The gentle rolling hills of the Willamette Valley are home to over 200 of Oregon’s renowned vineyards. The climate in this wide valley is known for its long and gentle growing season. The warm summer days, cool evenings and wet, mild winters with a long rainy spring season make it a pinot grape grower’s version of heaven. With all this going for it, pinot grapes are still a finicky bunch. It is said that each change in the climate can be tasted in the glass. Maybe it’s that very challenge that makes it such a beloved wine, and one so many vintners grow.

Some of the most exceptional pinot noirs can be reached within 45 minutes of leaving Portland and an excellent way to experience the many vineyards is by guided tour. Not only can you forget about a designated driver, but with Sunshine Limo Tours you also gain a knowledgeable driver who simplifies the process and shares some great insider information. Sunshine Limo Service and Wine Tours offer a variety of trips, such as the Yamhill Carlton Valley tour which is among the most easily accessible of the six microclimates in Oregon’s wine country.

You’ll definitely feel famous and pampered as you start your day picked up by a chauffeur with a shiny black limousine. Climbing in you will find champagne and orange juice waiting. Bring along a selection of music to listen to, or a movie for the DVD, then sit back and relax as you and your companions begin the drive to the wine country. This is truly a way to indulge your inner royalty.

After luxuriating though the undulating and stunning countryside, Elk Cove Winery is a great first stop. One of the largest and most well established vineyards, the land is quilted by rows of grape vines. Inside the tasting room is an elegant indoor space of wood and windows that incorporates views of the world outside. As you sip the Five Mountain Pinot Noir, or maybe the vineyard’s award winning Pinot Gris or Riesling, gaze out past the gazebo and search the post and wire crossed landscape for the Roosevelt Elk that give the vineyard its name.

Then it’s back into the comfortable ride for a short and windy trip up to neighboring Kramer Vineyard. This unpretentious winery provides accessible explanations and descriptions of the craft and their wines. The tasting room is in a ranch style house, offering gift items and sales of the popular wines like the Quad Rose. Kramer also hosts wine centered festivities with music and food like Under the Stars Dinners and Holiday Vintage Vertical Tasting.
For lunch, cruise to the town of Carlton for a fine dining experience at Cuvee. Open for lunch in summer and harvest weekends, Cuvee offers Regional Specialties inspired by Traditional Country French Cuisine such as Salade au Saumon, Steak with Frites, and Crêpe aux Fruit de Mer, which is filled with prawns and scallops in a carrot leek béchamel sauce and served with green salad vinaigrette. Make sure to save room for desserts like their Mousse au Chocolat, Crème Caramel and Gâteau au Chocolat. For comfort food, Penguin’s Café is a great place for a simple pizza or sandwich, or burger and excellent ice cream.
Now that you’re fortified for more sampling, Anne Amie vineyard is an excellent next stop. This vineyard is committed to high quality wine and sustainable growing practices, and the 2006 Cuvee A, Pinot Noir is an excellent example of how well these two elements work together. The tasting room sits atop a hill and has stunning views from the terraced patio. Inside the chic building the sample menu and pourer descriptions give you the feeling you are in the “inner circle” of the in-the-know wine connoisseurs.

A nice last stop is up another hill at the small vineyard of Lenne. The cozy stone tasting room has a European esthetic– simple, interesting and elegant– but still willing to give itself over to the view of the surrounding vineyards and horse pastures patch working across the hills. Here you can sample the 2006 Lenne Estate Pinot Noir; a complex, but mild varietal.

Once back in Portland, put your new knowledge to work at a restaurant known for their fabulous selection of local wines and regional menu selections. Paley’s Place is a favorite and beloved restaurant that does extensive wine tastings on Wednesday evenings 5:30-7:30. Whether or not you arrive on a Wednesday, dinner entrees such as brick-roasted squab, with saffron couscous and harissa demi-glace or the potato gnocchi served with a lamb stew and spicy kale pesto are sure to please after a day of wine tasting. End your day with one of the house-made sorbets or ice creams, or a cheese plate and a glass of port.

After a luxurious day cruising around in style and comfort you will not only have seen some of the Pacific Northwest’s gorgeous countryside, but you will have gained a whole new vocabulary: “nose of fruit”, “long finish”, “nuances of chocolate and cola”. You may have experienced but a very few of the vineyards in the wide, long Willamette Valley, but there is always next time and always new wine to try.

What and Where:
Sunshine Limo Service LLC (193 Wallis St, Eugene; 541-344-LIMO (5466) or 541-543-6486)
Lenne (18760 NE Laughlin Rd, Yamhill; 503-956-2256)
Elk Cove Vineyards (27751 NW Olson Rd Gaston; 503-985-7760 or 877-ELK-COVE)
Anne Amie Vineyards (6580 NE Mineral Springs Rd, Carlton;
503-864-2991 or 800-248-4835)
Kramer Vineyards (26830 NW Olson Rd, Gaston; 503-662-4545)
Cuvee (214 W Main Street, Carlton (503-852-6555)
Penguin’s Café n Ice Cream Shoppe (217 W Main St, Carlton; 503-852-6715)
Paley’s Place (1204 NW 21st Ave, Portland; 503-243-2403)