Undiscovered East Willamette Valley Wine Treasures
Like a nomad in an unexplored land, feel like you’re discovering a whole new wine country in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. On the east side of the Willamette River lies more than 1,500 acres of wine grapes and more than a dozen boutique wineries you’ve probably never heard of and must see and taste for yourself to understand what you’re truly missing.
Owned by Sandee and Pinky Piluso, together they make the perfect team—Sandee makes the wine and Pinky drives the tractor. Four-acres were planted in 2000 and Piluso Vineyard yielded their first commercial vintage in 2003, but the property’s history goes back much further than that. Originally an old prune orchard, the magnificent historic home was built in 1890 and the remnants of an old prune dryer still remain on the grounds today. The first acre of their four-acre planting was considered an experiment—with 13 different clones and varieties to determine how each of the grapes performed—the Piluso’s now have Gruner Veltliner, Muller Thurgau, Viognier, Dolcetto, Tempranillo, Gamay Noir, Marechal Foche and Pinot Noir planted to vine. Their wines are all produced using estate fruit, except a Chardonnay dessert wine made in the ice wine style. To say the wines are lovely would be an understatement. They’re well balanced, interesting and complex in both aroma and flavor profiles with excellent structure and really showcase what this area is capable of producing… these are wines you’ll want to purchase by the case.
Silver Falls Vineyards
Planted in the early 1970’s by Duane and Gail Defrees, Silver Falls Vineyard’s winery, designating nearby Silver Falls State Park, was originally a turkey barn before it was a winery and now boasts 18 acres of Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Muscat on the 100-acre working farm. The wines, produced at the nearby Chateau Bianca by winemaker Andreas Wetzel, are very reasonably priced and the location is perfect to host events both large and small.
Pudding River Wine Cellars
Nestled against the banks of the river it’s named for, Pudding River Wine Cellars is owned and operated by the Bateman family. The 13-acre estate features a 100-year-old farmhouse and five acres of Pinot noir planted in 2003. The winery also sources grapes from nearby growers to produce small lots of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Viognier. A testament to Pudding River’s accomplishments, they earned 90 points from Robert Parker and gold medals (from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and Oregon Wine Awards) for their very first vintage of Estate Pinot noir… clearly a winery that won’t be a hidden gem for long. Keep your eyes on this one; winemaker Sean Driggers is doing very interesting things in the cellar. He produces three different and noteworthy Chardonnays per vintage, varying only in method; a traditional barrel-fermented style, a stainless steel fermented (unoaked) version and a Reserve, aged two full years in neutral oak. Pudding River’s label, featuring a rooster in tribute to the poultry farm history of the estate, deems “Life is good, the palate is pleased and the rooster crows again.” Clearly a motto this family can live by.
Vitis Ridge shares their brand new tasting space with Seven Brides Brewing Company in the quaint little downtown of Silverton, Oregon. Glen Brunger (winemaker), Chris and Sharon Deckelmann (wine growers) and Bruce and Sally Eich began Vitis Ridge in 2003 with their first vintage of Marechal Foche. The winery now produces over 2,500 cases of 18 different varieties of wine (including four dessert wines) from their 80 acres of vineyards, but their signature varietal remains to be Marechal Foche from their home estate vineyard. The beer looked great, consider sticking around for a taste of that as well.
Alexeli Vineyard & Winery
Located in Molalla near the famous Oregon Garden in the East Willamette Valley, Alexeli owns and manages a 28-year-old, 18-acre vineyard planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau. Alexeli has made a firm commitment to a healthy planet, avoiding the use of pesticides and heavy metals in the vineyards… where they believe the wine is made. Their very memorable wines, made by Phillip Kramer, are worth crossing the river and traveling the bucolic back roads for. Producing less than 400 cases, a year they epitomize the term boutique. Their inviting patio and lake scream out to buy a bottle of Bubela’s Blend and relax a while… you may as well just give in.
St. Josef’s Winery
Romance, friendship and warmth abound at St. Josef’s Winery where you feel like you’ve walked onto the grounds of a European estate instead of a winery in Canby at the End of the Oregon Trail. Owner and winemaker Josef Fleischmann, of Hungarian descent, extends his trans-continental hospitality and charm from his magnificent yet truly unintimidating tasting room. Producing wines meant to be affordably drinkable, Joseph produces five whites, five reds and he’s as quick with a joke as he is with the bottle. Enjoy the patio or lounge by the lake; the setting is like an engraved invitation you can’t refuse. With a host of summer events, as well as their traditional Grape Stomp Festival each Fall, St. Josef’s welcomes you with something for the whole family.
Stay off the beaten wine path and stick with me. There's still lots more to check out on the east side, so don't go far… next time we'll explore Christopher Bridge, Wasson Brothers Winery and my very own neighbor winery, Oswego Hills. Until we sip again…