The Definitive Guide to Houston

Uncork & Unwind: Oregon Wine Country

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From historic farmhouse charm and memorable Willamette Valley wine-tasting experiences to Tillamook coastal retreats, take a lovely respite from summer-soaked extreme temperatures in the Beaver State. With variety, allure and lively experiences, the wine country of Oregon is a special place.

Carlton Farm House, Courtesy of Megan Carda

After a three-hour flight from Dallas, we touched down on a bright, sunny day in Portland. Our party of six friends collected luggage, then headed for a full agenda in the Oregon countryside. For the next five days, we would call the cozy Carlton Farmhouse (548 West Monroe Street) home base, strategically located in the middle of one of the nation’s top wine communities, and a short distance from brisk Pacific waters along the scenic Oregon coast. With its gray shiplap walls and ceilings and wooden floors, the rustic yet elegantly appointed 1,637-square-foot, completely restored farmhouse is exquisitely shabby chic. The surrounding grounds are also special — a calming green space with a variety of colorful flowers, fruit trees, berries and distinctive touches, perfect for morning coffee or evening dining.

Carlton is a sleepy town of just over 2,000 people, north of McMinnville. Originally known as “Carl’s Town,” it incorporated in 1899. Quiet and relaxing, it’s the ideal place to gather with friends or a romantic getaway.

Our travels took us along winding, wooded roads on an excursion into the great northwestern United States. We drove past fields of filberts, cherries and plums in a region chock-full of excellent vineyards with sturdy reputations. Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton routinely appear on contemporary wine labels. The first leg of our journey to Carlton was memorable. Our farmhouse accommodations were less than a block off the town’s main thoroughfare, providing a gateway to a number of wine tasting rooms.

 Among our favorites was Ken Wright Cellars. Wine Spectator calls the winemaker “ … a model of consistent excellence, producing 111 wines rated ‘outstanding’ [90 points or higher on the Wine Spectator 100-point scale] in 18 vintages.” The winery’s Carlton tasting room (120 North Pine Street) is a comfortable, refurbished railroad station, with indoor and outdoor seating suitable for large and small groups.

A few steps away, we dined at Cuvée (214 West Main Street), an intimate French bistro where chef Gilbert Henry was our host. He served from a menu including appetizers of champignons semolina cake and escargot, as well as entrees such as a savory Moroccan lamb stew, traditional steak-frites and a fresh catch of the day.

The Painted Lady, Photo Courtesy of Marina Oriel

Across the street is Carlton Bakery (305 W Main Street), another surprising small-town treat. Located just across from City Park, they specialize in a delicious repertoire of breads, pastries and more. There are lively taverns along the way, including one with sign out front that reads: “Education is important, but beer is importanter.” Clearly, Carlton has a sense of humor.

A short drive from Carlton took us to several acclaimed wineries. Domaine Serene (6555 NE Hilltop Lane) in nearby Dayton featured a luxurious, Mediterranean-style tasting room with spectacular views below. Since the 2000s, Beirut-born winemaker Mo Ayoub has been a fixture in the area, producing quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. His Ayoub Vineyard (9650 NE Keyes Lane, Dundee Hills) was another favorite.

We sampled Mos favorite Rosé (known as Mosé), toasted, laughed and even sneaked off for a private tour of his personal wine cellar. He told us his production stays at less than 2,000 cases per year in order to meet his stringent qualitative standards.

After enjoying ourselves at various wineries, it was time for a day trip to the Oregon coast. For most of our group, this was a new experience. First stop was a quaint seaside village, Pacific City. A local parade on the costal road into town, however, forced us to take a detour.  We journeyed farther up the coast for a stop at the Tillamook Creamery (4165 U.S. Highway 101). We ate lunch, sampled world famous cheeses (and watched it being made and packaged) and made our way through the throngs of tourists with similar ideas. After a bit more sightseeing, we wound up back in Pacific City. The parade had cleared out, so it was easy to gain access to the beach. While there, we grabbed a beer in the Pelican Brewing Company (33180 Cape Kiwanda Drive).

Carlton Farm House, Courtesy of Megan Carda

We soon realized it was time for long-sleeve shirt: It may have been July, but a brisk wind and cooler temps had everyone wearing pullover jackets. Then we explored the beach and watched surfers in wetsuits navigating waves. We also admired the impressive, massive Haystack rocks along the Oregon coast. Locals rave about the steep dune in Pacific City for its oceanic vista and fresh air, and it was easy to see why.

It was getting late, so we headed back to our Carlton retreat for an outdoor dinner at twilight. We needed to make the most of one more evening, and time was running out. We chose The Painted Lady (201 South College) in Newberg for dinner. The small, well-appointed restaurant was an unexpected treat, particularly for a group our size, with attention to every detail. The evening’s tasting menu with wine pairings was lavish. It included a variety of excellent options: canapés, Miso Custard, sliced Oregon Bison, pickled cherries, apricots with melt-in-your-mouth Gougère puffs, and flavorful sorbets topped off with coffee.

Before long, it was time to head back into the Texas heat. However, the trip offered a nice summer respite, setting the tone for a return in 2019 … or sooner. The cuisine, the wine and the opportunity to discover some of Oregon’s hidden pleasures will stay with us until then.

Feature Image Courtesy of Shutterstock.

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