May 20th, 2019

Tiny Travels: Drive Time

Three quick, gorgeous drives around Oregon Pinot noir country

Want a tiny trip with big impact? These are my favorite quick drives to awaken the wanderer’s spirit and get the lay of the land around McMinnville.

The Red Hills Loop (The Dundee Hills AVA)

You will know the Dundee Hills by their swiftly rising island of red volcanic soils, just 28 miles southwest of Portland. More than 50 wineries produce wine here, including many of Oregon’s heritage producers and award-winning wineries. While you can’t see them all at once, you can get a nice sampling of landscape and product by taking what I sometimes describe to visitors as The Red Hills Loop.

Start just south of Dundee on Hwy 99, take a right after the weigh station. Turn right on NE McDougall Road. Stop in at Remy Wines, located in a 1900s farmhouse, for a selection of bold, Old World-style reds. The stop will be a visit with a true artist, one working in non-traditional grape varieties such as Lagrein, Dolcetto, Sangiovese, and Barbera.

Head up into the hills on NE Breyman Orchards Road. Where the hill crests sits Durant Olive Mill at Red Ridge Farms, a sensualist’s wonderland where a height-of-adorable gift shop and nursery will have you running like a gold retriever from pot to pot to catch the next fragrance. Next door, the same family operates the Durant Vineyards Tasting Room, where, on a high visibility day, Pinot and the peak of Mt. Hood are a perfect pairing from an outdoor patio

Follow Breyman Orchards Road further and take a right on Archery Summit Road, taking the curves deep into the woods before the road hugs famed producer Archery Summit’s hillside Pinot block, otherwise known as Summit Vineyard. Here you’re close to Ground Zero for the perfect conditions for producing Pinot noir. Wines sourced from this area are an exceptional example of Willamette Valley Pinot noir, characterized by earth and mushroom with the concentrated red and black cherry notes endemic to the varietal.

The Land of Bounty Loop (McMinnville AVA)

Just southwest of McMinnville sits the same-name American Viticulture Area, known for how the area’s cold nights and sedimentary soil produce a bright acidity in its wines. These are lesser-known wine country roads well worth exploring, rich in landscape and dotted with family farms where you can grab a quick bite.

Start south of McMinnville atFarmer John’s, where you can marvel at the spirit of the seaso, nab ice cream for the road or pick up a few boxes of the latest berries. Continue down 99W and look for Bernard’s Farm on the left, home to a fabulous pick-your-own flowers field (call ahead for availability).

Take a right on SW Muddy Valley Road, right at the Lawrence Gallery, where works by modern masters (think Picasso, Chagall and Dali) hang alongside some of the best regional artists. Continue down SW Muddy Valley Road towards Maysara Winery, a family-owned operation producing classic Pacific Northwest varietals like Pinot noir, Pinot gris and Riesling. The focus here is on wine made in the vineyard, without the addition of any chemicals, and that’s always been the case.

Drive on a few miles and take left at SW Eagle Point Road. One mile down the road on the right sits Coeur De Terre Vineyard, an off-the-beaten path gem where artisanal, organically farmed wines are grown in concert with the climate. Head back towards 99W (SW Eagle Point Road turns into SW Masonville Road). Take a right on SW McCabe Chapel Road towards the most picture-postcard cute church in the valley, McCabe Chapel Church.

Do “The Carlton”: Loop (Yamhill-Carlton AVA)

Do The Carlton for real by looping around this sweet small town just five miles from McMinnville and a few off Hwy 99W.

In Lafayette, take a right on NE Bridge Street, which rolls through the countryside and past a Benedictine abbey and turns into NE Abbey Farm Road. A few miles down the road you’ll see a sign for Abbey Road Farm on your left, site of a destination farm, event center and vineyard. It’s a sweet stop to see alpacas, sheep, geese and donkeys. Go further down the road and take a left on NE Hendricks Road and look for the new modern farmhouse tasting room of Dominio IV, a respected producer of Oregon varietals and, incidentally, my favorite Viognier.

Take a left out of the parking lot and continue down NE Hendricks Road towards Carlton, where you have your pick of wineries and adorable small town sightings. My picks are Cana’s Feast, where the winemaker pays special attention to bouquet (he’s a super-sniffer), Ken Wright Cellars, even if there isn’t any more of that 2012 Abbott’s Claim Pinot noir named #1 in the world by Wine Enthusiast magazine. Take Hwy 47 south as the sun sets and you’re well on your way back to McMinnville.

Don’t want to do the driving? Visit McMinnville recommends Insiders Wine Tour, Custom Valley Tour, Hippie Sip Tour, A Nose for Wine, and Willamette Wine Concierge should you decide you want to concentrate on the view.

Emily Grosvenor is the voice behind Tiny Travels. You can follow her on Twitter @emilygrosvenor.