How to experience boutique wine in the Northwest

With over 18 viticulture regions in Oregon alone, the Pacific Northwest has gained a reputation for growing wine grapes and producing great wine. To date, however, the vast majority of Oregon and Washington wine production is small-batch, grown on boutique estates. For wine aficionados used to frequenting large, well-known wineries in California, Tuscany or France, the difference in experience is significant. Those seeking out boutique wineries in the Northwest will discover a world of hands-on winemaking, with winemakers attached to their grapes and the land they’re produced on, will discover wines no one else knows about, and will have unaccustomed access to winery owners.

Where to go for Northwest wine:

With over 700 wineries in Oregon and over 800 in Washington, choices are plentiful, but a wine weekend is best focused on one of four regions. In Oregon, the best-known option is to head to the Willamette Valley, where Pinot Noir reigns king. The wineries here are among the oldest in the state, with heritage winemaking over several generations. Take a tour with Grape Escape to make the most of your visit, and stop for dining in Newberg or McMinnville and consider an overnight stay at the Allison Inn and Spa or a more relaxed yurt stay (yes, yurt!) at Bradley Vineyards.

A few hours down I-5, Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley has emerged on the wine scene in the past ten years, producing wines that do well in hotter, drier climates. Take a day to enjoy the Applegate Wine Trail or Table Rock Wine Trail, and consider a stay in Ashland or Jacksonville to round out your weekend. South Stage Cellars in historic Jacksonville offers an excellent selection of local wine, as does Old 99 Road Wine Shop in Medford. For sweeping views of the Rogue Valley, wine taste and dine at Dancin’ Vineyards or Kriselle Cellars.

In Washington State, Walla Walla plays host to some of the top wineries, with the Walla Walla Wine Alliance bringing them all together. Stroll the quaint downtown sector of this small city, poking into various tasting rooms and wine bars. Take a wine tour or pair your trip with a visit to Washington’s other major wine region, along the Columbia River Gorge. This wine region is ideally situated to pair with a city visit to Portland or a weekend away in Hood River.

Types of wine to look for at boutique Northwest wineries this coming year: counter-culture chardonnay, MRV, and Grenache Blanc (as opposed to blends).

How to find boutique wines during a city vacation:

Not heading to wine country, but want to discover boutique wine in Portland or Seattle? Start with urban wineries, which typically buy grapes from around the region, or consider joining a localized wine club. Cellar 503 is based in Portland and ships Oregon wine to its members monthly. Cellar 503’s tasting room in the city offers a place for members to taste, congregate to share wine news, and educate.

In Washington state, it’s possible meander along an urban wine trail right in Seattle, or taste the best the state has to offer at Bottlehouse or The Tasting Room.

Wine festivals and competitions not to miss:

Serious about wine tasting and want the biggest bang for your buck? Head to a Northwest-focused wine competition. Topping the list: The Oregon Wine Experience, held each August in Jacksonville Oregon. 65 Oregon wineries will congregate in one place during one week, with winemaker’s dinners, award competitions, tastings and wine university classes. The Northwest Food and Wine Festival, held in Portland, is another sure bet, as is Taste NW’s Seattle Wine Awards.

However you experience the Pacific Northwest boutique wines, you can expect to be greeted in tasting rooms by owners (and probably their dogs), shouldn’t be surprised if you’re invited to tour a barrel room or two, and will be delighted by low tasting fees and affordable bottle prices. Cheers!