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Willamette Valley Oregon: three must-see wineries

A montage of scenic farms and vineyards distinguish Oregon's beautiful Willamette Valley. This fertile stretch, with the Cascade Range located to the east and the Oregon Coast Range located to the west, is ideal for crops, orchards and grapes. In fact, the warm days, cool evenings and wetter climate make a perfect environment to grow Pinot Noir grapes. With optimal growing conditions and exceptional vintners, Oregon wineries produce some of the best, award-winning Pinot Noir in the world.

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Five decades ago, there were a handful of determined vintners who planted vines in the Willamette Valley even though popular opinion was it would never work. However, from those groundbreaking individuals, there are now over 715 wineries located within this splendid 150-mile-long valley that draw wine enthusiasts from across the globe. Moreover, with the incredible bucolic scenery and quiet, backcountry roads, wine tours are extremely popular and range from state-of-the-art and rustic tasting rooms to vineyards with marvelous accommodations and event venues.

Red Ridge Farms

Home to Oregon Olive Mill and Durant Vineyards in Dayton, Red Ridge Farms is a picturesque short drive from Salem; about 25-minutes on Hwy. 221. Ken and Penny Durant originally began by purchasing six-acres in the Dundee Hills and they were some of the early pioneers of growing grapes in '73. Later, the Durants planted some 13,000 olive trees that thrived as well. Today, the Durants and their family (five-generations) evolved their vineyards and olive orchards to produce exceptional extra virgin, cold pressed olive oils and single estate block wines. Further, the six acres has grown to encompass 120-acres that feature venues, gardens, olive orchards and vineyards.

The largest appeal of Red Ridge Farms is that it is a destination in itself and offers so many special experiences and events. You can drop by the olive mill to watch the production; browse the gift shop with enticing, locally produced products; check out the estate's accommodations with the fabulous, Stony Crest Cottage and the Red Ridge Guest Suite; sign up for the fun and varied classes, tours and workshops; or peruse Penny Durant's excellent nursery and take home a lavender plant or two.

The Durant Vineyards tasting room, located on an ideal hillside, offers incredible, sweeping views across the valley. On a warm day, grab a table outside with a sun umbrella and order a picnic platter; it's the perfect local to nosh on cheese and salami delicacies, while enjoying an estate wine and the gorgeous view. Suggestions for Pinot Noir -- try the Durant Vineyards ruby red, tart berry-flavored and delightfully spicy, 2014 La Paloma Pinot Noir.

The Durants have created an oasis of beauty and tranquility around their extensive farm with breath-taking and fragrant gardens, meadows vineyards and orchards. It's a pleasure just to stroll around, relax and enjoy the moment.

Keeler Estate Vineyard

Keeler Estate Vineyard, located in Amity, represents a wonderfully balanced eco-system with their family-owned, certified Bio-dynamic vineyard and winery. This 200-acre, family and dog-friendly winery offers a causal atmosphere and is great to visit year-round with a bevy of fantastic events (check out the German Thanksgiving and Old fashioned Christmas dinner events). However, in the warmer seasons, guests can enjoy open-air tastings, while relaxing in Adirondack chairs and marvel at the expansive Willamette Valley views. Or, take the estate's fascinating Vineyard Adventure Tour that includes six different wine tastings and a tour of the estate on a covered and comfortable all-wheel drive RTVS. The tour is good fun and drives through the scenic, multi-terraced vineyards, past the Keeler's meadow of bee hives, vegetable and fruit tree gardens; and then stops for guests to try a few varieties of luscious table grapes when in season. Moreover, if you visit, you can even take advantage of using the picnic areas or go for a trek on their hiking trails.

Craig and Gabriele Keeler originally bought the land in '89, and planted the first Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir vines in 2007 with the first vintages released in 2011. And, even though they are a relatively new winery in the valley, the Keeler's laudable dedication to a holistic approach on winemaking and caring for the land, is reflected in the sublime wines they produce. Suggestions to try: the 2015 Pinot Noir; fruity, spicy, earthy and bright on the palate with a smooth finish. A delightful option for summer, the 2016 Rose of Pinot Noir -- Spirited, light and refreshing.

Left Coast Cellars

Located in Rickreall, Left Coast Cellars should not be missed. With an exquisite and inviting pastoral setting, the estate is a perfect and relaxed haven for wine tasting. This impressive family-owned winery spans 490-acres with 146-acreas under vine and takes the sustainability of the land seriously with a Live Certified and a Salmon Safe designation. In addition, the estate is 90 percent solar-powered as well.

Founded in 2003 by Bob and Suzanne Pfaff, the original plot they purchased was just 35-acres. The Pfaff's could see the potential of the land with its cascading sweeping views, maintained 400 year-old oaks and a lake with wild herons, a wide variety of birds and water fowl. Today, the Pfaffs, with their three adult children, have produced some splendid wines from their vineyards with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and surprisingly, an excellent Rotie Syrah Noir, as well as three additional varitels and a hard cider. Suggestions: If you're a sparkling wine enthusiast, Left Coast's Queen Bee Bubbly is a splendid, 100 percent Pinot Noir with the estate's hive honey that feeds the yeast. The bubbly is definitely fruity but with subtle honey notes on the palate. For the estate's Pinot Noir, try Cali's Cuvee Pinot Noir with dark fruit, floral and spicy notes that is lovely and smooth for a perfect food pairing.

Year-round Left Coast Cellars is great to visit but in the warmer seasons, guests can hike or stroll the property, take vineyard and winery tours and visit the tasting room. If you wish to sip wine and enjoy a picnic under a stellar canopy of old oaks, you can order a variety of fresh menu items and Charcuterie platters during the week and delicious wood-fired pizza on the weekends. The estate offers numerous, cool events throughout the year, such as the Memorial Weekend Sip & stroll, so be sure to check their schedule for dates and times.

If You Go

There are wonderful accommodations located in the Willamette Valley and accommodations offered at numerous wineries; however, Salem's Grand Hotel is a lovely and classic establishment that is centrally located in downtown and close to all of the city's excellent restaurants and many of the area's wineries. The rooms are comfy but not fussy and the atmosphere chic but relaxed.

For essential restaurants in Salem try Table Five 08, named after its street address. It features a modern vibe and serves a large selection of menu fare and savory mains, such as Havarti and Gouda, bacon green onion and sriracha. Macaroni and cheese that is sensational.

If you prefer intimate dining and wish the ultimate in a chef-owned restaurant and prepared cuisine, Rafn's is the ultimate in fresh, organic and inspired dishes. From a gorgeous Mushroom Risotto to the tender and succulent Mck ranch Shoulder of Beef that is 100% grass-fed, Rafn's doesn't disappoint. Make sure to make reservations, as the restaurant is extremely popular.

The vineyards and tasting rooms in the north begin just outside of Portland, in Sherwood with the popular Ponzi Vineyards, a founding Oregon winery. To the south, the wineries and vineyards are located as far as Cottage Grove with the stunning, woodland-surrounded Iris Vineyards. For a perfect central location to tour the Willamette Valley wineries, orchards, sites and attractions, start in Salem, the state's capital. From this inviting but small city, you're afforded easy drives that meander through some of the loveliest countryside. The pace is unhurried and even during summer season there isn't a lot of traffic on these roads. In addition, if you're not traveling in your car, you'll need a rental car to tour the valley, as ride shares are just starting to get a foot-hold in the vicinity. For additional information on the Willamette Valley wineries and Salem, visit TravelSalem.com

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Patrice RapleePatrice Raplee is an accomplished travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site Offbeat Travel and is a regular correspondent for award-winning travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in national magazines and newspapers such as Alaska Airlines in-flight magazine, Beyond and the Seattle Times. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.

Published April 23, 2018



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