This guide to Oregon wineries focuses on tasting rooms open to the public, so you can plan your wine country tour accordingly. You’ll find information on the various wine regions in Oregon, which also have individual links to pages listing the wineries, locations of the tasting rooms, hours open and any special features such as a picnic area or gift shop.
Oregon has a multitude of wineries producing small lots of premium, handcrafted wines, as opposed to large corporate wineries with a huge output of low end wine for mass consumption. Even so, the amount of Oregon wineries is second only to California within the United States.
Oregon’s still growing wine reputation has been based on it’s superb Pinot Noir. The cool, wet climate and long summer days tend to be conducive to growing this temperamental grape. Most of the Oregon wines produced are Pinot Noir, with the next largest output being Pinot Gris, which is similar to Italy’s Pinot Grigio.
Oregon has several wine tasting regions, including the Willamette Valley, the Colombia Gorge, the Umpqua Valley and the Rogue Valley. The Willamette Valley is by far the most popular with the highest concentration of wineries, mainly in the northern section, often referred to as the North Willamette Valley.
Wine Tasting at Oregon Wineries
If you’re used to wine tasting in California, be aware that many Oregon wineries are not open year round. As you’ll see in the listings, this varies widely. Some are open only in summer, others are open in summer and spring, and still others include the fall.
Several wineries are open only on major holidays such as Memorial Day Weekend and Thanksgiving Weekend, while others are closed on major holidays. The listings give opening hours and general opening months, but if you are wine tasting during a holiday, it’s a good idea to call and double-check if the winery is going to be open.
In any case, the best time to visit Oregon wineries is in summer. Spring is less crowded, but tends to be rainy. The vineyards are lovely in fall, but since the wineries are so busy with the harvest, they may be closed or unable to give you as much attention.
Another thing which differs Oregon wine tasting from it’s neighboring state to the south is that tasting fees are less common. This seems to be changing though, as Oregon wine touring grows more popular. If there is a fee, it’s usually around $5, but more during popular wine tasting weekends such as Memorial Day and Thanksgiving.
The Willamette Valley
About 2/3 of all the Oregon wineries are located in the Willamette Valley. It runs roughly from Portland in the north to about 110 miles south, around Eugene. The valley stretches along the west side of the Willamette River and the Interstate 5. Most of these wineries can be accessed by the more rural Highway 99. Blue signs indicate locations of nearby wineries.
There are several small towns in the region with bed & breakfasts and motels from which to base your tour, such as Salem, Dundee and McMinnville. At the northern end of the valley, the larger city of Portland boasts many hotels, restaurants, museums and a major airport.
The Willamette Valley is so large, it can be divided into two major sections for tour planning purposes. The North Willamette Valley extends roughly from Portland south to Albany. The South Willamette Valley starts around Albany and extends to just south of Eugene.
The Colombia Gorge
the Colombia Gorge wine region is located on both sides of the geologically amazing Colombia River Gorge, a river canyon carved out by ancient floods. Updrafts from the gorge help cool down the long, hot summer days, making it ideal for grape growing in the vineyards.
While there are also wineries on the northern (Washington) side, this page deals with the wineries on the southern (Oregon) side. This is accessed by Interstate Highway 84, which runs along the top of the gorge. This is also known as the Historic Colombia Gorge Scenic Highway. You’ll find wineries mainly around the towns of Hood River and The Dalles. Allow plenty of time for scenic stops along the way!
The Umpqua Valley
South of the Willamette Valley is the Umpqua Valley, of which Roseberg is the main center. There are many hills and valleys in this region. The climate allows for a wide variety of grape growing, including some unusual varietals like baco noir, marechal foch, tempranillo and viognier. The region has just a few wineries compared to the Willamette Valley, but it is growing.
The Rogue Valley
At the southern end of Oregon is the Rogue Valley wine region. Being the warmest and driest of Oregon’s wine country, this region tends to produce more heat loving varietals such as cabernet, merlot and syrah.
The Rogue Valley encompasses three small river valleys: the Applegate Valley, the Illinois Valley and the Bear Creek Valley. You’ll experience fewer crowds here than in the Willamette Valley, as there are fewer wineries and it’s not as well known.
To fully enjoy touring Oregon wineries and the whole wine country experience, try not to visit more than five wineries in a day. Allow time for a picnic overlooking the vineyards or lunch in a wine country restaurant. Bring a map and a plan, but be open to unexpected discoveries along the way.