Best Wineries
Cristom Vineyard

Four Must-Visit Willamette Valley Wineries in Oregon

By Published On: August 8th, 2023

Resonance Wines, Soter Vineyards, Cristom Wines, and Flâneur Wines. 

I am no stranger to wine travel. I’ve been visiting wineries around the world before I ever had any industry certifications, but after an impromptu spring morning of tying vines in 2015, I was hooked.

I dove into WSET, began writing about wine and wine travel, have visited dozens of wine regions, completed five harvests, and am about to begin my sixth – here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. So yes, I love wine. I study wine. I teach wine. I help to make wine. I am fully immersed in all things wine. But, all of that said, I remain a consumer first.

Kristy Wenz enjoying Flâneur Wine in the vineyard.
Kristy Wenz enjoying Flâneur Wine in the vineyard.

And as a consumer new to this lush valley in the Pacific Northwest, I have spent the past several months exploring wineries throughout the region’s 11 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs).

From misty, foggy mornings to sun-drenched afternoons, the four Valley wineries described below deliver a classic taste of all this region has to offer – renowned Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (among other varieties), welcoming hospitality, and hilly vistas dotted with the occasionally visible snowy mountain peaks. But, before we dive into these winery destinations, let’s explore what makes this Valley so special. 

The Willamette Valley is home to around 700 of the state’s approximately 1100 wineries and vineyards. It’s highly regarded and perhaps best-known around the world for the success of its Pinot Noir wines owing to its particular climate.

Résonance Winery Pinot Noir vines.
Pinot Noir vines. Photo Courtesy: Résonance Wines.

Protected from cold, wet Pacific Ocean air to the west by the Coast Range mountains, and from the dry, desert-like climate of eastern Oregon by the Cascade Range to the east, the Willamette Valley follows the Willamette River for more than 100 miles from the Columbia River near Portland south to Eugene, Oregon.

Its geographical situation lends to a long, gentle growing season with warm, sunny days and cool, dry evenings making for fruit-forward, higher acidity wines with balanced structures, nuance, and in many cases extensive age-ability.

In addition to Pinot Noir, wineries also produce Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Gamay, among many others.

Enticed? Let’s dive into four wine-loving, good-time seeking, must-visit destinations: Resonance Wines, Soter Vineyards, Cristom Wines, and Flâneur Wines. 

Résonance Wines

Yamhill-Carlton AVA

When highly-acclaimed Bourgogne and other French region wine icons begin buying vineyards in the States, it’s likely a sign something magical is afoot. And such is the case at Résonance Wines.

In April 2013, Bourgogne-based Maison Louis Jadot’s Thibault Gagey and Jacques Lardière set out to survey a well-established vineyard in Yamhill-Carlton. The connection to the place and recognition of its potential was immediate and a new transatlantic venture was begun. 

Resonance Winery tasting room exterior.
Beautiful tasting room. Photo Courtesy: Resonance Wines.

Today, Résonance Wines has 139-acres of vineyards spanning three AVAs including Yamhill-Carlton, Dundee Hills, and Eola-Amity producing only Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. As for your experience, it’s likely you’ll feel that same connection.

Reservations are recommended for one of three tasting experiences – the Grand Tasting Room, the Tasting Salon, or the French Connection. The Grand Tasting is hosted at the main winery and tasting room in Carlton, set atop a dramatic hillside with expansive vineyard and Valley views.

This was the option I selected for my first visit where I was greeted with a glass of Chardonnay and seated in an Adirondack chair with uninhibited views that immediately inspire relaxation and a sense of being on holiday.

The four-wine flight was poured patiently and with a brief explanation of each wine over the course of 90 minutes. Perfect for taking it all in. The patio also offers shaded table-side options, and indoor spaces are available as well and boast the same sweeping views.

The Tasting Salon is located at the winery’s Dundee Hills location where you can experience a five-wine tasting with views of the Découverte Vineyard. Or if you’re looking for a more elevated experience, the French Connection option is available at either location and features a one-of-a-kind portfolio tasting of both Résonance Wines and Maison Louis Jadot enjoyed alongside perfectly paired small bites.

Resonance Winery wines.
French Connection. Photo courtesy: Resonance Wines.

The 90-minute experience also delves into the dual terroirs and how they are reflected in the old and new world Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. 

No matter your selection you’re sure to feel the interconnectivity between old and new worlds at Résonance Wines. It’s an elegant, yet down-to-earth stop sure to inspire; not to mention send you home with the best of both worlds – Willamette Valley and Bourgogne wines.

Soter Vineyards

Yamill-Carlton AVA

Welcome home. That’s exactly how you’ll feel as you are seated for a tasting on this biodynamic farm and vineyard founded by Tony and Michelle Soter in 1997. But before you’re seated, you’re surely going to be wowed as you drive up the winding gravel road to the Mineral Springs Ranch property, where no matter the weather, you’re treated to remarkable Valley views.

Soter Vineyards tasting room exterior.
Tasting room. Photo Courtesy: Soter Vineyards.

And if you’re like me and distractedly taking pictures as you approach the tasting room, the friendly hosts will bring you back into the present moment with a glass of rosé as they lead you through the cozy, open tasting room, down a short gravel path to your private cabin. 

Soter Vineyards wine portfolio.
Wine portfolio. Photo Courtesy: Soter Vineyards.

Your “Classic” wine tasting will begin with a brief history of the Ranch, originally home to the Soter family and their unwavering commitment to farming and craftsmanship.

Tony and Michelle came from California, Tony bringing his experience in winemaking as the founder of Etude Wines, while Michelle brought an ardent conviction to environmentalism, biodynamics, nutrition, and holistic living that drove the core values at Mineral Springs Ranch.

Together, they converted the 240-acre property into a certified biodynamic farm known for producing some of the area’s highest quality wines. Tragically, Michelle Soter passed away after a long and courageous battle with cancer in 2019, but her family and the Soter team continue to carry forth her legacy of holistic living and authenticity. 

And it’s that authenticity that will enfold you into the essence of Soter Vineyards and Mineral Springs Ranch.

Soter Vineyards aerial vineyard view at sunset.
Aerial vineyard view. Photo Courtesy: Soter Vineyards.

I’m not one to join wine clubs, particularly when I live only 15 minutes from a winery, but I made an exception here. And notably, many of my local industry friends are members too.

The estate grown and Soter Origin Series wines including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and several sparkling wines as well as the events and the culinary offerings (some of which are available as options at your tasting), are unmatched in my opinion, particularly when combined with the Mineral Ranch experience.

It’s truly like coming to a second home and the community connections made with other members, guests, and the staff here will leave you feeling a part of its enduring spirit.

Soter Vineyards food and wine pairing.
Food and wine pairing. Photo Courtesy: Soter Vineyards.

Cristom Vineyards

Eola-Amity Hills AVA

Now, let’s head further south in the Willamette Valley to the Eola-Amity Hills AVA and Cristom Vineyards.

A family run winery since its beginnings in 1992, the Gerrie family center their winemaking on harnessing a sense of place through traditional, old world wine making methods including whole cluster fermentation on the Pinot Noir, a hallmark of their style.

Nestled on a 240-acre east-facing, volcanic hillside property, Cristom Vineyards grows 90 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay across five estate vineyards.

Cristom Vineyards tasting room and gardens.
Tasting room and gardens. Photo Courtesy: Cristom Vineyards.

The vineyards, each named for family members, are farmed both using organic and biodynamic methods to maximize the potential of the vintage while expressing the natural variances in soil, elevation, and variety. 

As a consumer, I came to know Cristom through friends in the Midwest. The Pinot Noirs, particularly the single vineyard bottlings, and the rosé of Pinot Noir left a lasting impression, making this one of my first stops in the region.

Cristom Vineyards tasting room deck.
Tasting Room Deck. Photo Courtesy: Cristom Vineyards.

Again, reservations are recommended, but walk-ins will be accommodated based on availability. Tasting experiences include either a 90-minute, 5-wine seated tasting with scenic views, or an immersive, two-hour educational vineyard tour – kind of like a create your own adventure!

Cristom Vineyards immersion tasting experience.
Immersion Experience Tasting. Photo Courtesy: Cristom Vineyards.

We selected the more hands-off tasting on a quiet, sunny afternoon where our wines were poured at our choice of patio tables overlooking the lush gardens just below us on the hillside. It was the perfect way to wind down the weekend.

And while the wines do remain as good as I had recalled, I have to admit, to this Midwest girl, they were slightly overshadowed by the views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Saint Helens, and Mt. Jefferson dotting the horizon on this clear day with a slight cooling breeze.

In fact, we were so mesmerized, we opted to order an extra glass after the tasting to keep the bliss rolling.

Flâneur Wines

Yamihill Carlton AVA

Alright, now that you’ve relaxed, taken in the expansive regional and vineyard views, and maybe even had a deep dive into the differences between Willamette Valley and Bourgogne, it’s time to change gears. For this visit, we’re heading to an urban winery in downtown Carlton, Oregon housed in an old grain elevator building – and we’re going to have some fun! Welcome to Flâneur Wines.

Flâneur Winery and tasting room exterior.
Tasting room. Photo Courtesy: Flâneur Wines.

This is where you want to come for a good time and an exceptional line-up of wines. From Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Meunier and Grüner Veltliner, Flâneur organically dry farms its 40 acres of estate vineyards in the Ribbon Ridge AVA and the Chehalem Mountains AVA. But, to understand and truly appreciate Flâneur Wines, it’s helpful to have a little background. 

Flâneur Wines aerial vineyard view.
Aerial vineyard view. Photo Courtesy: Flâneur Wines.

A privately owned winery with a team of professionals that came together from across the country, Flâneur is dedicated to both making high-quality wines expressive of terroir, and sharing them in a light-hearted, familial environment.

Thus, the name flâneur, meaning a leisurely wanderer, a worldly explorer, and a connoisseur of life. It’s the philosophy here that to be a flâneur is not about wasting time, but rather about regaining time lost.

And as you’re welcomed into the tasting room (typically with a glass of traditional method bubbly), you’ll soon see why this place is more than good wines, it’s about being surrounded by good friends and people too. 

Now, as for your tasting options, you have three – of which I’ve now done two. (Sign of a solid recommendation – I keep going back for more!) The first is a classic five-wine tasting experience seated indoors or out at the main winery in Carlton, the grain elevator building.

Flâneur Wines main wine tasting room.
Main tasting room in Carlton. Photo Courtesy: Flâneur Wines.

And although the tasting is private, it’s a great way to get a real sense of the conviviality of the winery. I highly recommend it.

Then, after you’ve come to know Flâneur, or perhaps if you just want to stick with the vineyard experiences, the Promenade Experience is another option during the summer months.

Flâneur Wines La Belle Promenade vineyard's tasting room.
La Belle Promenade vineyard’s tasting room. Photo Courtesy: Flâneur Wines.

Held about 20 minutes away, within their blue barn facility at La Belle Promenade vineyard in the Chehalem Mountains, this seasonal option offers the classic five-wine tasting experience with an opportunity to add a post-tasting picnic in the vines.

Flâneur Wines Promenade Experience with add on picnic.
Promenade Experience with add on picnic. Photo Courtesy: Flâneur Wines.

And lastly, for a more elevated, flâneur-like experience, you could opt for the semi-private Blue Barn Tour & Tasting, a 90-minute guided walk through the vineyards featuring six wines and a delectable cheese spread (again available in season).

Flâneur Wines blue barn tour in the vineyard.
Blue Barn Tour. Photo Courtesy: Flâneur Wines.

Honestly, it’s hard to go wrong, so select what sounds best to you, and then maybe, like me, come back again to experience the rest. 

While we have many winery options here in Willamette Valley, I think the four wineries described above are a great primer to all the region has to offer. Now, only 696 or so more Valley wineries to explore!

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