Food and wine lovers have long been flocking to Portland, Oregon for its abundance of farm-fresh restaurant offerings and excellent wines from nearby Willamette Valley. Naturally it doesn’t hurt that James Beard was born here. Portland is also a beautiful and manageable city with art, nature, and for the architecturally impressed, bridges galore.
For those wishing to be away from the city to enjoy the heart of Oregon’s wine country, top-notch culinary offerings, and warm hospitality, staying in Willamette Valley will be just the ticket.
Luxury in the Heart of Willamette Valley
In McMinnville, an easy 40-miles drive south of Portland, the 36-room Atticus Hotel is a few feet from Historic Downtown’s Third Street with its cafés, restaurants, shops, and several tasting rooms.
A traditional hotel reception desk is replaced with a Welcome Bar where guests are served a glass of sparkling wine or a cappuccino while checking in. Just behind rests a magnificent painting by Costa Rican/Oregonian Carmen Borassé depicting several elements intrinsic to the region.
Interior designed by Christina Tello, it becomes immediately clear that the Atticus is a very special boutique luxury property.
Hallways are a rich deep blue with white mouldings, while doors to every room and suite have unique brass knockers. Indeed, every single item at Atticus has been carefully and lovingly curated, including a fantastic selection of books, exclusively local art, handcrafted furnishings, and plants generating an utterly Pacific Northwest aesthetic.
Room 22, where I hung my hat, boasted lavender and gray walls, velvet sofa, and an electric fireplace. On the coffee table sat a bowl of walnuts with perhaps the best nutcracker ever invented. Fitting as McMinnville was originally called Walnut City owing to this area’s major export. Intending to taste just one, the entire bowl somehow mysteriously disappeared.
Deep blue barn doors led to an enveloping king-size bed. The large bathroom had a soaking tub, Maak Lab aromatic amenities, walk-in shower, and appropriately, Pendleton robes, as Pendleton’s first mill was in McMinnville. A coffee and tea station with French press, Flag & Wire coffee, Velvet Monkey teas, and naturally, a dual-zone wine fridge ensured both morning and evening bliss.
The hotel also has a small fitness center and Dutch cruiser bikes available. In Atticus’ Drawing Room sitting a spell will permit admiration of the silhouettes of many who have contributed to area’s history.
Hosting two-thirds of Oregon’s wineries, Willamette Valley boasts more than 700 wineries. Due to Willamette’s location, it’s protected from weather extremes resulting in a long growing season with Pinot Noir at the forefront. One of the newer belles of the ball but with a long winemaking history is Résonance Winery.
As the state of Oregon and Maison Louis Jadot of French Burgundy fame were both founded in 1859, perhaps it was inevitable that this region of the Beaver State and eastern France ultimately intertwined. Given that both regions are also on the same latitude, perhaps this marriage was a fait accompli.
In 2013, with expertise of Maison Louis Jadot’s newly retired winemaker Jacques Lardiére, descendants of Jadot principals acquired the established 20-acre Résonance vineyard in the Yamhill Carlton AVA.
The following year they acquired an adjacent 350-acres, newly named Jolis Monts – French for pretty hills – with 50-acres under vine of Pinot Noir and 10 of Chardonnay.
They also acquired the 18-acre Découvert Vineyard 10-miles away in the Dundee Hills AVA now with 15-acres under vine of both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Finally, last year they acquired the 82-acre Koosah Vineyard – Chinook for sky – in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, currently with 44-acres under vine.
In 2017 charming winemaker Guillaume Large arrived from Burgundy, and in 2019 the Résonance tasting room opened its doors. Set atop the hill to take in stellar vineyard views with oak trees so extraordinary and abundant that Van Gogh and Mondrian would have been inspired beyond measure. Gene Mildren oversaw its architecture while the interiors here too were designed by Christina Tello. The result is a clean-lined industrial chic, airy, barn house style space. Though personally, if I had seen any barn house quite this chic, I would have taken up farming long ago.
Amid the ethereal views you can sip one of Résonance’s award-winning single vineyard wines or estate blends, all between 13% and 13.5% alcohol volume. Personal favorites were the 2017 and 2018 Résonance Pinot Noir and the 2018 Découvert Vineyard Pinot Noir. But frankly, picking favorites was often a futile Heraculean task especially given the excellent flavor profiles.
The Friday wine-paired, three-course lunch series at Résonance prepared by Chef Thomas Ghinazzi is a great way to start a weekend. Or have Chef Tan Huynh cater a wine-paired special event. Hint: Request he prepare pan-fried quail, then be prepared to be wowed. In fact, you may request an entire flock. The future looks bright and holds more to love as Découvert’s tasting room is under construction and set to open this May.
There is no shortage of excellent food in the region. A stone’s throw from the Atticus, is Humble Spirit. Here Chef Brett Uniss’ Albacore confit, pork terrine, and beef and pork meatballs with Madeira mushroom ragu will have you swooning. But no surprise since the restaurant is part of a collective with a multi-species regenerative farm and market garden. Leave room for dessert and let the soft serve popcorn ice cream with house made salted caramel transport you back to childhood memories.
Trellis Wine Bar & Kitchen in neighboring Dundee has a mind-boggling selection of bottled wines. And if by some impossible chance you tire of wine, there are also whiskey and tequila flights to tease your palette. Trellis’ pesto and chili sauce are excellent so any sandwich that includes either, or preferably both, will be enjoyed. The Brussel sprouts with pecorino Romano was marvelously French fry adjacent and will turn even the most green vegetable averse into diehard fans.
At Earth & Sea in nearby Carlton – which opened its doors three months before the COVID lockdown – the biggest challenge will be deciding what to order. Incredibly fresh oysters with Mignonette sauce set a perfect tone while the tender rib eye barely needed a knife. The chocolate torte was a perfect ending to a remarkable culinary evening.
Foodies and dog lovers alike will rejoice with Black Tie Tours’ Bougie Truffle Tromp. Picked up from Newberg in a Benz Sprinter Van, we drove to a nearby forest where our guide introduced us to Indy, the adorable two-year-old Golden Doodle who was thrilled to be “working” to find truffles in exchange for chicken bits. Entering the darkened tree covered forest, Indy’s nose knew and found over a dozen Oregon winter white aromatic antioxidant morsels.
On a neighboring property, we then entered what can best be described as the barn of one’s dreams with forever views. Under hanging chandeliers, an incredible lunch featuring truffles of course was prepared by talented Chef Eric Caballero.
Featured were root vegetable soup with truffle oil, seasonal vegetables and grilled jambon de Parma, and bone-in rib-eye with truffle butter. The creamy flan with truffle was exceptionally notable since three of the eight diners, myself included, shared that we didn’t even like flan. Yet just like disappearing ink, every portion was summarily devoured. Each week a different winemaker joins to wine pair the meal adding to this delightful experience’s overall panache.
Aeronautic afianados will want to head to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville to see the result of Henry Kaiser’s plan to move military and supplies during World War II. Howard Hughes got involved and in typical Hughes fashion, the largest wooden airplane ever was constructed. Ultimately the massive Spruce Goose flew a grand total of once.
The Lesson Learned
Whether you revel in Willamette Valley’s wine and food, enjoy the many attributes of quaint Historic Downtown McMinnville, including the six-piece Hudson Rocket blues band on Wednesdays from 5pm at Pinot Vista Trading Lounge, or the Velvet Monkey Tea Salon set in an 1893 building serving chocolates from Amity’s Brigittine Monastery, tromp for truffles, hike, or take a bike tour, one thing becomes evident: visiting this region once will certainly not be enough. Happy travels!
Written by Julie L. Kessler
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