McMinnville: Center of the Oregon Wine World

R. Stuart winery pinot, photo by Ryan Stevens
R. Stuart winery pinot, photo by Ryan Stevens

From the kids riding their bikes along the streets trying to find the next Pokémon stop, to the aficionados swirling the latest vintage of pinot noir, this small slice of Americana that sits 40 miles south east of Portland and 26 miles north of Salem plays host to everything from national UFO Festivals to over-flowing local farmers markets. But the real gem of McMinnville, Oregon is the fact that it’s nestled right in the heart of the Oregon wine country. Surrounded by nearly 100 wineries, all within a short drive, this small, sleepy town is the perfect place to park the car and explore, or head into the hills to walk the rows with the winemakers. Featuring a wide array of offerings in wine bars, breweries (yes, there are three), gourmet eateries, and fun local shops, the convenience just adds to the charm.

Weaving through aromas of roasting BBQ, baked goods, and blooming flowers that come together like a brilliant tapestry, the main drag of McMinnville is vibrant to say the least. Outside of the city you’ll be greeted by the gentle rolling hills that were once covered by the famed Missoula Floods that helped create the cache of top soils that varies as much as the characters you’ll find at the wineries.

Many of these wineries has elegant and charismatic tasting rooms in town that you’ll be able to navigate with the freshly released Visit McMinnville App. This will take you on a short journey through town collecting points as you taste through the rich Joury and Chahalem soils.

… the city of McMinnville, Oregon launched their Wine Walk Passport, a new way for visitors to track their McMinnville winery tastings… The Wine Walk smartphone app on both iPhone and Androidphones, makes it even easier to gain access to pertinent information such as hours, location, and tasting notes from each craft beverage producer featured along the Wine Walk. Visitors will also be able to keep track of their passport stamps through the app, which are redeemable upon completion of the walk for various prizes.”

Ransom The Emerald 1865 Whiskey, photo by Ryan Stevens
Ransom The Emerald 1865 Whiskey, photo by Ryan Stevens

Walking into the R. Stuarttasting room you’re welcomed in by Casee, the Direct Sales Manager, waiting with a top tier tasting of bubbles to start your day. Literally called “Bubbly” the tasting starts with the aromas of fresh pairs, melon, and a slight hint of bread rising out of the bubbling flute. The perfect spot to begin a day of tasting around town, the tasting room feels like it was transported from the French countryside just for you.

If you’re looking for something a little stronger than wine, Ransom Wine & Spirits, just across the street from R. Stuart, gives you the chance to sample everything from their luscious Cab Franc, to their signature cocktail made with one of their spirits. One of the true surprises was how genuinely smooth the Gewürztraminer Grappa was. Notes of fresh violet candies greet you, while the finish lacks the classic, yet sought-after burn, but rather is replaced with a candied citrus lingering profile.

When hunger hits, the fresh fish tacos at the Grain Station in the budding Granary District in downtown McMinnville, will not be beat. The casual brew pub gives you the chance to dive head first into a plethora of refreshing flights. Brewed on-site, beer-lovers will not be disappointed. The Bet The Farm IPA will fill the craving for the bitter beauty all Hop Heads are searching for, while Hank’s Dark Ale mixes the full-bodied substance of a heavier style but still delivers a lighter approach to the darker side of the beer spectrum.

Keys at 3rd Street Flats
Keys at 3rd Street Flats

As with any trip, staying as close to the action while pampering yourself with stunning accommodations is a must. The 3rd Street Flats offer you the chance to stay in a historic building while being just steps away from a bevy of tasting rooms, dining options, and of course, places to shop. Walking along the original ballroom floors of the updated and renovated Odd Fellows Lodge, the 3rd Street Flats greets guests with a bottle of local Dundee Hill Pinot Noir, fresh sea salt caramels, and an elegance you won’t find for miles. Not only are the rooms immaculate, but staying in a vacation rental rather than hotel allows you the chance to take advantage of the local produce at Harvest Fresh Grocery or the weekly Farmers Market held on Thursday.

If the idea of waking up and cooking a hearty meal for breakfast while you’re trying to enjoy your vacation is too much, the Community Plate is the ideal spot to grab a fresh cheese encrusted bagel and a piping hot cup of Stumptown Roaster’s Holler Mountain coffee, or maybe something a touch more involved like the Heritage Pork Hash or house-made hazelnut granola.

Now while this might sound like a little bit like a cliché tourist pamphlet, it’s anything but. Many of us run the rat race trying to find that piece of cheese, just to find that quaint little town to escape to and indulge our senses with a glass, or five, of wine. McMinnville, Oregon is becoming the go-to destination for drowning out the daily grind and finding that moment of clarity in the bottom of a claret.

The winemakers who forged the paths that led to the famed Dundee Hills all ate at Nick's, which soon became affectionately known as the “living room”. This idea of community where you could find these early pioneers enjoying a gourmet meal while drinking offerings from each other’s vines has permeated the lifestyle. It’s a modern musketeer ideology’ of “all for one, and one for all.” What’s good for one winery is good for the region.

Bitter Monk, photo by Ryan Stevens
Bitter Monk, photo by Ryan Stevens

From the trailblazing winemakers at Eyrie, Erath, and Sokol Blosser, to budding stars like Hazelfern and Purple Hands, the Willamette Valley is an evolving gourmet-scape of vineyards and wineries. Each tradition and innovation is contributing to a friendly war trying to claim this land for beer-drinkers or wine enthusiasts. Add a distillery tasting room like Ransom Spirits into the mix, and you have the makings of a battle that has a front for every palate.

Wines/Beers/Sprits Not to Miss

The Bitter Monk Bottle Shop

Take a moment to grab an ice-cold beer at the quiet bottle shop and recharge your wine palate with a 15 Block Sticky Hands IPA off of tap. The knowledgeable staff will gladly point you in the right direction if you’re having trouble deciding on what beer to treat yourself to.

Ransom Wine & Spirits

Stepping away from wine for a moment, whiskey lovers will find a hidden gem in the Emerald 1865 Straight American Whiskey. Hand-crafted in a "lost" Irish style with rolled oats in the mash, this smooth, oaky whiskey is filled with subtle nuances of honey, spicy clove, and mellow wood.

R Stuart & Co.

Photo courtesy Community Plate
Photo courtesy Community Plate

After you sample the Bubbly delve into a glass, or two, of the 2013 Elkhorn Ridge Pinot Noir. Ripe strawberries, hints of toasted oak, and fresh blooming flowers round out the flavor profile and hits nearly everything that is great about Oregon pinot noir.

Brittan Vineyards

Robert Brittan, a sort of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir demi-god in the Oregon wine scene, brings clean crisp wines to the table that pair well with food, or simply another glass. While the 2013 Gestalt Block Pinot Noir was one of the pinots that stood out for its full body, blackberry hints and zesty tobacco finish, it was the Chardonnay that rose above the rest. Undertones of lemon showcase a superior minerality, while the finish of ripe pear lingers on the palate.