Thursday, January 21, 2016

Will Travel for Wine

We love to travel and we love wine!  These two loves of our lives have led us over the years to places like Las Vegas and Napa Valley.  But, when it comes to wine, we really love a good Pinot Noir.  And, Oregon makes the best Pinot in the country!  So, our vacation planning led us to exploring Oregon and their extraordinary Pinot Noir.

What was really unique about this vacation - not including the fact that we traveled exclusively for wine - was that we made no plans other than the flight to Oregon and reserved a rental car.  In stark contrast to other vacations where every single last detail is planned - hotel, restaurants, activities, etc. - with this vacation, we just decided to wing it.  We flew into Oregon, picked up the rental car and explored like "Gypsy Winos".  It was one of the best vacations of our life!

*Warning - this post is jammed full of pictures and adventures.  So, take a moment to pour yourself a glass of wine. It will make your reading that much more enjoyable and tolerable.

We flew into Portland late and booked a hotel through the Hotel Tonight app.  (Excellent last minute hotel deals.)  After grabbing something to eat, exploring downtown Portland and failing miserably at being able to wait in line for VooDoo Donuts (a Portland institution) at midnight, we wandered back to the hotel for our first nights rest in Oregon.  The following day, we set out to explore Portland's Japanese Gardens and the Rose Gardens.  Portland is, after all, the City of Roses.


Both gardens are breath-taking and definitely worth seeing while in Portland.  We're glad we visited but quickly decided that this was not the mission and headed to Wine Country.  Our first stop along the way was a favorite wine of ours, Torii Mor.  Unlike most wineries in Napa, Oregon's wineries tend to be small, intimate, and much less commercialized.  Visiting Torii Mor was like going to a family or friend's home and tasting wines.  If you're open to exploring Pinot Noir, it's a pretty sure bet that if you try any wine from the Willamette Valley region of Oregon, it'll be a good one.  The Dundee Hills are just one of the areas within Willamette that is known for producing excellent Pinot. 

After a night staying in a Bed & Breakfast in Carlton, OR, we made our way deeper into the heart of Willamette Valley and checked into the best accommodations in Oregon!  McMinnville is a sleepy little town tucked away in the heart of wine country (midway between Portland and the Oregon coast) - the kind of place you'd want to retire to.  Based on recommendations from the TripAdvisor app, we booked several nights at 3rd Street Flats.  We stayed in the Historic McMinnville Bank Building, in one of 4 renovated apartments, specifically the 1st Flat, Pied A Terre.  The premise of 3rd Street Flats was inspired by a couple's travels through Europe who were inspired to bring the amenities of a vacation rental combined with the style of a hotel to Willamette Valley.  If you find yourself in Oregon, stay at 3rd Street Flats.  It's an experience to have once in your life.  

There's a small grocery store across the street, Harvest Fresh, that has great offerings if  you want to cook and eat in.  And, 3rd Street Flats offers everything in the kitchen you'll need.  There's also a "Community Pantry" in the hallway of the Bank Building that has non-perishable items for everyone to share.  Pick a few things, leave a few things.  We made a homemade pizza one night and enjoyed breakfast in the flat several mornings.  But, do not plan to cook too many meals on your own while in Oregon.  Oregon offers some of the best food (and drink) in the country.  

*Drinks/Tapas at La Rambla

*Dinner at Bistro Maison
We tried Escargots En Croute (Snails baked in parsley and butter and topped with a pastry crust) and Duck Breast with Foie Gras (Duck Liver) with Pommes Frites (fancy for French Fries).  

Our next stop along the wine tour was Ken Wright Vineyards, which in our opinion is the elite of all Pinot Noir, the best in the world!  Ken Wright's tasting room is an old train station from the 1920's converted into a tasting room for one of the world's incomparable experiences with Pinot Noir.  Keeping the tradition of feeling like you're at home, the staff at Ken Wright made every effort to make sure we had the appropriate Ken Wright experience including a personal tour of the Abbott Claim vineyard.  We also walked away with a jewel - a Magnum of Ken Wright's 2010 Savoya Vineyard Pinot Noir, personally signed by Ken. 

*This is Ronnie at his happiest - glass of Ken Wright in hand. 

From there, we ventured to Domaine Serene.  Domaine is quite possibly the most beautiful winery we visited while in Oregon.  And the staff there are exceptional at discussing Vino.  Not to mention, the wine is exceptional. 

Next stop on the wine tour was Elk Cove Vineyards, a little gem of a wine we initially discovered while visiting Alexandria, VA.  Elk Cove is nestled deep in the hills of Willamette Valley.  The tasting room itself is picturesque, overlooking the vineyards and Oregon's Coast Range Mountains.  Elk Cove wines are quite special, as they are one of Oregon's oldest and historic family owned wineries.  One of the things that stood out to me at Elk Cove is that they not only make outstanding Pinot Noir but also have a pretty extraordinary collection of whites including Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.  

Having had our fill of vineyards, but not adventures or wine - we set out to the Oregon Coast.  We had never experienced anything like the exquisite beauty of the Oregon Coast.  Having grown up on the East Coast, you tend to have some tainted view of what "a coast" looks like.  Believe me - you've never experienced a heaven quite as special as the Oregon Coast.  We stood astounded, saying "Wow" over and over again.  The fluctuation of high tide and low tide is simply mesmerizing.  High tide displays a feeling of a cinematic version of the coast while the low tide uncovers creatures and formations of the sea not seen 12 hours before.  

While traveling to the Coast, we decided to stay at Stephanie Inn, a little gem of a hotel nestled in Cannon Beach, OR.  The hotel itself overlooks Haystack Rock, made popular by the movie The Goonies.  The hotel is a small, boutique of a hotel with outstanding accommodations and service, not to mention the most outstanding views.  Romantic and indulgent, this was our splurge during the trip.  A complimentary beer and wine gathering is held every evening and a late evening nightcap are offered in the oceanfront library.  Yes, we rented The Goonies from Concierge and watched it while there.  How could we not?  Yes, the Truffle Shuffle was attempted multiple times.  How could we not?

While on the coast, we wanted to see more of the unique forests that Oregon offered and set out to discover Ecola State Park, which wraps around Tillamook Head, between Cannon and Seaside Beach.  In awe as we wondered through the forest, and unbeknownst to us, we landed directly on the beach where one of the scenes from Twilight was filmed.  And, we had the opportunity to get the only exercise we had attempted while on vacation.  

*Successful hike 1/8 of the way up the Mountain. 

Begrudgingly, we checked out of the Stephanie Inn and left the coast to head for the mountains and explore majestic Mt. Hood.  The drive as you wind up the mountain is pretty amazing as you continue to see glimpses of the peak of Mt. Hood.  We saw some pretty spectacular scenery and finally settled in for some R&R amidst the mountain.  Consuming as much Oregon wine as you can and exploring can be pretty exhausting so the quiet and serenity of Mt. Hood was welcome on the last leg of our trip. 

As the trip came to an end and we made our way back to Portland, we made one last stop at The Nines Hotel in downtown Portland, and toasted to a pretty spectacular vacation.  Oregon - you were Uh-Mazing!  

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