can make a nice glass of wine taste even better. Oregon is home to dozens of wine festivals of all sizes and types, so check out the following sampling of the state's good-time offerings:

  • Oregon Wine Country Half Marathon: Held in the Willamette Valley region, runners proceed through breathtaking wine country and cross the finish line in the town of Carlton, where they're greeted by the Wine and Music Festival.
  • Grape-stomping Festival at St. Josef's Winery: Why go to the beach for the feeling of sand between your toes when you can head to St. Josef's to mush grapes with your feet? This annual event is topped off with authentic German cuisine and live music.
  • Labor Day Weekend Party at Cubanisimo Vineyards: Get ready for a Cuban party, Oregon-style! The label's delicious pinot noir is complemented by salsa dancing complete with lessons, Cuban tapas and live music.
  • Best of Oregon Food and Wine Festival: If you can only make it to a single wine-focused festival in Oregon, you can't go wrong choosing one with the word "best" in the title. More than 100 premium wines from dozens of wineries are available, which can be sampled alongside local culinary options, from pizza to oysters to cupcakes.

Regardless if you come for the festivals, the tours or even just the vino, you're sure to enjoy your time in Oregon. The state might not yet be the first place you think of when you consider American wine countries, but after you visit, it'll be the last place you'll forget.

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More Great Links

  • 3rd Annual Best of Oregon Food & Wine Festival. "Homepage." 2011.(July 23, 2011)http://www.bestoforegonfoodandwine.com/index.php
  • Cubanisimo Vineyards. "Upcoming Events." 2011. (July 12, 2011) http://www.cubanisimovineyards.com/index.php/upcoming-events/
  • Oregon Wine. "Discover Oregon Wine." 2011. (July 12, 2011). http://www.oregonwine.org/Home/
  • Oregon Wine Tours. "Tour Information." 2011. (July 12, 2011). http://www.orwinetours.com/tourinfo.htm
  • Oregon Wine Tour Guides. "Questions." (July 23, 2011)http://oregonwinetourguides.com/questions/
  • Run 4 Oregon Wine. "Oregon Wine Country Half Marathon." 2010.(July 12, 2011)http://www.run4oregonwine.com/
  • St. Josef's Winery. "30th Annual St. Josef's Grapestomping Festival." 2010. (July 12, 2011)http://www.stjosefswinery.com/events-tastings
  • Wines Northwest. "Oregon Wineries, Wines and Wine Country." 2011.(July 12, 2011)http://www.winesnw.com/orhome.html