Willamette Valley 2011

June 11-13 , 2011

I heard that my sister and her husband, Jason, wanted to come to Willamette Valley, Oregon to visit a favorite winery of theirs. I let them know we would love to meet up with them and spend a weekend tasting wine and catching up.

My sister and I have seen each other just a few times since we moved to Washington and it seems like all of those times revolved around a wedding, funeral, or family emergency. It was well past time for us to have some fun together.

We compared calendars and it turned out the best weekend to make this happen was Dan's Birthday weekend. So we booked a hotel and started making plans.


Saturday, June 11, 2011:

We left the house around 7am. My sister and Jason had stayed Friday night in Eugene, OR. Our plan was to meet up in Dundee at the Red Hills Market. Whoever got there first could grab a coffee and wait. As we entered Dundee I got a text message that they were in town, looking for the shop. As we turned onto 7th Ave, I saw Jenn walking through the parking lot and honked at her. Perfect timing!!!!

We each ordered a sandwich and Jenn & Jason got a coffee. We headed towards the hotel and checked in. Our room wasn't ready yet, so we dumped all our luggage in J&J's room and headed out to taste wine.

Jason drove and we headed south to Coelho Winery. I remembered this as a different place entirely. :( We stopped and had a taste of their wines. I think we each got a bottle or two and we were off to the next stop.

Firesteed PicnicWe got to Firesteed Cellars pretty quickly and went inside to taste. We were the only people there and we had a great time with the employees there. The wines were wonderful, as usual and we were taken into the "back" to get a look at the barrels and bottling machines.

After our taste, we headed to one of the tables near the grapes to eat our sandwiches and take a break. The guy who poured for us and came out to eat his lunch and we invited him to join us. He was kind enough to take a picture of the four of us enjoying our lunch. What a beautiful day!

After Firesteed, we headed back north a bit to visit Cherry Hill Winery. Years ago J&J bought us a gift bottle of wine from this vineyard because it had the winery dog, Daisy on the bottle. How can you not buy us a "Papillon Pinot Noir"? We drove and drove up this long dirt road until we finally found the place. It was really cute with funny signs on the road up like "If you drink no noir, you Pinot noir." (Yes, I do have the humor of an 11 yr old boy.)

There was a big house there along with several small cabins that are used by "friends" of the winery. The views were beautiful and we headed inside to taste.

Cherry HillUnfortunately, the papillon, Daisy was on vacation with mom and dad and wasn't at the winery this weekend. We had a fun time talking to the woman there and tasting their wines. I think we each bought a couple bottles. I know we both got a bottle of Papillon Pinot Noir. We showed them a picture of Lucy and we got some Papillon Pinot stickers, including Daisy's actual foot print to put on our bottle. :)

We sat outside on the patio for a bit while everyone got their stuff together. We had a little extra time, but no plans on where else to go. Jenn & I got out the map and looked at places in the area. I have no memory about why we picked Namaste Vineyards, but I think it had something to do with their description in the guide book making us laugh. :)

NamasteWe headed out there and were met by an enthusiastic Mike who had been there alone all day and was happy to see us. He showed us a map of the property and where the different grapes are. Then as we were tasting, we could tell a difference between the south facing and east facing grapes. Very interesting. We had some really great wines there and I know we all left with more than we'd planned on buying. :)

After our tasting we had a quick snack out under the trees near their vineyard. The owner's cat was out there and made quick friends with Jenn. He was a tabby face that reminded us of Buster, but had a bob tail. He was a big love and hung around with us while we had some bread, salami and cheese snacks.

From Namaste Vineyards, we headed back to our hotel to clean up a bit and get changed for dinner. Jenn had made us reservations at Thistle in downtown McMinnville.

Thistle MenuWe got in the restaurant and they were ready for us and gave us the speech. The menu is on a chalkboard near the entrance. We were instructed to each order one appetizer and one main dish as the portions are kind of small.

There were four main dishes, so we ordered one of each. Easy! :) Appetizers was a bit more difficult. We each chose one, but I needed a lot of coaching as I wasn't sure what all the items were. Jenn is the foodie in the family.

Here is what we ordered:


  • Little Gem Green Goddess salad with turnip
  • Pork Rillettes, pickles, mustards
  • Asparagus, nettle and yogurt soup
  • Chinook Salm on Mousse with spring truffle

Absinthe at ThistleDinner:

  • Beef steak, onion family carmelized, bone marrow, duxelle
  • Potato Gnocchi, Stinging nettles, sheep cheese
  • Chinook Salmon, asparagus, peas, sauce verte
  • Rabbit, Porcini,Carrot, Potato, Mustard

We sat at our table and ordered some cocktails. I can't remember what everyone had, but Dan took the opportunity to try a St. George Absinthe. He lit up like Christmas when they brought the fountain right to the table to make it in front of him. It was a fun treat for us all. We also ordered a half-bottle of Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir to go with dinner.

AppetizersAppetizers arrived and I managed to get a picture of them before we dug in. I was not quite as on the ball with our main courses, so forgive the lack of photos of that. Everything we tasted was fantastic. Jenn thought the soup was too salty, but I was ready to do the backstroke in it. Who knew I liked nettles more when they aren't trying to kill me on a walk in the woods? :)

All the food was fantastic and it seemed like each thing we passed around the table was better than the last. I was so glad that we went even though it put a pretty big dent in our travel budget. You don't eat a meal like that very often, so it was well worth the expense.

After dinner we took a walk up and down Third Avenue in McMinnville. Most places were closed, but we did a lot of peeking in windows. After we'd done both sides of the street we headed back to the car and went back to the hotel for a well deserved rest.





Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dan and I went down to the lobby for the complimentary breakfast. J&J were still sleeping, but I sent a text to let them know we were headed downstairs. They had the standard fare for breakfast and Dan was happy to get his "flippy waffle" breakfast he usually has when we stay at Red Lion.

A little before 10am, we got a text that they were ready to go. We went downstairs and met them for our 10:30 tour at Archery Summit. Dan drove this day to split up the cost of gas between us.

We got to Archery Summit a bit early, but they accomodated us right away as we were the only four people on the morning tour. We got a glass of wine and headed out to tour the winery.

Archery SummitThe tour started talking about the grapes and we looked at the baby grapes appearing on the vines already. We learned about the different vineyards they have and how each makes a different Pinot Noir with different characteristics.

Inside we tasted another wine and saw the barrels for storage and the machinery they use to process the grapes. All their grapes are hand picked and sorted on the big table in there. The whole winery is gravity fed and we kept walking lower and lower as the tour went on, following the path of the grapes.

At the 2nd level we tasted some more wine and we found a centipede friend wandering through. We learned about the different methods of processing and aging the wines. Then down a big hill and into the "caves" where the wine is stored while it ages.

Archery SummitWe got to see all the different barrels. They use 4-5 different barrel makers, but all from France. At one point our guide opened some empty barrels and we got to smell a new barrel, a one year and two year barrel (that may be used once, and used twice.. I forget how he worded it.). That was very interesting.

Once we got to the bottom of the caves, we were 45 feet below the tasting room where we started. On one wall there was an opening where you could see the bedrock the caves are dug into.

From there we covered bottling and the elevator that takes the wine up one level to be bottled. Then we were out in the tasting room again and we got to try several more wines, including an amazing Rose.

Jenn & Jason are wine club members so they worked out their wine club selections. Dan and I bought one bottle of their Cuvee. My favorite of their wines was $100, so I pouted a bit but decided not to purchase one.

It seemed forever to get the wine boxed up for J&J. There was a large party there who arrived on a bus and sort of disrupted the whole place for awhile. We were sitting out on the grass, waiting for Jason, and some of the guys from that group were tossing a football around the parking lot. Jenn and I were both waiting for our Marsha Brady moment (Oh! My nose!), but it didn't happen.

We debated whether or not to picnic at Archery Summitt, but it was pretty crowded and I knew they would like the gardens at our next destination, so we headed out for Torii Mor.

Again, we drove up a long, dirt road that seemed to go on forever. As we were pulling into the parking lot, I saw rain drops on the windshield. WHAT!?!?! Rain is not allowed on our weekend!!! Grrrrr. We attempted a picnic. Jenn got out a fantastic Mt. Tam cheese and something Dan kept calling squeezable salami, but I'm pretty sure that was just more funny than what it was really called. :) We had some sugar peas and goodies and there was just a slight drizzle. Then more drizzle. Then actual drips. Then there was no denying it was raining. :(

We gathered up all the picnic supplies and put them back into the car and dashed inside the tasting room. We were all sort of tired, hungry and disappointed our picnic got cut short. The counter was crowded, but we found a place on a couch in a corner and they let us taste there. Torii Mor had been our favorite wine on our last trip there, but this time I was underwhelmed. It was still good, but I'm not sure if it was the rain or the great wines at Archery Summit that put a damper on it this time. We got a wine that Dan liked and we headed off to Erath.

As we turned into Erath's driveway, there was a sign that they were closed that day for an event. DARNIT!!! We took a minute to decide what to do next and we ended up heading towards Carlton to taste at Barking Frog.

After a minor kerfuffle as Dan tried to parallel park to the amusement of some local boys, we piled out into the rain and dashed under the awning outside the tasting room. We went inside and the pourer wasn't too friendly, but we had a good time despite him. Some people came in on some kind of tour. They had to guess the answer to a clue and then get a stamp in their book if they got the right answer. We helped them figure out the answer was the statue of Michigan J. Frog from Warner Brothers.

I think we were tired and cold at the end of that tasting so we headed back into downtown McMinnville to get a coffee. We had a wonderful time over coffee just chatting and looking at the art in the coffee shop.

Then back to the hotel to change and clean up for dinner.

Marionberry CocktailsMeanwhile, Dan decided he needed to get the pictures off the camera and onto the laptop. I didn't bring the cord to transfer the files and wasn't sure if there was a card reader for our memory stick. But Dan popped out the card and put it into a slot in the laptop that looked like it would work. OOPS! It didn't. We both made several attempts to get it out, to no avail. I went down the hall and got Jason and he gave it a try. No luck either and it was time to head for dinner.

When we arrived, Jenn, Jason and Dan all ordered cocktails. I stuck with water. Everyone ended up with a cocktail with marionberry in it somewhere. We looked at their long wine list, but I'm not sure any of us felt the need for MORE wine. :) Sorry we have no pictures of our dinner at La Rambla in Mc Minnville. Just one cell phone picture of the marionberry cocktail. I'll try to remember everything we ordered.

We ordered a few plates of tapas at a time. I think these are the ones we had:

  • Northwest Crab & Bay Shrimp Cakes w/braised fennel, leeks and lemon aioli
  • Chicarones with bacon creme fraiche (YUM!!)
  • Bacon wrapped medjool dates stuffed with cabrales cheese, warm honey
  • Chorizo empanadas with roasted pablano pepper cream sauce
  • Willamette Valley Mushrooms in garlic and white wine
  • Asparagus
  • Fava Beans
  • Homemade potato chips with cumin and coriander
  • (And another special I can't remember)

We hesitated a bit when the topic of dessert came up, but how could we resist? Jenn & Dan each ordered a coffee cocktail and Jason had some kind of champagne/absinthe cocktail.

We ordered:

  • Warm Almond Torte with honey syrup and goat cheese whipped cream
  • Chocolate torte with heater allen schwartz sauce
  • Churros with dark chocolate sauce
  • Orange flan with candied orange zest

Everything was fantastic. Jenn & Jason asked to pick up the tab for Dan's birthday, so we said Okay. That was very nice of them because we ate a lot there. It couldn't have been cheap. THANK YOU!!

After dinner we walked down to McMennamins Hotel. Our original plan had been to go up to their rooftop bar to have a drink, but the rain put a damper on that. But I still wanted them to see the hotel & to at least see the patio on the roof.

We asked if we could go up to the roof and the waitress for the restaurant pointed us towards either the stairs or the elevator. We had eaten so much, we all opted for the stairs. WOW! There sure were a lot of them, but we had a great time looking at all the pictures and paintings on the wall. We got up to the top floor bar and made our way outside. There were a few die-hard people out there, but we just took a quick look and then went back inside.

We debated staying for a drink, but we all felt like we'd had our share of alcohol for the weekend so we headed back downstairs. We stopped and looked at the creepy paintings on the walls and Jason took some pictures of our favorites. I'll have to add them here once he gets them online.

In the lobby we looked at the rate card and decided that we'd like to stay there next time. It was a fun old building full of all kinds of energy and history. It was a great place. I love every one of the McMennamins we have been inside.

Then we walked back to the car and headed back to the hotel. This was when I started to get sad. I wasn't ready for our fun weekend to be over. I feel like I rarely get to spend time with my sister and I wasn't ready. We cleaned up a bit at the hotel and then Dan and I went to their room to hang out and talk for awhile.

It was nice to just chat and laugh and share stories for a couple hours. We had so much fun with them that I'm ready to do it again next weekend. :)

We headed back to our room around 11:30, knowing we both had long drives on Monday.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Happy 49th Birthday, Dan!!!!!

We met Jenn & Jason in the lobby for breakfast. We talked for a bit and then rode the elevator up together and said our goodbyes. :(

Dan got us a luggage cart and we loaded up our cooler, suitcase and case of wine and took it downstairs. He loaded the car while I checked out. Then we were off.

We had debated whether or not we wanted to go to the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum down the road, but we were afraid our time would be too limited. Instead we opted for a drizzle filled drive home along the coast. We'll do another quick trip to McMinnville that is just to visit that museum when we have more time.

We drove out on Highway 18 and cut over to Highway 22. We took the business route through Sheridan and got a look at Dan's old school, but we didn't drive all the way up there this time.

We got out to the coast and took the detour out to Pacific City to see the ocean a bit sooner. We took a quick stop at a park there for a potty break and a walk through the dunes to see the beach. It was pretty windy and gray, but the temperatures weren't terrible. Probably upper 50's.

We cut back over to 101 at SandLake Road. We stopped at Blue Heron Cheese Company to get some lunch. What a zoo!! We have stopped here dozens of times, but have never seen crowds there. Apparently this is THE lunch stop for people because it looked like a lot of locals in the dining room.

We picked up a baguette, some pesto and a yummy brie to picnic. I wanted a meat, but couldn't find anything that would work with our limited cutlery supply. :) They still don't carry that St. Josefs Gewurtz we love, but we really didn't need any more wine so it's probably for the better.

We got some gas at the Fred Meyer and headed north until we found a nice spot. We ended up stopping at a place near the water just outside Bay City. It was a lovely view of the bay to go with our yummy lunch.

We made another stop in Canon Beach to get a coffee and split an ice cream cone in their downtown area. But we were quickly back on the road, heading home.

We made pretty good time through occasional showers, but by the time we got to Elma, WA we were both ready to be home.

We stopped at Central Market and got a couple of salads from their bar and went home to make a chicken & pasta with the left over Pesto sauce from lunch. So good!


We had a wonderful trip. It was so nice to just spend relaxing time with my sister without funerals and family stuff getting in the way. We need to do that thing more often. I think it was good for all of us.

So, Jenn... did I tell you about the cabins we like in Oceanside, OR? :)

Thanks again for joining us! It was great.



Back to Main Page