My 3 Favorite Wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley

Pinot Noir at Torii Mor

Pretty much the whole reason we chose to go to Oregon for our anniversary trip was wine. We went to Napa for our first anniversary and had a delicious time, but we’re more pinot people than anything else, so the Willamette Valley seemed like the perfect place to visit. And it was.

We tasted wine at seven or so wineries over the course of about two days which may seem like a little or a lot, depending, but it seemed just right to us. After all, we had to fit in ample nap time at our home away from home, the glorious Black Walnut Inn.

I like wine a lot, but a wine connoisseur I am not — nor is KP. We’re very much the types who know what we like but you definitely won’t find us waxing poetic about tannins, oxidation or balance. Maybe that’s why, near the end of our trip, I decided that everything tasted like cherries. Leggy, approachable cherries.

Here are my three favorite places where we sipped — and rarely spit — in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

1. Anderson Family Vineyard

Our first stop was Anderson Family Vineyard in Newberg. It was highly recommended by our concierge at The Nines in Portland and he made the required reservation for us. We like these smaller vineyards that compel you to join their club — because you can’t really find the wines elsewhere. And I loved the Anderson family’s story; operating a vineyard was their lifelong dream and they’re living it. Cliff and Allison, the husband/wife duo behind Anderson Family Vineyards, are very hands-on; she conducted our tasting (and turned me back onto pinot gris!) and he was there, running around doing things a busy vintner does, I guess. Their wines — pinot noir, dijon chardonnay and pinot gris — were so good that of course we had to join the club. Now if only it would cool off in Austin, we’d get our first shipment…

This is the picturesque tasting room at Anderson Family Vineyard.
This is the picturesque tasting room at Anderson Family Vineyard.
And this is the unspoiled view...
And this is the unspoiled view…

2. Torii Mor Winery

One of the cool things about Black Walnut Inn is that they provided a list of their favorite local wineries, categorized in different ways. If memory serves, Torii Mor was classified as a “hidden gem” or the like. It was one of my favorite wineries we visited because it was so uniquely beautiful. Yes, every single winery we visited was picturesque; it’s hard not to be in that part of the world. But Torii Mor was really memorable — and the wine was amazing.

I love the story of this winery’s name. “Torii” refers to ornate gates often seen at the entrance of Japanese gardens. “Mor” means earth. Together, it is “beautiful gate to the earth.” There are “gates” like this all over the property.

IMG_3021

Torii Mor was probably the quietest, most peaceful tasting room experience we had while in Oregon. There is a small Japanese garden adjacent to the tasting room, and there’s a huge wrap-around deck on the back of the property which is nestled in the trees.

3. Archery Summit Winery

Archery Summit felt like the black label of all of the wineries we visited. Very high end. Very pricey club. Very exclusive feeling. We tasted several pinot noirs and I was on my best behavior.

This is what five years looks like.
This is what five years looks like.

Other Wineries We Visited

Erath Winery

Erath is pretty common. We’ve bought it at Whole Foods and HEB. It’s good pinot noir. But the tasting experience there compared to Anderson and some of the others felt a little more “corporate,” for lack of a better way of putting it. Less of a personal touch, more robotic. As one of our wino friends said, it’s the Mondavi of Willamette. Still, the wine was wonderful and the scenery even more so.

White Rose Estate

I don’t remember exactly how we stumbled upon White Rose. I think we went because it was close to Archery Summit, and we were more fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants on this trip. If we visited a tasting room and there were others closeby, we checked them out, too, usually. The wine was fine, but my favorite part of White Rose was the cute little tasting room. It was this little log cabin-like building, and it was really dark and cozy inside.

White Rose Estate Tasting Room

There was lavender everywhere. Seriously, Willamette couldn’t be more picturesque if it tried.

White Rose Estate

Durant Vineyards

Durant Vineyards and Red Ridge Farms is also near White Rose and Archery Summit; I think that’s how we ended up in that area to begin with. Everyone in the area raved about the farm and the olive oil and we wanted to do some gift shopping and get some snacks, so that’s where we went. The tasting room wasn’t even on the agenda, but since we were already there, how could we not?

Red Ridge Farms is a really cool little place. It’s part nursery where I suppose locals go to buy plants and gardening stuff, part gift shop where you can do olive oil tastings (and buy olive oil in every variety imaginable) and buy luscious lavender lotions and bath salts, kitchen stuff, oh, and picnic accoutrements to pair with your wine tasting on their lawn.

Red Ridge Farms

They also have these amazing little ice-cream sandwiches. (He even let me have a bite.)

In his happy place

Seven of Hearts

Seven of Hearts was another, well we’re already here tasting. We went to Carlton to check out Republic of Jam (and I’m sorry, but calling that little shop a “tasting room” that has “flights” of sweet and savory bites is a bit of a stretch… we were told we could sample whatever jars of jam they had — in little cups) and Seven of Hearts has a tasting room just a few doors down, so in we went. Full disclosure: we went in so I could use the bathroom, and doing the tasting was my way to not feel guilty about that. Surprise, surprise… the joke was on us. Because we walked out with a case of wine headed our way.

I did a relatively good job of jotting down notes on all of the wines that I liked. Just now, I wanted to share which Seven of Hearts it was that sucked me in (because one of the whites was so good, I couldn’t resist… the 2013 Viognier & Roussanne?). But I have no idea where said notes are. See, a true wine connoisseur wouldn’t be so callous. Thank goodness we have some shipments coming so I can remember what it was that I liked so much.

By the end of our trip — I can’t believe I’m going to admit this — KP and I both needed a little bit of a wine break. You know those things you see on Pinterest about what to do with leftover wine? I always scoff. Who ever has leftover wine?! Well, after all wine all day for consecutive days, I needed to get some vodka in the mix, or something. And I can only take so much serious wine talk for so long. By our final day in the valley, everything was leggy and approachable as far as we were concerned.

The Dixie Chicken

I appreciate college tradition. As an Illini, I bleed orange and blue and always sing “Hail to the Orange” (complete with side-to-side swaying) at football games. But I think few universities take tradition to the same level as Texas A & M University in College Station, Texas. What, with that “whoop” and all…

I had been to the A & M campus once when I was in high school but went back recently since we have family living in College Station now — including an Aggie. It didn’t take much convincing to get him to take us to lunch at The Dixie Chicken, an A & M staple since 70s which he just so happened to work at back in the day.

The Chicken, as it’s affectionately dubbed, is really the epitome of your favorite college dive bar — think smelly, sticky floors, beer and greasy (but tasty!) food. They even have “stuff.” Yes, that’s an actual menu item that isn’t legible from the shot below but I promise it’s on there. Some regulars overheard me asking about it so they volunteered that it’s almost like a dip or spread consisting of meat, tomatoes, onion, cheese and gravy.

The Dixie Chicken

While I didn’t opt for the Stuff, I did enjoy a cheeseburger with fries — and a few of the deliciously bad onion rings my husband ordered. It did not disappoint.

One thing that The Chicken offers that your typical college bar may not is a relaxing wrap-around porch. The porch overlooks what is known as Bottle Cap Alley… which is… just what it sounds like.

Bottle Cap Alley

The Barking Crab

Casual Waterside Dining in Boston, Massachusetts

This past weekend, the hubby and I were “back East” for a wedding on Cape Cod. We previously lived in Boston but it’s been over three years since we left. So it’s always fun to go back and take a trip down memory lane. We strategically planned the weekend so that we had a little Boston time before and after the wedding festivities on the Cape.

When I lived in Boston, I thought they had a stellar dining scene. And they do. But living in Chicago I now know what it really means to have a stellar dining scene. Yes, I’m biased. But really, there are some excellent restaurants in Boston. You can’t throw a stone in the South End (or North End, for that matter) and not hit a great restaurant. After all, the city boasts Barbara Lynch’s impressive empire, which was a favorite when I lived in Boston.

But there are just as many hidden gems and casual spots as there are fining dining places. The Barking Crab has always been one of my favorites that fits into that category. It’s a really laid-back, casual seafood restaurant right on the water. Technically, it’s on the edge of Fort Point Channel but I always considered it just on the northern edge of Southie, I guess because I lived in Southie and it’s so close.

The Barking CrabYou can’t miss it driving north on Seaport Boulevard. It’s the crab shack-looking place with a red and yellow striped tent that resembles a circus tent over the patio in the back. Fittingly, the decor inside the tented patio is casual and kitschy, with crab baskets and other marine-esque paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling. And when I say it’s casual, I mean expect to share picnic tables with other diners and share the bottle of ketchup.

The Barking CrabDuring warm weather months, the back patio is teeming with locals, young and old, enjoying seafood, drinks and the waterside atmosphere. It’s a great place to spend a lazy weekend afternoon enjoying beers and a bucket of steamers. Even in not-so-great weather, the place still fills up.  When we were recently in town, it was grey, rainy and chilly but the patio was still pretty full for lunchtime on Friday. The overhead heaters definitely help!

Being a seafood restaurant, the Barking Crab’s menu has all of the essential New England favorites, including my personal favorite and the whole reason for our recent visit — the lobster roll. You can either have the traditional lobster roll with mayo (and it’s just enough to hold it together) or the Barking Crab’s “naked” version which is lobster tossed with drawn butter. I opt for the traditional with a side of sweet potato fries. But they aren’t your regular sweet potato fries. They are massive. They basically slice the fries the entire length of the potato, and you know how oddly shaped and big sweet potatoes can be.

Lobster rollOther favorites include the Barking Crab’s New England Clam Chowder, local oysters, steamed mussels and fish-n-chips.

Good to Know

  • Menu items are pretty reasonably priced. Entrees range from $19 – $31 and sandwiches range from $12 – $29.
  • Not a fish fan? There are plenty of non-fish items to choose from, like spare ribs, chicken and burgers.
  • Take the kids. The Barking Crab is family-friendly and offers a small kids’ menu. Plus, it’s loud and sometimes even rowdy, so you don’t have to worry about inside voices.
  • Parking is generally a cinch since the Barking Crab overlooks a parking lot (on the non-water side), but it’s a paid lot. Tip: there are about 15 or so free spots that run parallel to the front of the restaurant, if you can snag one.

A Lilly Pulitzer Kind of Weekend

Cape Cod

My weekend was spent in the land teeming with blue bloods sporting Bermuda shorts with embroidered crabs and Polo shirts — collars popped, natch. There’s no place quite like Cape Cod in the summertime, and I mean that in a good way.

The occasion was a bachelorette weekend for one of my close girlfriends. No, the Cape isn’t exactly the place for stereotypical bachelorette debauchery, and thank goodness for that. It was sunny and wickedly steamy, though, which was the perfect setting for two of my favorite things — sunbathing and day drinking.

Lunching, Shopping and Day Drinking in Chatham, Massachusetts

Although we stayed in Harwich, we spent a lot of time in adorable and quintessentially Cape-esque Chatham. We had a leisurely lunch at The Blue Coral, which we sort of stumbled upon after we passed over the wildly popular Chatham Squire. Although it’s on Main Street, The Blue Coral isn’t really on Main Street; it’s nestled behind some boutiques (all of which sell a healthy dose of Lilly Pulitzer). The setting is borderline tropical. The restaurant and bar only offer outside seating but the patio is filled with trees and lush flowers and greenery, and brightly colored stools line the small bar.

Being a former New Englander, I was longing for a lobster roll so my lunchtime selection was a no-brainer. Interestingly, they offer a chilled or hot option and although hot sounded intriguing, I went with chilled. And I loved every bite.

Just across the street from The Blue Coral are a bunch of cute little shops, including Violets, a clothing and jewelry boutique. So the girls and I did a bit of shopping so as not to appear as complete lushes going bar-to-bar. Violets has way too much to choose from, but I landed on a few pieces. Think J Crew style at slightly better prices.

Back to the drinking. This was a bachelorette weekend, after all.

Our next stop was Wild Goose Tavern which is in the Chatham Wayside Inn. It was kind of dead inside but despite that, we couldn’t get a table if we were only going to drink. What kind of establishment enforces such nonsensical rules… So we took our drinks and went out on one of the side patios. I was disappointed that they didn’t offer any frozen drinks. It just felt like that kind of an afternoon. But they do offer some equally appealing options, like their “Goose Tini’s” and “sassy sangria.”

Change of plans. Mid-drink at Wild Goose we got an invite for a boat ride. And what better way to mix up an afternoon of drinking by throwing in an impromptu boat ride?

Chatham boat ride

We got an offer for a cruise around Little Pleasant Bay so we obliged. Good call on our part. It was a gorgeous day to be out on a boat and we even got to see a few seals.

Post-boat ride we put on our fancy pants and had our final round of daytime beverages at Chatham Bars Inn. The outside patio that spans the entire front of the inn not only offers a beautiful view of the bay, but some top-notch people-watching.

Jim Who?

The pinnacle of our weekend revolved around more day drinking, but also seeing Jim Plunkett at The Improper Bostonian in Dennis Port. Tiny secret — despite having lived in New England for four years, I had no idea who Jim Plunkett — or simply, “Plunkett,” as my friends referred to him — was. But to say he is a legend is apparently no understatement. He’s been entertaining the Cape and Boston for decades, apparently. And he is seriously entertaining. I had so much fun that I almost forgot for a second that I was standing in a bar that very very closely resembled some of my college haunts, complete with a sticky beer and sweat-drenched floor.

Sunbathing at Red River Beach in Harwich, Massachusetts

Alas, all of those libations sucked the energy right out of us so some beachside R & R was required. We spent a balmy afternoon at Red River Beach in Harwich.

Red River Beach

I liked Red River Beach because it has a bit more of a residential feel to it. It wasn’t quite as touristy and crowded — we got parking, after all — and we didn’t have other beach-goers sitting right on top of us. My favorite part? The ice-cream truck.

Gene’s Sausage Shop

Day Drinking at Gene’s Sausage Shop

I’m a fan of day drinking no matter the season, but somehow a beverage tastes even better atop a rooftop bar in Chicago in the summertime. All the better when you add a warm, crusty pretzel and a grilled brat to the mix.

And that’s exactly what you’ll enjoy at Gene’s Sausage Shop in Lincoln Square. Their rooftop bar opened either last summer or the summer before, and for whatever crazy reason, I only just visited for the first time recently.

Gene's Sausage Shop rooftop bar

The first two floors consist of the shop itself, which boasts fresh produce, pastries, European treats, beer, wine and most importantly, a butcher. They make sausage by hand daily.

Gene's Sausage Shop

But back to the rooftop bar, which is on the third floor. The space is great and there’s even a clean bathroom up there. Yes, this is key once the seal has been broken.

If you’re not into brats (what’s wrong with you?), there are plenty of other sandwiches and German favorites to choose from, all pretty reasonably priced, I might add.