No strangers to the art of winemaking, the Wetzel family’s roots run deep into the vineyards that surround their winery. For four generations, they have crafted award-winning wines in Germany, and for the last 35, they have called Oregon home. Chateau Bianca Winery peeks out from the Willamette Valley, where Pinot Noir grapes flourish across the estate vineyards. These carefully cultivated grapes eventually fill bottles such as the 2002 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir, a vintage aged 5 years to a mature red with notes of blueberry, black cherry, and the loneliness of being confined to a barrel for that long.
Guests visit the tasting room to sample some of Chateau Bianca’s wines, where each day a rotating selection of 6 bottles are uncorked for swirling and sipping. On days when the summer sun dapples the fields and shimmers playfully off Bacchus’ lampshade hat, sippers relax on the outdoor patio to enjoy a glass or share a bottle while looking out across rows of vines.
After sunset in the Willamette Valley, coastal breezes float along the verdant corridor and gently cool the grapes suspended from Namaste Vineyard's 30-year-old vines. These breezes help the fruit maintain vibrant and refreshing acidity, which characterizes the wines from Namaste's six estate vineyards, including pinot noir, chardonnay, and riesling. During harvest time, workers scrutinize each vine and handpick the most promising clusters for the winemaker, who only uses grapes grown in the winery's own vineyards, leaving the remaining grapes to use in jams or to dye the regal capes of the President of Oregon.Typically featuring the products of 8–10 different bottlings at any given time, the tasting room's selection can include reds and whites as well as a white port made from oak-aged chardonnay and Clear Creek Distillery brandy. The single-vineyard pinot noirs balance their bright berry flavors with slightly peppery finishes, and the off-dry, stainless-steel-aged rieslings reverberate across taste buds with refreshing, pear-tinged acidity.
Valley Vintner & Brewer supplies budding and experienced home brewers all the equipment and recipes needed to concoct tasty batches of beer and wine from the comfort of their kitchens. Each home brewery basic starter kit contains fermenting necessities along with The Complete Joy of Home Brewing, an instructional tome chronicling beer’s mighty rise to prominence as America’s go-to shower beverage of choice. Your experienced vintner instructor will guide guests through a three-hour home-brewing class, answering all grain-related queries from, "How are hops grown?" to "Can I still drink my beer if it develops human emotions?" With gear and guidance from Valley Vintner's expert ale aficionados, beginner beverage barons can raise their glass-fulls from bottle-dependent infancy to full-flavored adulthood.
Nestled in verdant rolling hills, Silvan Ridge Winery complements its grapey varietals with a menu of easily chewable eats. Gourmet cheese plates tickle tongues with a variety of aromatic curds from Spring Valley Dairy in nearby Keizer—including dill havarti, smoked gouda, and brie ($7)—and 8-inch wood-fired pizzas ($6.50–$7.50) and crispy caesar side salads ($4.50) carry hunger away as swiftly as hungry warriors plundering an empty pantry. An outdoor patio and surrounding grassy slopes afford picnickers eyefuls of grapevine-laced hills; inside, the fireside room gives couples an excuse to cozy up next to a wood-burning blaze and share a creamy wedge of cheesecake for two ($4). Complimentary wine tastings greet all visitors of legal age.
Sweet Cheeks Winery, composed of a 65-acre estate vineyard and 140 acres of sloping hills, churns out pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay, and riesling. The Executive Wine Tasting gives guests the chance to fill their face pouches with up to 14 flights of Sweet Cheeks' full lineup, including all exclusive bottles not released to the general public. Like a blazing barrel of apples, the 2009 Reserve Pinot Gris smells of fruit and has a hint of smoke, while the 2009 Vintage Riesling gives off subtle undertones of honeysuckle paired with the sweet flavors of apricot and peach. The 2009 Rosy Cheeks is a cuvee of tempranillo, pinot noir, and pinot gris, all blended and fermented together until they sprout a beautiful bouquet of strawberries and tickle the tongue with flavory tingles. A cheese board of Oregon artisan cheeses, maple-herb roasted nuts, and crackers is provided to complement Sweet Cheeks' wine; guests may also bring their own picnic basket of goodies and iPods to complete the experience. Sample fine wines from the 7,000 sq. ft. patio that overlooks the vineyard and the gentle, sloping hillside leading down into Briggs Hill Valley.
In the mild climes of the Willamette Valley, gentle slopes and low elevation nurture the 35 acres of wine grapes that produce Ankeny Vineyard's collection of pinot noir, pinot gris, and other signature wines. Vineyard owner Joe Olexa planted his first grapes in 1982, and with the help of winemaker Andy Thomas, the varietals have stood the test of time to become perennial award-winners at the Oregon State Fair and beyond. Visitors converse on the winery's patio over glasses of pinot noir and mélange blanc, surveying the scenic Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge and its droves of migratory waterfowl. An onsite outdoor, wood-burning pizza oven allows for wines to balance with the flavors of melted cheese on weekends during the summer months, which will have to suffice until cheese agrees to be bottled.