It’s no surprise to hear that Oregon’s Willamette Valley is a world-class wine region.
Famed for its pinot noir, this area has so much to offer visitors all year round. But after a recent visit during the so-called “Cellar Season,” I suggest a trip during the Valley’s sleepiest time.
“Cellar Season” refers to the time of year after the New Year renews and until the spring thaw. It offers something special for oenophiles. Rather than peak season crowds and bustle, Cellar Season is something of a quieter, more intimate setting. Wine lovers will especially enjoy getting extra time with area vintners in unpacked tasting rooms. Some of my favorite tasting rooms are Hyland Estates, Argyle Winery, and Holloran Vineyard Wines, which are all clustered around Dundee. My Newberg area recommendations are Chehalem Winery and Adelsheim. Since my time was spent in the northern reaches of the Valley, I am best acquainted with those two towns.
Numerous special events occur during this season. One well-known one is the Oregon Chardonnay Celebration, which is in its 9th year and includes a learning seminar as well as Grand Tasting of over 50 local chardonnays. Each year has a different theme, and 2020’s is “Born of Flood & Fire: Chardonnay from Ancient Soils,” which highlights the area’s soil. This year’s tasting, to go along with the theme, is organized by soil type.
Another solid winter festival is the Oregon Truffle Festival, which aims to highlight the delicious truffles grown in the state. Just like Burgundy in France, Oregon’s truffles are world-class. The festival promotes the Oregon truffle industry through culinary exploration and celebrating North America’s only native truffles. According to the organizers, “Oregon has four native truffle species that are recognized for their culinary value and harvested in the wild. They include the Oregon Winter White Truffle (Tuber oregonense), the Oregon Spring White Truffle (Tuber gibbosum), the Oregon Black Truffle (Leucangium carthusianum), and the Oregon Brown Truffle (Kalapuya brunnea.” The Truffle Festival also celebrates the French varieties of truffles that have been successfully cultivated in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.
Finally, Lange’s Winter Wine Dinner Series offers another fun escape during Cellar Season. Essentially, the dinners combine the estate’s offerings of Pinot noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay with a local chef for a winning combination. They are offered periodically throughout the year, but a low-key option is a Cellar Season event.
Cellar Season also means that local restaurants, many that are famous for inventive farm-to-table cuisine, will be much less crowded. Be sure to check out some spots like Tina’s in Dundee and Thistle in McMinnville for tasty and creative offerings.
Overall, it’s easy to see that a wine country visit to Oregon is a great idea all year long. But, there’s something truly magical about the sleepy Cellar Season in Willamette Valley.