Just in case you blinked recently, here’s a newsflash: the Pacific Northwest has become a major center for wine production, both boutique and big business. And while Washington state makes more than three times the wine that Oregon does (though both are dwarfed in terms of sheer barrels by California), everyone knows that quantity isn’t necessarily quality. Which is why it’s sensible to plan a spot of Oregon travel with superb, often artisanal, wineries in mind.
There are four main wine regions in Oregon, divided further into viticultural areas. If you’re embarking upon a few days of Oregon travel for the first time, it’s easiest to start with a tasting overview of the general regions. From Portland, Oregon, the state’s main population center, both the Columbia Gorge and the Willamette Valley are the most readily accessible options.
Taking in a swath of prime terroir on both sides of the Columbia River, the scenic Columbia Gorge wine region includes more than 70 vineyards and wineries in both Washington and Oregon. Tipple your way through the local best at tasting rooms in Oregon cities like The Dalles and Hood River where the selection is sure to include fine French and Italian varieties.
Stretching for 150 miles south of the Columbia River, Oregon’s agricultural heart also happens to be a good spot to grow grapes. The Willamette Valley has seven sub-appellations and the state’s highest concentration of wineries (200). It is cool-climate grape varieties this American Viticultural Area (AVA) is known for, particularly its award-winning Pinot Noir, but it’s also worth considering the Pinot Blanc and the Pinot Gris when the time comes to pour.
There are 120 vineyards in the Southern Oregon AVA, a region with historic wine-growing roots. It’s comparatively warmer and drier here, so look for both cold-climate and warm-climate grape varieties, from Pinot Noir to Syrah.
Eastern Oregon is less populated and in general, visited by fewer travelers, but steer for the Snake River Valley (which stretches across part of both Oregon and western Idaho) and you’ll find your drive time rewarded. Try out wine varieties like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling, but also plan to take a bottle or three away to share as you admire the spectacular scenery of nearby Hells Canyon.