The Next Big Sparkling Wine Destination Isn't Where You'd Expect
The Willamette Valley is known for its sought-after Pinot Noir, and increasingly, for Chardonnay — the two main base grapes used to make Champagne. Now, after decades of quiet development, local winemakers are creating traditional méthode champenoise wines and creative pét-nats with an "only-in-Oregon" feel, priming the state to become a world leader in sparkling production. Since many of these bottles are small-batch or limited releases, the ideal (and sometimes, the only) way to try them is to visit.
Read on for some of the best, all within an easy hour's drive from Portland.
Sip: Start in this small university city on the Willamette River, home to ROCO Winery and its cofounder, Rollin Soles — the first person to champion age-worthy sparkling wines in Oregon. His bottles have the perfect amber color and eau-de-bakery yeasty aroma of a true champagne-method wine. Try the sparkling flight for a selection from multiple vintage years, all disgorged (separated from the yeast) specially for guests: an unusual opportunity to taste the wines in their first moments.
Dine: Downtown at the Painted Lady, owners Allen Routt and Jessica Bagley compose pretty plates of seasonal fare and curate a varied wine list that includes several Oregon sparklers.
Dayton + Dundee
Sip: Drive 20 minutes southwest and you'll hit these two vineyard-heavy townships, both in the Dundee Hills AVA. Domaine Serene, long synonymous with the Oregon wine-country good life, has a grand, Tuscan-style clubhouse in the Dayton countryside. In 2018, the winery opened a new facility devoted solely to its expanding white and sparkling program, which includes a "multi-vintage" brut, a brut rosé, and a demi-sec, with several new styles coming out over the next few years.
Sokol Blosser has a Modernist, wood-paneled tasting room nearby; the rosé and blanc de blancs have notes of brioche and nuttiness, and the Bluebird Brut emphasizes fresh, bright citrus. Two emerging must-know sparkling producers are Mellen Meyer and Corollary, both available in pop-up tasting spaces at Winter's Hill Estate.
Dine: Outside Dundee, Furioso Vineyards pairs wine with wood-fired pizza in a dramatic glass-walled tasting room.
Stay: The hilltop Black Walnut Inn has elegant rooms, vineyard views, and a seasonal tasting menu.
Sip: This former logging town is often called the wine capital of Oregon. The star attraction is Lytle-Barnett, the joint venture of four prominent wine-industry figures; taste their méthode champenoise bottle on pour at the Carlton Winemakers Studio. Lytle-Barnett winemaker Andrew Davis founded the Radiant Sparkling Wine Co., an incubator program that has helped launch many smaller producers in the region. Another leader is the biodynamic Soter Vineyards on Mineral Springs Ranch, known for its gorgeous rustic-minimalist tasting room. (Try the brut rosé known affectionately as "Soter pop.")
Dine: At Soter's MSR Kitchen, chef Clayton Allen (formerly of Clyde Common, in Portland) cooks with ingredients from the property's farm.
Stay: Sleep in repurposed grain silos at the countryside-chic Abbey Road Farm.
Portland + Elsewhere
Sip: Some up-and-coming sparkling wines have emerged from Portland's urban winery scene. The team at Division Winemaking Company were the founders of the trendsetting Southeast Wine Collective, and hosted operations for many small winemakers (plus a wine bar and restaurant) at their Portland headquarters. The collective disbanded when they lost their lease in April, but Division's new winemaking facility a few blocks away will have a tasting room opening in 2022; until then, appointments are available for private tastings. Landmass, whose wines occupy a sweet spot between natty and traditional, made an even larger move this year, from Portland to the Columbia River Gorge east of the city. Co-owners and life partners Melaney Schmidt and Malia Myers offer weekend tastings by appointment in their warehouse.
In the northern Willamette Valley, Kramer Vineyards has been family-owned since the '80s, and has a diverse sparkling wine program that started with its Müller-Thurgau — first made in 2001 by owner and founding winemaker Trudy Kramer (mother of the current winemaker Kim Kramer) and still a best-seller.
Dine: Named for the iconic forest of Shakespeare, Arden, in Portland, is a nature-lover's dream — with seasonal cuisine, natural wine, and grapevine installations on the raw-concrete walls. The wine list's cred comes from owner-sommelier Kelsey Glasser, formerly a co-owner of cult local wine bar Thelonius. Try Arden's house blanc de noirs, made on premises as a group project by the staff. For a taste-test comparison, Ambonnay — just across the river in East Portland — has one of the West Coast's best selections of actual Champagne.
Stay: The hip Society Hotel has two branches in the area: one in Portland, and one in Bingen, Washington, a great home base for trying the wines of the Columbia River Gorge.