It was supposed to be a weekend trip, tasting wine in the Willamette Valley in Oregon, a get-away: no story here. We drove down hilly, winding roads looking for a shortlist of vineyards from research and referral. Beautiful, bucolic hillsides overlooking the depths of the valley as leaves were at peak color kept us gasping and photographing. Wine trail signs kept us in the right direction as we passed farms with hand-painted “U-Pick” signs advertising grilled corn and tables loaded with potatoes and squash.
Stepping into each tasting room that day, warmly greeted by staff, we immediately felt at home: talking wine made us feel that we could be at any vineyard back home on the East End.
As Miguel Martin, winemaker at Palmer said, “[Wine] brings passionate people.” That is true at home and away, and we saw it wherever we went; everyone seemed to know someone at our next stop and eagerly suggested wineries they thought we should try.
Tyler Bitner at Sokol Blosser said that the winery’s founders were pioneers; they planted some of the first grapes in the valley almost 40 years ago. We thought of the Hargraves, who planted the first grapes in the early ’70s. We were surprised; we had figured the Willamette Valley to be producing wine for much longer, at least longer than our home region. But no, the region is as young as Long Island. We summarized our geography, describing the fish tail or the alligator mouth, and our 50 wineries. We mentioned the maritime environment and the sandy soils. The valley channels sea breezes from the Pacific, giving this area its own maritime climate. It is spread out, we were informed, and has almost 500 wineries at this point, some were boutique producers like White Rose Estate where they harvest and press by hand, while others are significant producers, like Argyle Winery. Without the restrictions of water on three sides, the region has grown considerably.
It felt strange to have traveled so far to feel so at home. The passion, the joy, the expectation of another great harvest were all there. We learned a lot about the place we live by going somewhere else.