Oregon wine industry has evolved in recent decades from an agricultural afterthought to a major player on the worldwide viticulture stage. The state now has 18 American Viticultural Areas (AVA). Among the oldest AVAs are the Willamette Valley, the Columbia Valley, the Walla Walla Valley, and the Umpqua Valley, all of which were established in 1984. The newest AVAs are the Rocks District of Milton Freewater and Elton Oregon, which share an establishment year of 2015.
Finding Oregon’s most popular wineries is easy — they’re well represented in travel media, billboards, and brochures in hotels and regional visitors’ centers, and there are some truly great wineries on Oregon’s widely beaten path. For instance, Kinston Estates in Eugene and Willamette Valley Vineyards south of Salem both produce award-winning, world-class wines on a regular basis and feature tasteful entertainment, sweeping vistas, and carefully crafted cuisine professionally presented and served. However, no Oregon adventure is complete without a least a few footsteps that veer onto the road less traveled.
A visit to a boutique Oregon winery provides a backward look into the art of winemaking before commercialized wines entered the picture. You’ll enjoy small-batch wines, conversations with winemakers who are passionate about their craft, and settings resplendent with unspoiled natural beauty. These are the places that might be found down an unmarked gravel road off a rural byway or on the main street of a tiny town, where the same person who’s pouring the wine in a rustic tasting room is the same one who tended the vines and bottled the final product. The following are just 10 of the best small Oregon wineries to provide inspiration for your journey.
Villa Catalana Cellars
Situated in the idyllic Beaver Creek Valley between Portland and Oregon City, Villa Catalana Cellars features classic Pacific Northwest Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, a red blend of Syrah and Grenache reminiscent of Catalan-style red blends, and Pinot Gris. Villa Catalana also produces a signature dessert wine enhanced with estate-grown berries called Cascade Berry Fortified Wine Liquor.
Mystic Wine produces small-batch Merlot, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel. Situated in the bucolic agricultural community of Amity, Oregon, Mystic Wine strives to stay small even though the demand for their wines is substantial. You can pick up a bottle when you visit the tasting room or at a small number of local shops and restaurants.
Located west of Oregon’s capital city, Salem, in the farming community of Dallas, Illahe Vineyards sticks with old-school viticulture techniques such as using wooden basket presses. They also use a team of Percheron draft horses instead of tractors. You’ll find exquisitely crafted Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Tempranillo, and Grüner Veltliner.
Cool-season wines thrive in Oregon’s Elkton AVA where the Brandborg family creates award-winning Pinot Noir as well as white wines inspired by France’s Alsace Wine Region. This husband and wife team of self-taught vintners welcome visitors to Brandborg Winery’s tasting room on Elkton’s 1st Street just off the scenic Umpqua Highway.
Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden
Jacksonville’s Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden specializes in historic varietals from Frances Rhône River Wine Region and is one of the few certified biodynamic wineries in the country. You’ll enjoy Grenache, Syrah, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Viognier in Cowhorn’s tasting room.
Left Coast Cellars
Rickreal’s family-owned Left Coast Cellars is a working farm as well as a winery. You’ll find Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Viognier, and Syrah. Don’t miss this winery’s trademark wood-fired pizza.
Located in the Eastern Oregon town of Milton Freewater in the Walla Walla Valley, Watermill Winery produces Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Chardonnay. As an added bonus, Watermill shares a tasting room with nearby artisan cidery Blue Mountain Cider Company.
Bells Up Winery
The proprietors of Newberg’s Bells’ Up Winery turned a basement hobby into a joy-fueled business featuring handcrafted Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Seyval Blanc. Among the smallest of Oregon’s boutique wineries, you’ll need to make a reservation to visit the tasting room here.
Sno Road Winery
You can find Sno Road Winery‘s tasting room on Echo, Oregon’s historic Main Street. You’ll be able to enjoy Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Muscat Canelli, Tempranillo, Zinfandel, and Petit Verdot. With 10 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, history enthusiasts love spending time in Echo.
Abbey Creek Vineyard
Abbey Creek Vineyard is vintner Bertony Faustin’s one-man show — he flies solo on all aspects of wine production from planting the vines to bottling end result. He specializes in Chardonnay, Rosé, Gamay Noir, and Pinot Noir and has developed a nonalcoholic version of Pinot Noir that he calls Pinot Noir Juice. Faustin is also the creator of a documentary titled “Red, White, and Black,” which explores the experiences of minority winemakers.
When mapping out a visit to one or more of Oregon’s boutique wineries, potential visitors need to keep in mind that many off-the-beaten-track wineries don’t keep regular tasting room hours — in fact, some are open by appointment only. Calling in advance helps ensure that you and your party enjoy a memorable experience.