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

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For many exasperating years, grape growers and winemakers along a lightly traveled stretch of rural Willamette Valley highway called Oregon 47 watched longingly as a party commenced without them to the east.

McMinnvilleDundee and even once-dry Newberg were sipping, swirling and toasting their newfound success in burgeoning Oregon Wine Country. Meanwhile, wineries along Route 47 were waving arms, flagging down passing motorists, voices crying in the wine wilderness, “Hey, over here! We make good wine, too!”

So began the marketing effort called Sip 47, under the banner of “The Road Less Traveled”. From Forest Grove to Carlton, top-flight wineries are playing on their relative isolation. Their hope is to woo wine sippers away from the traffic snarls along Oregon Highway 99W.

Sip 47 is classic Sunday-drive material, appealing especially to Portlanders looking for an escape from their increasingly crowded roads. We’ll follow in their tracks as we begin casually in Forest Grove and build to a climax in Carlton. This once-sleepy ag town has earned a rarefied place alongside McMinnville, Dundee and Newberg as a north Willamette Valley wine destination.

Though it’s only 18 miles from Forest Grove to Carlton, we recommend not trying to squeeze all of our winery stops into one or two days. As always, pick and choose based on your interests.

Hitting the Road

To do Sip 47 up right, wake up to your Willamette Valley wine-touring day in Forest Grove at the 77-room McMenamin’s Grand Lodge. The restored Masonic Lodge and orphanage sits on lavish grounds and even serves up a ghost or two. For breakfast, you’ll find a wide range of people and menu choices at always-busy Maggie’s Buns. A jolt of Stumptown Coffee and a meaty dish called the Landfill will get you rolling, perhaps literally, out the door.

Wineries don’t open until 11 a.m., so work off breakfast with a walking tour of Forest Grove. The city boasts three historic districts featuring a whopping 268 registered homes. Speaking of history, Greg Lorenz of SakeOne was the original American sake master. He’s living proof that fermented rice wines aren’t limited to a ceramic urn served with your tepanaki. Make a note to return another day for a complimentary afternoon tour of the route’s Most Unique winery.

Now it’s time to find out what Sip 47 is all about, beginning with the Most Creative winery, Plum Hill Vineyards. Their passion for winemaking is evident in such knee-slapper labels as Marilyn Merlot, Cork Douglas and Oprah Winefrey.

The little community of Gaston is mostly a drive-by. But be sure to time your arrival for clam strips and fries or a deli sandwich from the $6 lunch menu at the One Horse Tavern. The outstanding food belies a gritty exterior (and interior).

Fame and opulence

Back on the road, the Best Known winery on Sip 47 – and perhaps in Oregon – is Elk Cove Vineyards. The caliber of views and tasting-room experience match the quality of wines found nationwide. Matching the countryside experience is our Most Opulent, WillaKenzie Estate, which has received more than one presidential seal of approval. WillaKenzie boasts an expansive tasting deck for appreciating wildlife-friendly vineyards.

Next up is Carlton, where a wine-fueled energy is palpable the moment you step from your car or rented limousine. On the north edge of town is Cana’s Feast, a Tuscan-style enoteca. There you’ll find the Most Options among Italian varietals with a distinctive Northwest flair.

On the outskirts of town, the passion for small production Willamette Valley wine is evident at Carlton Winemakers Studio. We give it Best Hipster Vibe and others call it “just plain cool”. At least three more wineries among Carlton’s plethora of offerings merit some attention: Ken Wright Cellars & Tasting Room for Best Aura, Barking Frog Winery for Most Inventive, and Folin Cellars for Most Soulful.

Ken Wright is perhaps the biggest contemporary name in Oregon Pinot noir. His wines were largely inaccessible to touring enthusiasts until recently. At Barking Frog, you’ll learn why Ron Helbig is known as “the rogue winemaker”. And at Folin Cellars, a friendly southern Oregon winery, you can address Pinot fatigue. They have a lineup from warmer climes, including deep, rich and sexy Syrah.

Lodging and dining

For dinner, any list of musts for restaurants in the north Willamette Valley’s wine country includes Cuvee. The French cuisine pairs perfectly with Pinot country. Classics such as cassoulet and coquilles St. Jacque are served in an unfussy and unpretentious Main Street setting.

When you’re ready to call it a night, two bed and breakfasts in the Willamette Valley are a natural fit for closing a day of Sip 47. Abbey Road Farm B&B is a European-style working farm with five lux  “silo suites” surrounded by vineyard, llamas, sheep, alpacas and laying hens. With equal rural appeal but a bit more refined, Brookside Inn, sits on 22 acres amid gardens, fir trees and its namesake creek.  Brookside is all about “catering to the wine and food lover’s soul”.

Explore another 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: Tasting Trails of McMinnville and Central Willamette Valley … Explore where the Oregon Pinot revolution began
Oregon Wine Country: Tasting Eugene and the South Willamette Valley … Opulent, eclectic, mom ‘n pop, exotic wineries in Oregon


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