A Beginner’s Guide to Wine Tasting in the Willamette Valley
For decades, the Willamette Valley has been inextricably linked to its world-class wine scene. More than 700 wineries dot Oregon Wine Country (as we like to call it), which was named the 2016 Wine Region of the Year by no less than Wine Enthusiast magazine.
With so much to sip and experience, it can be daunting to know where to begin—so we’ve put together a beginner’s guide to wine tasting in the Willamette Valley.
Planning Your Wine Tasting Trip to Oregon Wine Country
Find a home base
Save time in the car by choosing one community to base your tasting adventures around—and start researching nearby wineries at that point.
Notable wine-tasting towns and cities include Newberg, Dayton, McMinnville, Corvallis, Salem, Eugene, or Molalla.
Choose your wineries
Start your trip-planning with help from the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, which lists all of the region’s wineries and tasting rooms—and provides helpful tools that can filter wineries by area or interest.
We’ve also put together a guide to 10 beautiful wineries in the Willamette Valley, complete with a map for planning your route.
Pick a season
There’s never a bad time to visit Willamette Valley wineries.
- Cellar season runs between January and March—and boasts cozy tasting experiences in more laid-back settings.
- Bud break occurs in spring, setting the tone for the growing season.
- May is Oregon Wine Month, a celebration of the state’s wines.
- Warm days lead to epic sunsets behind the Oregon Coast Range in summer.
- Fall means harvest season—the busiest and liveliest time of year at vineyards across the valley.
Start planning your meals
Many wineries offer meat-and-cheese boards or limited food menus, so make time for a filling meal—or to pick up provisions for a picnic lunch.
Most wineries allow you to bring in food, so learn more about farm loops and food trails throughout the region that feature fresh food.
Consider booking a tour
If your plans involve several stops, think about reserving a tour or concierge service through one of the Willamette Valley’s wine-tasting tour companies. Many of these outfitters pick you up from your hotel and can either plan the day’s itinerary based on your tastes and interests—or drive you between pre-selected stops.
Think about an overnight stay
Why try to fit it all into one busy day when you can stretch your tastings out over two or three relaxing afternoons? You’ll find chic hotels, opulent resorts, and more across the Willamette Valley.
General Tasting Tips and Etiquette
See whether reservations are required: Tasting rooms have different rules around when (or if) reservations are required—so while planning, check out your desired wineries’ websites to see whether you need to book a tasting.
Think about a weekday trip: Warm-weather weekends bring big crowds to the Willamette Valley’s wineries and tasting-room patios. If possible, consider scheduling a weekday trip for a more laid-back experience.
Start with a flight: If you’re new to tasting, consider starting with a flight, which typically features four to five wines; flights typically cost $20 to $35, though fees may be waived if you purchase a bottles or join a wine club. (Don’t feel obligated to join a club when asked.)
Use the spittoon (if you want!): When your server brings wine to the table, they’ll likely provide a spittoon; if you don’t wish to finish a wine, there’s no shame in dumping it. (As a matter of safety, swirling and spitting is often encouraged.)
Don’t be shy: When you have questions about the wine or would like recommendations for other wineries, your server is happy to answer questions and offer suggestions.