Oregon: Doing the Willamette Valley with Two Kids

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I’m diverting from my normal post format here and taking part in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #25. I’ve been reading the Drunken Cyclist blog for a while now and noticed this challenge come up from time to time. I never really thought about taking part until reading this month’s theme of Travel. I figured this was one subject I could probably say something about so I’ve decided to put my name in the hat. Have a read and if you wish to vote for my post then go the following link: #MWWC25wine-stain1-3When it comes to travelling and wine I’m pretty much a newbie. Often, I’ve daydreamed of setting out on a trip with the intent of visiting wineries and tasting rooms but only a few times have I actually been in the right place to do such a thing. An opportunity came a few years ago while on a trip to Washington and Oregon.

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We started off our trip in Seattle doing the typical touristy sites. We visited Pike Place Market, indulging in the flowers, fresh produce and seafood.

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We sampled the other vice at the very first Starbucks ever.

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My daughter had been asking to see the International Fountain for months and on a rainy day she finally got her wish.

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Seattle was really beautiful, but we also had plans to travel down the Oregon coast.

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We had a great time exploring the coastline and taking in its wonder. Being landlubbers, we soaked up as much ocean time as we could get.

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A couple of days’ stay there and we were ready to head towards our final destination of Carlton in the Willamette Valley. That last day we spent so much time on the coast we had to drive to Carlton in the dark, missing any possible first glimpse of the vast amounts of vineyards that surrounded us.

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A quick day trip into Portland proved itself weird and eclectic, truly amusing to visit but what I really wanted to do was try some of the local wines. So one afternoon, while the kids were napping, I took the opportunity to visit some of the small tasting rooms in Carlton. I wasn’t a big fan of Pinot Noir, yet knew this was the biggest up and coming region for the grape. On top of that, I had never visited a tasting room and was quite nervous. Would I need to know more about wine to enjoy it or would they laugh at me for being such a newb? I picked what I thought was a good place to start, Seven of Hearts Winery, a small tasting room where I might be the only one in. It was a weekday and mid-afternoon so my chances of being alone were pretty good. If I was going to screw up, I didn’t want to do it in front of other people. When I arrived,  it was just me and the guy behind the counter. I was honest with him, mentioning I had never been in a tasting room before and didn’t really know what to do. To my great relief,he put my fears at ease by being kind and walking me through a flight of wines.

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Though not being the most well known or best winery in the valley, this was my first taste of the elegance that Oregon Pinot Noir is known for, and to my surprise, I liked it. In fact, I liked it alot. There was time for one more tasting before going back to the house, so I walked around the corner to the Kramer Vineyards tasting room. Once again, I was greeted with an attendant who was very helpful and informative. She even brought me next door to see the sorting table and crushing floor of the neighbouring vineyard. It was harvest time and things were in full swing.

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Time was running out before we needed to head home and I wanted to visit a larger winery. I had done some research ahead of time into some more family friendly wineries in the Willamette Valley. One place that kept coming up was the Willakenzie Estate Winery.

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Situated on top of a hill north of Carlton, it has beautiful views of the surrounding area and is a great location for growing Pinot Noir. I read that it was possible to tour through the vineyards and figured this would be a perfect way to burn off some of my daughter’s energy. It would be a win win situation as later, once she was tired, we could enjoy a quiet tasting. What I didn’t consider, or know for that matter, was when visiting during harvest season the vineyards are mostly out of bounds for visitors. They had air cannons shooting off every few minutes to keep the birds off the fruit and this posed a danger to any visitor.

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We still did the tour and got to go inside the inner workings of the winery–at least to see it from above. There were some vines closer to the tasting room that the attendant allowed us to wander through and he even suggested we taste the fruit. My daughter was all over this and we had to slow her down on picking before she ate an entire bunch. They had also set up what was called a sensory garden full of herbs and fruit for their visitors to compare to the wines. Here was a chance to run around. Our experience there was top-notch and the wines were superb. They were out of our normal price range but I did pick up a few as gifts and still even have one in my collection waiting to be tasted.

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This trip was a game-changing experience for me. I knew the limitations of having kids in wine country but made the best of where we were. I had overcome my fear of tasting rooms and would now go into them with confidence. That, and now I was converted to liking Pinot Noir, especially if it comes from a cooler climate like Oregon. The question is, which region to visit next…

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Visit the Sonoma Valley – heck, we are accustomed to kids running around the vineyard. Very kid friendly and plenty for families to do together. Love the Willamette Valley, especially Tyee Vineyards. Cheers! 🍷😘

    1. bbouwsema says:

      Sonoma Valley is high up on my list of wine regions to visit while our kids are still young. We’d like to combine it with a stint in San Francisco, which is possible I think?

      1. Absolutely! A great trip….

      2. bbouwsema says:

        When you say “WE are accustomed…” does that mean you live or work in Sonoma? Or do you just visit it often enough to see kids in the vineyard?

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