Travel Destinations

Monday, November 18, 2013

Oregon’s Willamette Valley: More Than Just Wine

Green vistas of Oregon's Willamette Valley.
During our road trip through Oregon we decided to explore Oregon’s Willamette Valley while in transit from Salem to Portland.  Willamette Valley is well known for its wine, especially Pinot.  In my opinion the Willamette Valley produces some of the best Pinot in the world.  But it’s probably not wise to fill an entire day with wine tasting, especially when almost 80 miles need to be traveled.  Luckily the Willamette Valley offers a number of gastronomical delights in addition to the wine which make a day trip through the Willamette Valley a tasty adventure.

Wine and cheese go hand-in-hand, so our culinary trail began at Willamette Valley Cheese Co., owned by Rod Volbeda of Volbeda Farms.  Willamette Valley Cheese Co.’s cheeses are made from the raw milk produced at the farms by Rod’s herd of Jersey cows.  The cheese tasting room is a tiny little building at the end of a gravel road.  You’ll know you’re there when you see the cows.  You’ll really know you’re there when you open your car door and are struck by the powerful smell of cows.  Thankfully the tasting room does well to keep out the smell.  Willamette Valley Cheese Co. makes some fabulous cheeses.  Their handmade, farmstead cheeses include Havarti, Gouda, Fontina, Jack and Cheddar, made in traditional, aged, smoked, and flavored varieties.  Our favorite was the Brindisi, an aged Fontina full of flavor.

Willamette Valley Cheese Co. Oregon
Willamette Valley Cheese Co.'s residents.
Our next stop was St. Innocent Winery, which had been suggested by the owner and chef of Salem's Crooked House Bistro.  All of the wines are good, but the Oeil de perdrix, a pale rosé made from Pinot Noir, is out of this world.  Our next winery was Bethel Heights, specializing in single-vineyard Pinot Noir.  The winery has beautiful views in addition to excellent wine. 

Bethel Heights Willamette Valley Oregon
View of the Willamette Valley vineyards from Bethel Heights' tasting room patio.
It was time for a break from wine, so we headed to the Brigittine Monks Priory in Amity to sample their divine fudge.  The Brigittine Monks is a Catholic monastic order that is self-supporting through the manufacturing of gourmet chocolate confections.  At the time we visited, there were seven monks residing at the priory.   

Brigittine Monks Priory Willamette Valley Oregon
Brigittine Monks Priory, with chocolaty confections inside.
While I had put together a brief itinerary for the day, we were open to suggestions.  At Bethel Heights we fell into conversation with a couple who had also been at St. Innocent.  They suggested we stop in Carlton for wine and jam.  My ears perked up at the word jam.  We took an unplanned detour and visited the small town of Carlton and Republic of Jam, and what a fantastic detour it was.  Republic of Jam is owned by two ladies who are making traditional recipe jams with half the sugar of modern-day market jams.  They use local fruit and make jams that showcase the real flavors of the fruit.  Republic of Jam also creates some unique flavor combinations like Mixed Berry Habanero.  Not only could the jams be sampled, there was also food to be tasted that incorporated some of the jams. 

Republic of Jam Willamette Valley Oregon
Shelves of delicious jams at Republic of Jam.
We next visited SakéOne, Oregon’s only saké brewery.  SakéOne makes some delicious sakés, including flavored sakés like Moonstone Asian Pear and Momokawa Ruby.  (Learn more about my SakéOne visit and tastings on the Passports & Cocktails blog.) 

The day was drawing to a close, but we weren’t quite ready for it to end.  While sampling sakés we met a couple who recommended a winery in the area that stayed open later than the rest.  We followed their suggestion and made Ardiri Winery & Vineyards our final stop.  Ardiri creates some exceptional wines and also has a beautiful tasting room with a fireplace, chairs to lounge in, and a gorgeous view over the vineyards.

When visiting Oregon, time should to be spent in the Willamette Valley.  What better way to spend a day in transit than sipping wine and saké and sampling cheeses, chocolates, and jams?  And the best thing about taking a road trip through Oregon’s Willamette Valley?  There’s room in the trunk for all the tasty purchases!

Willamette Valley Oregon
Spoils of a day exploring Oregon's Willamette Valley.

Travel the World: Oregon's Willamette Valley has lots of wine but also cheese, chocolate, jam and sake.

Katherine Belarmino and Romeo Belarmino are the authors of Travel the World, a travel blog for the everyday working stiff. They work full-time in non-travel related jobs, but take every opportunity they can to travel the world during their limited vacation time.