Just outside of Portland one finds the Tualatin Valley, an area offering many unique activities to discover without the hassle of being in the city. From minerals to Saké to wineries there is quite a lot to explore. Situated in the northernmost part of the Willamette Valley, the area is less known than the rest of this famous wine region.
Located west of Portland, the Tualatin River meanders through the valley. The Tualatin Mountains lie on its northern border and divides the region from the city of Portland. The Chehalem Mountains forms its southern border and feature many distinct wineries.
Dozens of bedroom communities make up the Tualatin Valley. These include Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigard, Sherwood, Forest Grove, and Tualatin. Spring is the ideal time to visit. The luscious green landscape accented by the blooming Rhododendron draws one in as you traverse through the countryside. I visited the Tualatin Valley both in May and again in September.
Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals
Looking for something different that will leave a lasting memory, a visit to the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals, which now houses one of the best collections of gems, fossils, and minerals in the world. The collection of meteorites and petrified woods is amazing. The museum is located at the edge of a forest in a National Registry of Historic Places 1953 ranch-style house that is reminiscent of Architect Cliff May’s houses. The setting is quite beautiful.
Richard and Helen Rice began collecting in 1938 when they found agates and jaspers on the Oregon Coast. As their collection grew, they needed a place to house their collection so in 1952 they began construction of a new home that centered around their rock collection. Richard, a logger by profession, logged most of the wood used in their home.
In 1996 to preserve their collection they created a foundation that included the home. The museum opened in 1997.
Most people think of Saké as coming from Japan. You do not have to travel to Japan to learn the process of making Saké. Forest Grove, Oregon is the home of SakéOne, America’s first Craft Saké producer that has been producing Saké for about 20 years. A tour of the Kura, the brewery is a must. SakéOne makes three brands, Momokawa, Moonstone, and g Saké.
The Wineries of Tualatin Valley
The area is part of the Chehalem AVA, established in 2006. The soils consist of three types: basaltic, ocean sedimentary and loess. The Loess soils are also known as Laurelwood and specific to certain parts of the Chehalem AVA. For many of the wineries in the Tualatin Valley, the Laurelwood soils represent the backbone of expression in both their Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
The following wineries are worth a visit:
Any winery visit in the area should start at Ponzi. Dick Ponzi is one of the pioneers and founding fathers of the Oregon wine business. Not only is he a mover and shaker in the Willamette Valley, but he with others started the Oregon Wine Growers Association. He moved to the area in the 1970s and has seen many changes since that time including his daughter Luisa becoming one of the region’s first woman winemakers and the first American to study at Beaune in Burgundy. She too has the pioneering spirit.
Dick Ponzi was an engineer at Disney. Dick Ponzi engineered many of our favorite Disney rides. In the 60s and 70s, the hippy movement was at its height, and Dick and his wife Nancy were part of that generation. They wanted to get back to the land. Loving Pinot Noir, they were drawn to an area that could grow this variety. That area became the Willamette Valley.
Today the winery, a modern contemporary structure sits atop a knoll offering panoramic views of the valley. Daughters Luisa and Maria oversee the winery, but it is Luisa’s touch that makes the wine what it is today. Ponzi is Live Certified and Sustainable.
Ponzi’s vineyards lie on Laurelwood soils, a basalt-based soil with wind blow sediment on the surface. This type of soil changes the expression of the wine as the vine’s roots age and delve deeper into the soil.
My Ponzi favorites are the Arneis, a variety from Italy that only a few wineries in the United States produce, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and the Field Blend Pinot Noir.
Hamacker utilizes the facility of the original Ponzi winey. This historic estate has stayed in the family because Eric Hamacker, Luisa Ponzi’s husband continues the family’s legacy as the owner and winemaker. Being a small winery Eric’s goal is to produce elegant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with outstanding quality. He excels while at the same time helps promote other boutique wineries with his Carlton Winemakers Studio.
I recommend the Rieslings and Pinot Noir from this winery.
David Hill Vineyards and Winery
David Hill, located in Forest Grove has some of the oldest vineyards in the Willamette Valley. The tasting room, a farmhouse built in 1883 establishes the legacy of this property. Vineyards were planted around that time but during prohibition were removed and replaced with fruit trees and potatoes. In 1965 another Oregon pioneer and UC Davis grad, Chuck Coury planted the oldest vines from rootstock he brought back from Alsace in a suitcase. These cuttings included Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner, Semillon, Pinot Blanc, and Riesling. Most of these original plantings still exist on the property. An additional 20 acres were later planted, and the David Hill brand was established.
The property lies on Laurelwood soil and is Live certified. Under the helm of winemaker Justin Van Zanten, the wines produced are terroir-driven to showcase the Laurelwood soil.
I recommend the Estate Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Gewürztraminer.
Beckham Estate Vineyards
What makes Beckham unique is Andrew Beckham utilizes Amphora fermentation and aging in his winemaking process. As a ceramicist, he creates his own Amphorae, and this makes both Andrew and his winery stand out from others in the area.
I recommend sampling any of the Amphora wine. My favorite is the Grenache.
Considered one of the largest producers of biodynamic wines, Montinore sits on a beautifully landscaped site in Forest Grove. Not only is the winery Certified Demeter Biodynamic but also Certified Organic by Stellar Certification.
Owner Rudy Marchesi comes from an Italian background where his grandfather used to make wines on the East Coast for friends and family especially during Prohibition. Although he graduated with a degree in psychology, Rudy’s love was the vines. For some time Rudy owned a winery in Delaware. After serving as a winery consultant for Montinore, a winery established in 1982, he purchased the winery in 2005. Besides being biodynamic, Montinore often experiments with yeasts created from different blocks in the vineyards. These yeasts are spontaneous but uninoculated. Montinore has a diverse portfolio of wines but specializes in Pinot Noir, cool-climate whites and Italian varieties.
I highly recommend Vivacé, a sparkling wine created from Gewürztraminer, Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Gris and Riesling. I also suggest the L’Orange, a Pinot Gris blended with Muscat fermented in a clay amphora or the Rosso Quinto Atto, a non-vintage wine blending Teroldego, Lagrein, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Nebbiolo.
I found Alloro to be an excellent example of the Chehalem Mountains AVA an appellation established in 2006. Alloro is Live certified, and their sustainable practices are mostly science-based. The vineyards are also certified Salmon Safe and IOBC Certified Sustainable. The vines are dry-farmed. With other crops and animals raised, the property becomes a whole farm setting and ecosystem.
The environment of the tasting room makes one feel like they are in Tuscany. I highly recommend sipping Alloro Riesling and Pinot Noir out on the patio.
This small production winery located in Hillsboro may be small, but the wines are mighty and good. Specializing in both Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, Dana and Nick Blizzard also purchase grapes from Eastern Washington to produce big reds. The property has been in Dana’s family since 1981. The family sold grapes to local wineries until Blizzard Wines established in 2010. If small boutique wineries are your preference, this is a winery not to miss.
I recommend sampling the Pinot Gris, Carménère and the Reserve Carménère.
Blakeslee Vineyard Estate
This small family-run winery is the passion of Bill and Sheila Blakeslee. Located on the south side of the Chehalem Mountains in Sherwood, Oregon, the winery specializes in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Riesling. With Blakeslee being situated on a knoll, the winery affords panoramic views of the Willamette Valley and Mt. Hood. If weather permits, enjoy your wine tasting on the patio in the lovely landscaped gardens. The Blakeslee’s purchased the property in 2005. The vineyards are farmed sustainably with hand labor. They are Live Certified. If possible, ask Bill to give you a ride around the vineyards.
I recommend the White Pinot Noir and the Reserve Pinot Noir.
Dining in the Tualatin Valley
The Tualatin Valley offers numerous choices of cuisine and dining experiences. These were some of my favorites.
South Store Café
Located in Hillsboro, in a charming old clapboard building, the restaurant has a perfect selection of items for either breakfast or lunch. Most of the foods are grown locally. Save room for the baked goods. The pastries are scrumptious. After your meal at South Store Café, walk across the street to Smith’s Barry Farm to see first hand the seasonal produce available.
Although open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, keep in mind that breakfast or brunch at La Provence is not to be missed. Expect a French spin on a very hearty meal. Located adjacent to the Max Station in the Orenco Station, Hillsboro makes this restaurant an ideal meal stop before making your way into Portland.
Located in Bethany, Oregon, the restaurant features a bistro-style menu in an inviting atmosphere. Bethany’s Table was my favorite of all the restaurants I visited in the Tualatin Valley. The proprietors of the restaurant are very welcoming and for those with dietary restrictions extremely accommodating.
This Beaverton restaurant specializes in Italian cuisine with a northwest flair for local organic ingredients. Mingo West offers an eclectic menu that is continental in style.
Copper River Restaurant:
If you are looking for comfort food including burgers, pot pies and fried chicken Copper River Restaurant in Hillsboro fits the bill. All food is freshly made and if you have a craving for beer, the restaurant feature 54 selections of craft beer.
Located in old town Sherwood, Mason features continental cuisine with a bent toward Italian. The ambiance of the restaurant is quite inviting, and one of the hidden dining gems in the Tualatin Valley.
Accommodations in Tualatin Valley
My stay took me to the Residence Inn by Marriott Portland/Hillsboro/Brookwood. This hotel is a newer Residence Inn that I found quite comfortable and spacious especially after a day of wine. Ideally located in the Silicon Forest and adjacent to Hillsboro Airport makes this hotel perfect for business and leisure.
Note: Common to the wine and travel industry, this writer was hosted to this winery visits, accommodations, and eateries. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.