Going Beyond Wine in the Willamette Valley: Food, Hotels, Breweries, Mead & Cider Producers

Published in the November print issue of both Oakland and Alameda Magazines, my feature on highlights around Willamette Valley beyond wineries, including breweries and distilleries, food and dining, mead and cider producers, as well as a resort hotel — article here [**since Oakland Magazine went out of business, my article is noted below].

My other Oakland and Alameda Magazine articles include romantic getaways in Beverly Hills and Santa Monica and Orange County’s Huntington Beach in one walkable coastal mile, complete with SoCal sunsets and chill surfer vibe.

By the pool at Allison Inn & Spa

The Willamette Valley is synonymous with “Oregon Wine Country,” home to over 500 wineries, encompassing a 150-mile valley marked by the Willamette River, surrounded by mountains. There are endless wineries to visit and wine (especially Pinot Noir) is the number one draw here. But what is lesser known is that there are also many breweries, distilleries, even mead and cider producers where you can taste as you journey along the valley, taking in the lush green trees and rolling vineyards. Here are some of our favorites in lodging, food, drink and activities via three of the valley’s towns. 

The landscape surrounding Newberg is among the most idyllic of the entire Valley — and the place to go for a pampering Wine Country experience. The Allison Inn & Spa is one-of-a-kind for the region, a luxury resort with one of the only fine dining-centric restaurants around, JORY, a renowned spa, manicured walking trails and refined-yet-relaxed service and amenities. Cradled at the base of tree and vineyard-lined hills, views soothe from room decks and window seats, as does live jazz in the lounge informally known as the living room of the Willamette.

Wolves & People brewery

A short drive away, Wolves & People is one of the most destination-worthy breweries not just in Oregon but in the US. Located on founder/head brewer/beer writer Christian DeBenedetti’s family hazelnut farm, the historic, white light-strewn barn makes for a transporting tasting room. The “beer geek”-worthy beers range from vibrant sours to a gin barrel-aged saison or a hazelnut beer pulling from surrounding trees.

If you’re going to do a winery, the new Domaine Divio is worth going out of your way for in Dundee Hills: a slice of France in Oregon, opened by two Frenchmen, Bruno Corneaux and André Weil, who have produced wine in Burgundy and around the world. From the scenic perch of their modern barn tasting room gazing over rolling hillsides, sip their elegantly balanced, Old World-meets-New World Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

In a day of tasting, Ruddick/Wood is a modern tavern respite in a wood-lined, renovated 1920’s garage serving food all day, like local cornmeal fried rockfish sandwiches, hazelnut biscuits or chicken roulade, accompanied by some of the better cocktails around. 

The college (OSU) town of Corvallis is laid back with a charming old downtown along the Willamette River, a pleasure to walk, kayak or bike along. Edible joys are many, whether gourmet, dipped-to-order donuts at Benny’s Donuts or third wave coffee at Tried & True Coffee (with two locations). View arthouse films with students and locals at the town’s only independent, locally owned movie theater, the tiny Darkside Cinema

One of the region’s greatest gems is a 20 minute drive out of town, off a dirt road in Philomath: Harris Bridge Vineyard is magical escape, like visiting a friend’s farm and beautifully decorated barn. Here you can picnic, play lawn games, walk the village’s historic covered bridge and listen to music. Their fantastic vermouths, aperitfs and dessert wines are unique, expressive of the region and owners, gaining further romance from stories associated with each bottle, penned by their resident writer. 

Harris Bridge

The Lorenz brothers take mead to a new level at award-winning Nectar Creek: instead of the sweet, honey wine many expect, most of their meads are crisp, dry and drink like a beer or cider. The innovative brothers are just opening their massive new meadery and restaurant with an outdoor garden gazing up at the mountains on the outskirts of town. 

Though feeling a bit 1990s in design and menu, Magenta is a charming pan Asian restaurant with hidden basement bar that pushes local boundaries with the likes of kangaroo carpaccio and freshwater eel teriyaki. Try local fish dishes, like wild chinook over basil rice. 

The modern-industrial sprawl of Salem is not exactly appealing… until you get to the few blocks of the walkable, historic downtown where musicians play in alleyways and locals hang out at sidewalk cafes. While the restaurants in general can feel dated, Archive Coffee & Bar is more current: a lofty-cool space that is hipster coffee shop and lunch spot by day, restaurant and cocktail bar by night. Order a deconstructed cappuccino or alcohol-free coffee “cocktails” like The Bee’s Knees with espresso and cream laced with rosemary, honey, lavender and black pepper. Fill up on avocado hummus and cheesesteak sandwiches with a cocktail. 

Journey down an alleyway to sip natural, no-sugar-added ciders at the roughly one year old 1859 Cider Co., a husband-wife operation. As former winemakers, they ensure balance in each cider, utilizing local apples and cherries. They host bands, throw cornhole tournaments and “paint your growler” events, as they cheekily serve 1859 Impeachment, an unfiltered peach cider where “a portion of the proceeds will be given to progressive charities to help Make America Smart Again.”

Round out the tastings at two local breweries like Santiam Brewing, started by a group of homebrewers, a cozy pub and brewery producing a range of beer styles, including English-style ales and their popular Pirate Stout, a tropical stout partly aged in rum barrels. Or visit Gilgamesh Brewing, started by three brothers and serving vibrant beers like The Hoppy Farmer, Doug FIRocious IPA or DJ Jazzy Hef, an American wheat beer brewed with jasmine tea. 

Burgundian-style wines from a Burgundy winemaker in Dundee: Domaine Divio