Date nights are overrated. The dinner prep for the kids, the meticulous primping, the guilt of staying out somewhere even though it’s 8:37 p.m. and I am begging to go home already.
You know what’s better?
Day dates. Actually doing something with long-term partners that doesn’t involve sitting. Working alongside each other. Being out together, doing. In my mind, you can have “our place,” the romantic two-top in the corner of a dining room at a favorite restaurant, or you can have “our place,” the entire world.
Dates almost demand that you seek out secret spots, so on my recent South McMinnville day date with my husband of a decade we start at one of my favorites: Custom Baking Co., a joyful bakery with big artistic aspirations tucked into an industrial neighborhood at Biggio Hamina Cellars.
Why joyful? Because the baker, Danny Wilser, who owned the downtown Crescent Café with his partner, Michael McKenney, retired a little over a year ago and found that he didn’t actually want to stop baking. It’s a love project – one you can step right into it and take a bite. The place, with its pink counter and pink takeaway boxes practically primes you for love.
Next we get down to work. It’s the best kind of play, really. At Farmer John’s, we head to the back short field to pick two giant flats of strawberries for jam.
There might be no more alluring Oregon fruit than the strawberry. I know a Portland chef who moved to the area on the basis of a single Hood variety. We are the only ones there in the rows for a good hour, just enough time to drink in one of those perfect June days in the Willamette Valley, all big sky, green hills and springtime, agendaless clouds.
The best Oregon strawberry fields allow you to play-act Oregon Bathsheba. It’s easy. Sit on the dirt, lay your head in a lap, and have your partner hand-feed you.
Perhaps because we have identified by 10:47 a.m. that June is perfection and we need to do all the things, we travel the back roads – there is no other kind here, after all – to Coeur de Terre, a family winery tucked into the hills overlooking Muddy River. Bold claims about Oregon wineries seem to run easily off my lips, but this particular vineyard has much romance going for it, primarily seclusion. We taste through a flight of estate Riesling to Pinot noir, including one very peppery and fun Syrah while watching turkey vultures swoop over a vineyard block.
Next we drive a road hugging the coastal range past the most perfect hilltop church I have stumbled on in Oregon: McCabe Methodist Chapel. It is actually an 1886 schoolhouse, surrounded by wizened white oaks. It’s a church that makes you want to get married all over again.
Just a few miles down the road we are at the hoppingest intersection in rural stretch between McMinnville and Sheridan. It’s a drive-by commercial art neighborhood clustered at the meeting of SW Muddy Valley Road and Hwy 99, home to the Lawrence Gallery and Fire’s Eye Pottery. It’s the first place we encounter any day date rancor, as I am married to the most considerate art browser this side of the Willamette. As in, he considers everything. I let myself bet drawn to a work, embrace it visually for a moment and move on, whereas my husband likes to stand before a work roughly the amount of time it took to make that work.
We buy a whole bunch of stuff made of clay. Not a Salvador Dali print, though I do ask. The Dali show on view there will still be up for a few more months if you haven’t made it yet. Also, there’s a place to wait for dawdling spouses, the WineNoir tasting bar in the back, run by David De Soto, a recent newcomer from Los Angeles who has been cherry-picking pinots for hip young tasters in La La Land. When my husband is still in the front room of the gallery, I’m out to the sculpture garden out back for a quick stroll.
We reconvene in front of Sarkis Antikajian’s Red and White Flowers. As I take my husband’s hand it strikes me that this day feels like a bouquet of peonies, almost too big to hold. Almost.
Emily Grosvenor is a travel writer in McMinnville, OR. Follow her on Twitter: @emilygrosvenor