I didn't know anything about Portland when I was offered a job here. In fact, I hadn't even really given it any thought. I just wanted to go somewhere (anywhere) to escape Chicago's arctic winters. So as the offer sat on the table, I did my research. Good food, eccentric people, and then the holy grail... Oregon Wine Country. Over 500 wineries within driving distance of Portland?
I was SOLD.
So naturally, I've made it my mission to visit as many as I possibly can. While well-known wineries like Argyle, Willamette Valley Vineyards, and Stoller Family Estates get all the buzz (for good reason), these are my picks for the best hidden gems in Oregon's Wine Country:
Dundee Hills, Oregon
The first time I visited Vista Hills, it was love at first sip. I'm not sure if it was the views or the vino that sold me, but I was hooked. I became a wine club member before I even got through the tasting. Ever since, they greet me by name (and I swear don't go THAT much).
At first glance, you might think you're walking into a traditional winery, but the Vista Hills tasting room is actually a treehouse. There's a killer back patio, and they'll even bring the tasting to you as you sit and enjoy the view.
Vista Hills makes a variety of wines from traditional Oregon Pinot Noir to Pinot Blanc and Rosé. As a member, you get complimentary tastings for up to four whenever you visit. If I lived closer, I'd probably go everyday. But that's beside the point.
Must-Try Wine: 'Fool's Gold' Blanc de Noir
Tasting Cost: $15 - waived with a two bottle purchase
This family-owned winery is incredibly charming, which you'll notice the moment you step into the tasting room. But what really sets Styring apart is the winemaker: @MollyTheWineDog.
Ok she's not really the winemaker, but she's pretty dang cute, amirite?
Beyond regional Pinot Noir, Styring offers other rotating varietals including a Cab, Port, and a very surprising Riesling. Their wines are literally earth-to-bottle - made with grapes grown on site. And with grapes that look this good, you can only imagine how the wine tastes.
But the real reason I love Styring is because you feel like a part of the family the moment you walk in. Owners Steve and Kelley are excellent hosts - pouring many of the tastings themselves. If you're lucky enough to do a tasting with them, it's easy to see how much love they put into what they do.
Even their outdoor picnic table reminds me of summer days on my parent's patio, only with a much, much prettier view. #sorrymom
Must-Try Wine: Signature Pinot Noir
Tasting Fee: $5 - deducted from a bottle purchase
Just down the road from Vista Hills, White Rose Estate is a high-end winery that delivers an upscale tasting experience without being overly pretentious or unapproachable.
Their tasting room is a one-story loft that almost looks like something out of The Hobbit. It was designed without windows so people can get lost in the experience any time of day.
If you visit during wine festival weekends over Memorial Day and Thanksgiving, they offer tours of the basement where they make and store the wine. It also works to walk around with a big camera and tell them you're taking pictures for your blog 😜
But outside is really where it's at. White Rose Estate has one of the highest elevations for Pinot Noir in the area. Which means it also has gorgeous mountain views if you go on a clear day.
Must-Try Wine: Whole-Cluster Pinot Noir
Tasting Fee: $20
Usually I'm a fan of a vineyard with a view, but Chehalem Winery sold me for a different reason. When most wineries are closing their doors, Chehalem opens 'The Backroom' (literally - the back room) bar. The Backroom is a cute space that combines the charm of Portland with the award-winning wines of the Willamette Valley.
You can try any of the wines they currently offer - which includes some sweeter varietals that are hard to find in the area. It's not your typical tasting room setting, but more of a bar - where you order flights, glasses, or bottles and sit and sip them at wine barrel booths. The space is very bright and open, and would be great to rent out for a party or event. Apparently you can even pop in for a yoga class every now and then 🙏
Red Hills Market
OK, OK, this one isn't exactly a winery. But it's my go-to for lunch in wine country, and always a crowd-pleaser. Plus they sell wine, so it counts.
Part restaurant, part gift shop, you'll find a mix of handmade Oregon items and home decor, along with craft sandwiches, fresh salads, and wood grilled pizzas - all using local ingredients. You can eat inside, or grab some picnic essentials to bring to the vineyards.
Must-Try Wine: the Market Mimosa
Again, not wine but close enough.
Let me know your favorite hidden gems in the Willamette Valley wine country in the comments. Cheers 🥂