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Willamette Valley's Charming Carlton
Oregon's grape expectations go beyond Pinot Noir

Oregon wine

Oregon wine

Oregon wine


Ever since sis introduced us to a Patricia Green Pinot Noir a few years back, we'd dreamed of a tranquil Oregon wine vacation away from California's crowds and pocket-draining prices.

It took only a few Web clicks to find our destination − the tiny Yamhill County town of Carlton.  

Located an easy forty-five minute drive southwest of Portland, Carlton is making a big splash on the Northwest winemaking scene. Home to twelve wineries yet barely 1,700 residents, Carlton's proximity to Yamhill, McMinnville and Dundee make it ideal for exploring Willamette Valley wine towns or just kicking back (

We landed at The Carlton Inn, a four-room bed-and-breakfast located on a quiet section of the town's main drag. (648 West Main Street, 503.852.7506, As soon as we arrived, innkeepers Edward and Heidi Yates tipped us off to a Saturday afternoon event we couldn't afford to miss: The Oregon Sauvignon Blanc Cartel. Held July 12, 2008 at Patricia Green Cellars in Newberg, the third annual one-day event featured tastes of Sauvignon Blanc from three wineries better known for Pinot Noir and other varietals: Patricia Green Cellars, Andrew Rich Vintner and J. Christopher Winery. Pouring our 2006 Panama White from a table piled high with T-shirts emblazoned "Women Taste Better" was the wine demi-goddess herself, Patricia Green.

After that surprise treat, dinner had to be grand. We followed the locals' advice and made off to the Joel Palmer House in Dayton (600 Ferry St., 503.864.2995, Housed in a local landmark with elegant indoor and garden dining, the family-run restaurant offers Pacific Northwest cuisine at its freshest. We were seduced by Mushroom Madness, a special tasting menu that features handpicked local mushrooms in every course. Our sommelier's pairing suggestion, a 2004 Methven Family Vineyards Pinot Noir (Willamette Valley), was new to us and spot on.

Fresh the next day after sleeping like babies and tanked by Edward and Heidi's wholesome breakfast, we were ready for a full day of wine tasting

Our first stop was Dobbes Family Estate in Dundee (240 SE 5th St., 503.538.1141, Charles was happy to introduce us to Joe Dobbes' Willamette Valley varietals, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as exotic Viognier and opulent Syrahs made from Rogue Valley grapes. Two Pinot Noir favorites were the cinnamon-scented Griffin's Cuvée and the sophisticated, steak-worthy Cuvée Noir. 

Hungry for lunch after those heady Oregon pinots, we dropped in at The Dundee Bistro (100-A SW 7th Street, 503.554.1650, Just next door to the Ponzi Wine Bar, this bustling, friendly bistro features sustainably farmed and seasonal regional cuisine at moderate prices. A great selection of wines by the glass helped us wash down tasty sea scallop and zucchini carpaccio, Kumamoto oysters and applewood bacon-scented pasta.  

Before heading back to Carlton, we stopped at McMinnville's Eyrie Vineyards to scope out Old World Burgundian-style Pinot Noir (935 NE 10th Ave., 503.472.6315, Quotable tasting room manager Mike Eldred filled us in on pinot pioneer David Lett and the Eyrie style of minimalism in the vineyard and at the winery during an impromptu tour-for-two. Lovers of earthy wines who share Eyrie's aversion to strong oak flavors mustn't miss this landmark destination.

Content and yawning, we were ready for a kick-back night in Carlton. Only a few steps from the Inn was The Horse Radish (211 West Main Street, 503.852.6696, where we rounded up fresh bread, dips, tasty salads and great artisanal cheeses for a light dinner on the cheap.

Our hosts outdid themselves at breakfast the next day with tasty quiche and Oregon hazelnut pancakes topped with fresh homemade berry sauce. After a lazy morning in their backyard, we headed for the Carlton Winemakers Studio (801 N. Scott St., 503.852.6100, where we found many of the region's top producers housed together in a green-constructed building. Topping our tour of the amazing facility, a destination in itself, were tastes of standout Boedeker Cellars and Hamacher Wines.

By then, it was nearly time to head for Hood River to begin working off our food and wine indulgences. We really, really intended to stop at the lavender farms on our way out of town but found ourselves sidetracked by the Carlo & Julian Winery (1000 East Main St., 503.852.7432). Named for owner Felix Madrid's twin boys, the winery features estate Pinot Noir but also Tempranillo, Syrah, Grenache and Malbec. With Felix and his little girl eager to entertain us in a comfy old house atmosphere, we settled in for one last taste in charming Carlton before setting sail for the Columbia River Gorge and, we hoped, more Oregon adventures.

© Matilde Parente, 2008





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