"It'd be difficult to find a region in North America that makes better pinot noir," Tom Danowski, CEO of the Oregon Winegrowers Association says of the Willamette Valley. "Just as good, sure. But better? I don't think so." In the vinedraped areas near the towns of Newberg, Dundee, and McMinnville you can glide down country lanes to taste wines in gorgeous settings, with more than 500 wineries nestled amid 23,520 acres of vineyards. Here, arranged by subregion, are several more of the stars. For maps and hours, visit willamettewines.com.
- In 1965 a college grad named David Lett came to Oregon's Willamette Valley, a 100-mile-long wedge of rolling farmland south of Portland, carrying grapevine cuttings and a belief that he could make wines as lovely as those of Burgundy, France. In 1979 a pinot noir made by Lett placed third at the Gault-Millau World Wine Olympics in Paris, a result so perplexing that in 1980 the French staged a rematch—in which Lett's wine came in second. His winery, Eyrie Vineyards, is now legendary, and pinot noir vines yield more than half the grapes grown in Oregon, mostly in the Willamette Valley.
- Chehalem Mountains High in an upland viticultural region just a half hour southwest of Portland, Ponzi Vineyards maintains a spectacular, 4,500-square-foot tasting room with glass walls and bocce ball courts. Visitors idle in love seats next to a sleek, modern fireplace and search for hints of plum in glasses of deep-purple pinot as they gaze out toward the Coast Range to the west.
- Dundee Hills Although it lies within earshot of Route 99W, the 128-acre estate of Sokol Blosser Winery feels a world away. Its modern tasting room is an architectural splendor featuring walls of striated cedar, fir, and hickory; a wine library for tastings of past vintages; and a kitchen for sampling food-wine pairings. One standout offering with a distinct mineral flavor: Peach Tree, from a 2.6-acre block of vines right outside.
- Ribbon Ridge A 40-acre organic estate set among tidy farms, Brick House Vineyards makes pinots that taste more of flowers than fruit. Join an intimate tasting session in the 1931 barn that's now the winery, and you may detect the scent of lilacs in your glass.
- Yamhill-Carlton Set within a U-shaped wine region spared flooding in the Ice Age, Anne Amie Vineyards grows grapes wildly different from those raised just 200 feet below. The tasting room faces west, making it a perfect spot to catch a sunset with a Prismé pinot noir blanc—a crisp, gold wine made by fermenting the grapes' pale juice apart from the ruddy skins.