At the first hint of daylight, I jump from bed to see the view I’ve been anticipating all night. I swing wide the double doors of my spacious, antiques-appointed room, and the cool morning air drifts in from grapevines just steps away. Beyond I can see the patchwork of vineyards and vegetable farms that forms the Willamette River Valley, the heart of Oregon’s wine country. Green buds are beginning to break on the vines. Come October, these leaves will blaze yellow above clusters of dusky fruit. For now, I watch from my patio as acrobatic swifts dart above the vineyard’s trellis wires.
It is blissfully quiet. I’d better get started. Down in the dining room, a stately, deaf West Highland white terrier named Bailey patrols the mahogany floors as I work through a neat row of silver-dollar-size pancakes. At an elegant desk nearby, Karol Kirby, one of the innkeepers, books my tasting appointments.
I begin at Anderson Family Vineyard just over the ridge. Owner Cliff Anderson, bespectacled and slouched in diligent focus, explains the superlative growing conditions in the Dundee Hills. He puts a clod of reddish soil in my hand. It is soft, crushable, and bluish gray inside. Cliff explains that it lends the wines of the area a unique mineral character. Allison Anderson, tall and tan from working among the vines, walks me through the winery, from the grape-sorting table to the press to the barrels in the dark cellar. Then she pours one of their recent chardonnays. “You can taste the sun on this one,” she says, smiling. To me, it tastes of flint and flowers.
I return to the inn, visit the cookie jar by the front door, and set out again, this time on foot. Following the tractor track beside the vineyard, I pass through a grove of hazelnut trees to arrive at Torii Mor Winery, which specializes in single-vineyard wines. There, I taste a viognier bright with honeysuckle and a pinot noir bursting with plum and licorice. At Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards, another half mile up the gravel road, I taste another pinot noir grown on the vines just outside the door. Its earthiness, light color, and bright red cherry and raspberry flavors are the trademarks of Dundee Hills pinot. This is what I came for.
Back at the Black Walnut, I look down at the boot prints of red clay trailing behind me on the stone patio. If wine is, as the French maintain, the expression of a place, the bottles I am taking home with me carry not just wine, but a hint of that rare earth and a gorgeous hilltop awash in fresh Oregon air. —Tom Colligan