Oregon Wine Country: Tasting Trails of McMinnville and Central Willamette Valley

Photo by John Baker

Explore where the Oregon Pinot revolution began

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No Oregon community embodies the Oregon Wine Country renaissance more than McMinnville. 

McMinnville once was an eccentric agricultural hub known for walnuts, turkey races and a UFO festival. Now the town of 32,000 has embraced the wine revolution. The city offers an appealing array of restaurants, music and art to pair with its special vibe.

Wineries and related businesses have taken over, renovated and refurbished old agriculture warehouses in the granary district. International Pinot Noir Celebration took place in “Mac” in 1987. That was a mere 17 years after David Lett converted a turkey-processing plant into the town’s first winery, Eyrie. And, there’s always something wine-related happening on McMinnville’s leafy thoroughfares, including the “Who’s On Third” festival downtown.

The Oregon Wine Country wineries in and around McMinnville offer a distinct opportunity to comparison-taste with the “three amigos” of Pinots: noir, gris and blanc. The vineyards south of town undulate in a relatively warm rain shadow and rise from shallower soils. So the profiles on all three wines vary from adjacent growing areas such as Dundee, Amity and the Eola Hills.

Touring in Oregon Wine Country can be like solving a puzzle. Roads twist and turn. Some wineries are so far off the beaten path even GPS waves a proverbial white flag. Traffic can be slow, but you didn’t come to wine country to be in a hurry, did you?

To that end, we have clumped McMinnville and central Willamette Valley wineries into a suggested touring
order. It’s up to you to choose your stops based on your own persona and palate.


To get your day started in Oregon Wine Country, rise early to avoid the ubiquitous lines at the cozy and charming Crescent Café, a fave of locals and visitors for locally sourced pork, eggs and produce. For college-sized portions, the Wild Wood Café and its vintage chotzky reels in customers from Linfield University and elsewhere. You will probably have to wait here, too, but the granola-rolled French toast and Wildwood toast are worth it.

Begin in town at the winery with the Most OptionsWalnut City WineWorks, where John Davidson and John Gilpin run a consortium highlighting their own work plus the wines of four to six boutique producers who don’t have facilities of their own.

We suggest saving our four other recommended in-town wineries for later in the afternoon and head for the hills southeast of McMinnville. If you’re determined to hit them all, you will want to break your touring into two or three days.


In Oregon Wine Country’s countryside, cafes and convenience stores are scarce. So for midday nourishment grab a sandwich to go on fresh-baked bread, soup or locally sourced organic salad from Red Fox Bakery. Or diversify with snacks and supplies from Harvest Fresh Grocery & Deli. Because of the ambiance, the rural wineries are a wonderful place to picnic while you sip.


About six miles southeast of town is our Most Opulent winery, Youngberg Hill Vineyards & Inn. Youngberg rests atop a knoll with views that refuse to quit. A complex series of twists and turns on pastoral roads leads to a mile-long gravel drive to the Most CongenialCoeur de Terre Vineyard. You’ll feel off the grid, but the Neal family and their wine dogs will make you feel right at home.

About three miles south is Maysara Winery, our choice for Best Ambiance. The Momtazi family dedicates their efforts to holistic and eco-friendly farming. About half of their 532 acres is in wildlife habitat, including a natural spring with native trout. About two miles east toward Highway 18 is the oldest and Most Down to Earth winery in the McMinnville AVA. At Yamhill Valley Vineyards you’ll get a close-up look at the wine-making process.

Across the valley another seven miles to the east is a rural winery with the Best Venue. Methven Family Vineyards estate is a luxury villa with wonderful views and activities rare for a winery. Included are swimming, basketball and racquetball.

Back in town, get a blast from the past at The Eyrie Vineyards tasting room, the Most Historic in the McMinnville AVA. This is where the Oregon Pinot story started. Further your Best Education in the science of Pinot production by making an appointment to visit Westrey Wine Company. Their tasting room isn’t open to the public, but trust us: they’ll be happy you called if they aren’t too busy in the vineyard.


Now that you’ve experienced the serious side of wine making in Oregon Wine Country, how about a little eccentricity? Remy Drabkin of Remy Wines is our choice for Best Hipster Vibe. That’s because the one-woman dynamo was for years the only Oregon winemaker to produce the Italian red Lagrein. Speaking of characters, Patrick Reuter runs the Most Expressive tasting room in the granary district at Dominio IV. Nicknamed “mad man” when he worked in Carlton, Reuter says bunches about the biodynamic grapes he grows in the Columbia Gorge.

McMinnville’s most iconic restaurant parallels the town’s wine renaissance. Back in the day, Nick’s Italian Cafe was the lone beacon of light downtown. Today, Nick’s is busier than ever serving wine-centric four-course Italian/Northwest fusion meals. Dine out front or go with lighter fare such as wood-fired pizza in the back room.

Chet and Kathy Stoller use farmers-market ingredients for caliente and fria Spanish tapas at La Rambla Restaurant & Bar. Choose from 350 Oregon wines by the bottle to complement your meal in downtown McMinnville’s oldest brick building. Bistro Maisson is a French bistro perfectly paired in Burgundy country for its authentic cuisine and “Orgundian” Pinot noirs. Like a relaxed atmosphere? Try the Pura Vida Cocina & Arte downtown café. The menu changes seasonally and much of the food is locally sourced.

Pillow talk: Where to stay in McMinnville, in Oregon Wine Country

The century-old Hotel Oregon is a downtown anchor and one of the region’s McMenamin’s trendy recovery projects. It’s a restored four-story brick building with 42 European-style guest rooms and a lively rooftop bar. Magnificent summer views of the Yamhill River Valley are a highlight. Wine country and B&Bs seem a perfect pairing, and best exemplifying this is A’Tuscan Estate B&B. The three lavishly decorated rooms mix a little French and American décor with Italy. The urban-trendy 3rd Street Flats in two downtown locations offer 11 flats for two, four and six guests.

Speaking of trendy, The Vintages trailer resort is all the rage for overnight stays between McMinnville and Dundee. Airstreams, Canned Hams and cuter-than-cute restored trailers from the 1940s and ‘50s greet tourists looking for beyond ordinary. For those on a budget and preferring the traditional, try the Red Lion Inn & Suites. Although a bit of a hike from downtown, it provides comfort with a pool, spa, fitness center and continental breakfast.

Explore an Oregon Wine Country Itinerary

Oregon Wine Country: Columbia Gorge … Experience ‘A World of Wine in 40 miles’ your way in Oregon, from Albarino to Zinfandel
Oregon Wine Country: Sipping the Willamette Valley’s Route 47 … Fine wine and scenery on “The Road Less Traveled” in Oregon, perfect for a Sunday drive
Oregon Wine Country: Tasting Trails of McMinnville and Central Willamette Valley … Explore where the Oregon Pinot revolution began

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