By Judi Gallagher.
Looking for a wine country destination vacation? This year my suitcase in once again packed for Oregon. It’s a vacation that satisfies both the wine lover and the cuisine thrill seeker.
Begin in Portland and do visit the city’s remarkable public rose garden and the famous Powell Bookstore before concentrating on the food and wine scene. Plan to spend at least two or three nights, as the restaurant scene is phenomenal in both taste and creativity. The emphasis is on local, sustainable produce. Oregon discovered the locavore movement before the rest of the nation.
Wildwood Restaurant, the brainchild of native Oregonian Cory Schreiber, is the consummate representation of farm-fresh cooking. An upscale casual restaurant in a trendy Portland neighborhood, the Wildwood cookbook is one you’ll want. Loaded with recipes that explore seasonal cooking, the cookbook in itself is somewhat of a tribute to James Beard, Father of American Cuisine. Beard grew up in his mother’s hotel, spending his childhood summers crabbing and picking berries in the coastal town of Gearhart, Oregon.
The Willamette Valley, with its snow capped peaks and rolling hills of vineyards and farms, is only a short drive from Portland. You’ll cruise through small towns that have an under-populated feel. The area is not only picturesque, but boasts some of the finest Pinot Noirs in the country. The rainy climate encourages incredible clusters of grapes producing not only the famed Pinot Noir, but also wonderful Pinot Gris (the American version of Pinot Grigio), as well as some very good up and coming Zinfandels. A visionary in the wine-producing region, Domaine Drouhin boasts over 90 acres of high-density vineyards, producing distinctive Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
While the Willamette Valley may best be known for its wines, the restaurant scene is remarkable. My best discoveries were Bistro Maison in McMinnville and The Painted Lady in Newburg. Unique in their settings and atmosphere and both distinctive in their use of local ingredients, each restaurant sets a standard of fine cuisine, of course, paired with local wines.
Bistro Maison is a classic French bistro with an Oregonian attitude. Dine outside amid beautiful trees and small white lights. Enjoy white truffle cheese fondue with roasted beets, bouillabaisse fruits de mer, and roasted duck breast with apricot- pinot glaze.
The Painted Lady has the charm of an old Inn. Small dining rooms and a lovely front porch allow guests to experience some of Oregon’s finest signature cuisine in an intimate residential setting. Save room for the cherve cheescake – with local poached peaches or pears. Do not miss the rich crab bisque with chilled crab avocado salad. Outstanding presentation.
A drive to the Carlton Winemaker Studio in Carlton is worth the time. The Carlton Winemaker Studio is the brainchild of Eric Hamacher, a winemaker who borrows space to produce small vintages. A co-op of sorts, the Carlton Studio now provides state-of-the-art equipment for independent small producers, claiming such wonderful participants as Lynn Penner Ash, formerly of Rex Hill and Andrew Rich, formerly of Bonny Doon.
The Oregon wine country is still a bit rustic in its accommodations. You won’t mind. Bed-and-breakfast establishments such as the Mattey House replace sophistication with personal pampering and terrific scones.
-Flavors And More Magazine: June 2009