My first trip to Oregon and all I could think about was tasting this regions well known Pinot Noirs.  However, I kept thinking to myself; is it going to rain during our entire visit?  Will the vines look different?  Will the wineries serve out of Pinot Noir glasses?  And most importantly—will the wine taste good?

We’ve been looking forward  to tasting the Pinot Noirs of Oregon for some time.  Once we got settled in to the lovely Grand Hotel in downtown Salem, we  found the closest wine bar, Bentley’s Grill and Lounge, was located in our hotel—how perfect!   We had the best waitress who recommended a wonderful introduction to the world of Oregon Pinots which included:

  • Pinot Noir Cherry Hill Estate ’06
  • Pinot Noir Vitae Springs Estate ’06
  • Pinot Noir Adelsheim ’07
  • ADEA ’06 Dean-O’s Pinot Willamette Valley

We never made it to the pioneer winery, Adelsheim Vineyard or ADEA Winery.  We’ll have to save these for our next tasting tour.  The Adelsheim Pinot is one of my favorites from the bunch.  It is a smooth, delicate red wine with red cherry, spice and smoke flavors.

Willamette Valley is filled with fields of vines, Evergreen Christmas tree farms, cherry tree farms and miles of produce.  Most of these fields are passed down through generations of families.  If you enjoy sipping wines at family owned wineries and learning about the estate’s history of hand crafted wine production you will enjoy the wonderful families of Willamette Valley.

Eola Hills of Oregon's Willamette Valley – Day 1 Winery Tour

  • St. Innocent Winery

  • Witness Tree Vineyard

  • Cristom Vineyards

  • St Innocent Winery

    Open Weekends from 11-4pm, Tuesdays - Sundays from May 1st- October 31st

    St. Innocent Winery is a great stop to try a variety of regional wines.  The wine maker, Mark Vlossak, produces his Pinots using grapes from areas all over Oregon.  He calls them terroir-specific wines displaying grape flavors from the grounds the grapes are produced in.  You’ll notice the name of his Pinot Noirs include the vineyard’s name.  The difference in these wines is certainly noticeable.  The variety in the flavor profiles comes from the diverse soils deposited from the Willamette River water.

    Their tasting list is amazing, and long. We recommend packing a lunch or trying their delicious cookies while tasting at this winery.  They serve from what wines are opened, which is usually 7-9 tastings.  Sean charmed the wine maker into opening their 2008 Freedom Hill Vineyard Chardonnay.  It is filled with rich yellow fruit, citrus and melon flavors richly layered.  It is aged in neutral oak, commonly used for this area.  This wine is so great that the party they were hosting that evening had reserved it as their featured wine.  So, Sean and I as well as our fellow tasters took home some bottles.

    Tasting List Includes:

    2008 Vitae Springs Pinot Gris

    2008 Freedom Hill Vineyard Pinot Blanc

    2008 Freedom hill Vineyard Chardonnay

    2008 Villages Cuvee Pinot Noir

    2007 Temperance Hill Pinot Noir

    2007 Zenith Vineyard Pinot Noir

    2007 Momtazi Vineyard Pinot Noir

    2007 Justice Vineyard Pinot Noir

    2007 White Rose Pinot Noir

    2007 Winemakers Cuvee

    One thing I noticed was how all their wines are poured with Vacu Vin Crystal Wine Pourers, an accessory which allows for drip free pours as well as a graceful wine serving presentation.  This is the first winery I’ve seen use such an elegant wine pourer for all wines.

    OK, back to the wine!  The 2008 Villages Cuvee Pinot Noir is light but pleasantly spicy with pepper notes without overwhelming.  The next down on their tasting menu had an even bigger nose.  Our wine tender’s favorite is the 2007 Justice Vineyard Pinot Noir.  It had a charming nose with a smooth finish that would pair nicely with camp fire food.  We didn’t get a chance to try their 2007 White Rose Pinot Noir and 2007 Winemaker’s Cuvee.   Please let us know your reviews on these.  The latter is their highest rated wine.  Our off the list tasting is their 2007 Zenith Vineyard Barrel Select Pinot Noir.  It is a cuvee of their seven favorite barrels from their 2007 vintage.

    Their new tasting room and large event room is a classy atmosphere for a gathering.  The event room is set up with many round tables, brilliantly white table cloths, and lots of wine glasses for a wine party.  It was very inviting and we could’ve easily stayed the entire day but Sean and I were off to try the fabulous Pinots of Oregon.

    Witness Tree Vineyard

    Open Tuesday – Sunday from 11 - 5 pm

    Beautiful scenery engulfed us as we drove to this 100% estate bottled vineyard.  Upon entering their homey tasting room, up on a hill above the tasting room is this ancient oak tree.  This historic tree is the symbol on their wine label and Pinot Noir tasting glasses.  During our tasting, Mark took us outside to show us the tree and educated us on the history of this interesting heritage.  We learned during the Oregon Trail times of 1854 this tree was used as a surveyor’s landmark.  The carved marking is still evident on the tree’s trunk.  We were planning on hiking to see it, but were warned of poison oak.  Oh shucks, guess we’ll have to try more Pinot ;). The tree is a magnificent sight from down below and I’m sure just as impressive up close. The following weekend’s event featured a ceremony for the historical dedication of this tree.

    Sean came up with a new label for the winery.  Maybe Witness Tree will come out with a wine called The Heritage to dedicate the significance of this recently approved historical landmark.  I can only imagine the happiness on the settler’s faces once they reached this ancient oak tree and determined the distance to their new home land.  In 1850 a married couple received 640 acres of free land for heading out to this once rural area.  We were surprised to hear during these days 320 acres of the land was put in the man’s name and the other half was put in the wife’s name.  This way if the couple splits, each owned their own acreage.

    Tasting List Includes:

    2007 Witness Tree Estate Viognier

    2007 Witness Tree Chainsaw Pinot Noir

    2007 Witness Tree Estate Pinot Blanc

    2007 Witness Tree Vintage Select Chardonnay   

    2008 Witness Tree Estate Pinot Noir

    2007 Witness Tree Vintage Select Pinot Noir

    2006 Witness Tree Hanson Pinot Noir

    2008 Witness Tree Dolcetto “Remari”

    2008 Witness Tree Sweet Signe

    We had a wonderful time sipping wines at Witness Tree Vineyard with Debbie, our wine tender and Steven, the vineyard manager and wine maker.  Steven and Debbie were fun and informative.  We also met fellow wine tasters Josh, Alisha, Stephanie and Matt and all of us eventually bought bottles and bottles of wine by the end of our tasting at Witness Tree Vineyard.

    Their Viognier had an orange citrus taste to it.  This seems to be common in this neck of the woods. The Chainsaw was excellent with lots of pepper, light mouth-feel and tobacco flavoring. The Vintage Select is full of a traditional Pinot flavor.  A favorite is the Hanson Pinot Noir made with grapes from the highest elevation of the property. It has fresh ground pepper, extremely smooth elegant finish with a subtle cherry aroma.  Everyone in the tasting room bought the last wine on the list which is the 2008 Witness Tree Sweet Signe.  It’s like honey or “sweet nectar” as Sean described.

    Cristom Vineyards

    Open Tuesday – Sunday from 11 - 5 pm  (Jan. - Feb. by apt.)

    A short drive from Witness Tree is Cristom Vineyards.  The beautiful entrance is adorned with floral landscaping leading to an impressive doorway which opens into a well planned tasting room.  We learned that the owners were the first to introduce the Viognier to Willamette Valley.  One would think it is too wet to grow this grape in the area, but the owners introduced the grape to the brightest section of their vineyard.

    Tasting List Includes:

    2007 Estate Pinot Gris

    2008 Estate Viognier

    2007 Mt. Jefferson Cuvee Pinot Noir

    2007 Sommers Reserve Pinot Noir

    2007 Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir

    2007 Jessie Vineyard Pinot Noir

    Of these, their Viognier certainly stood out as a favorite.  Another great one is their 2007 Eileen Vineyard Pinot Noir which is light bodied, bold with ruby color and filled with flavor which was a pleasant surprise after a swish of lightness mouth-feel.

    We finished off the day with our new wine tasting buddies Josh, Alisha, Stephanie and Matt at Cristom after Steven at Witness Tree steered us to the Nick's Italian Cafe, in Mcminnville.  And so, we kept on with the good times at this restaurant with the coolest back bar room. We ordered a bottle of Penner-Ash Pinot Noir and uncorked a sample of wines from the wineries we visited.  It was a splendid time and a place not to miss on your wine tour.  This secret room in the back of the restaurant has a cozy atmosphere with pool table.  We had a great time finishing the night in this casual, relaxed and what seemed like a secret room only locals new about.