Northwest Travel

Northwest Travel: Exploring McMinnville

Wineries, aircraft and “Oregon’s favorite main street”

Expenses

Gas (round trip from Bend to McMinnville), 318 miles @ $2.20/gallon: $38.43

Lodging (two nights), McMenamins’ Hotel Oregon: $141.70

Lunch, Community Plate: $11

Dinner, Thistle: $57

Breakfast, Red Fox Bakery: $16.25

Lunch, Pura Vida: $17

Dinner, Nick’s Italian Café: $30

Breakfast, Crescent Cafe: $11

TOTAL: $322.38

If you go

INFORMATION

McMinnville Area Chamber of Commerce: 417 NW Adams St., McMinnville; www.mcminnville.org, 503-472-6196.

LODGING

A’Tuscan Estate Bed and Breakfast: 809 NE Evans St., McMinnville; www.a-tuscanestate.com, 503-434-9016, 800-441-2214. Rates from $155

McMenamins’ Hotel Oregon: 310 NE Evans St., McMinnville; www.mcmenamins.com, 503-472-8427, 888-472-8427. Rates from $65 (shared bath), $115 (private bath)

Red Lion Inn & Suites McMinnville: 2535 NE Cumulus Ave., McMinnville; www.redlion.com, 503-472-1500, 800-325-4000. Rates from $89

3rd Street Flats: 219 NW Cowls St., McMinnville; www.thirdstreetflats.com, 503-857-6248. Rates from $220

DINING

The Barberry: 645 NE Third St., McMinnville; www.kaosmac.com, 503-857-0457. Dinner Wednesday to Sunday, brunch Sunday. Moderate

Community Plate: 315 NE Third St., McMinnville; www.communityplate.com, 503-687-1902. Breakfast and lunch every day. Budget

Crescent Café: 526 NE Third St., McMinnville; www.crescentcafeonthird.com, 503-435-2655. Breakfast and lunch every day, dinner Friday to Sunday. Budget and low moderate

Gem Creole Saloon: 238 NE Third St., McMinnville; www.mcminnvillegem.com, 503-883-9194. Lunch and dinner every day. Moderate

La Rambla Restaurant & Bar: 238 NE Third St., McMinnville; www.laramblaonthird.com, 503-435-2126. Lunch and dinner Thursday to Monday. Moderate

Nick’s Italian Café: 521 NE Third St., McMinnville; www.nicksitaliancafe.com, 503-434-4471. Dinner every day. Moderate

Pura Vida Cocina Arte: 313 NE Third St., McMinnville; www.puravidamac.com, 503-687-2020. Lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday. Budget and low moderate

Red Fox Bakery & Cafe: 328 NE Evans St., McMinnville, www.redfoxbakery.com, 503-434-5098. Breakfast and lunch Monday to Saturday. Budget and low moderate

Thistle: 228 NE Evans St., McMinnville; www.thistlerestaurant.com, 503-472-9623. Dinner Tuesday to Saturday. Moderate to expensive

ATTRACTIONS

Brigittine Monastery of Our Lady of Consolation: 23300 Walker Lane, Amity; www.brigittine.org, 503-835-8080.

Carlton Winemakers Studio: 801 N. Scott St., Carlton; www.winemakersstudio.com, 503-852-6100.

Evergreen Aviation Museum: 500 NE Captain Michael King Smith Way, McMinnville; www.evergreenmuseum.org, 503-434-4180. Open every day.

Linfield College: 900 SE Baker St., McMinnville; www.linfield.edu, 503-882-2200.

Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of Guadalupe: 9200 NE Abbey Road, Carlton; www.trappistabbey.org, 503-852-0107.

Willamette Valley Wineries Association: P.O. Box 25162, Portland, OR 97298; www.willamettewines.com, 503-646-2985.

Yamhill Valley Heritage Center: Durham Lane at State Highway 18, McMinnville; www.yamhillcountyhistory.org, 503-864-2308. Open Saturdays only.

McMINNVILLE —

There are two sides to this thriving Willamette Valley city, and they are as easy to see as a pair of bronze sculptures.

One of them honors a venerated football coach, Paul Durham. The other depicts an American founding father, Benjamin Franklin.

The figure of Durham, who also served as Linfield College’s athletic director from 1948 to 1968, stands outside the entrance to the private, four-year institution’s stadium, still clutching a pigskin. A quiet advocate of equal treatment of races during the civil rights struggle, he twice took his Linfield Wildcats to play for the national small-college championship (in 1961 and 1965).

Commissioned by his former players, the sculpture by Northwest artist Heather Greene was unveiled in October 2014. With his flat-top haircut and introspective countenance, the bespectacled Durham (he died in 2007 at the age of 93) symbolizes an upright ethic that radiates from the Christian campus. This is not a party school. Perhaps the only time things cut loose is in late July during the International Pinot Noir Celebration, when students are gone for the summer.

Durham’s counterpoint is Franklin, who has been sitting on a park bench in the heart of downtown McMinnville for the past six years. The statesman, author, scientist and philosopher of course never visited Oregon — he lived in the 1700s, and was in the grave before Lewis and Clark made their way to the mouth of the Columbia River — but he was also a freethinker and bon vivant.

That perhaps explains how Gary Price’s whimsical sculpture found its way to the corner of Third and Davis streets. Old Ben is depicted in a relaxed pose, a twinkle in his eye, studying a key that he may have used in his legendary experiment to extract electricity from lightning.

Ben is also in a position to observe the growth of a city center that the McMinnville Downtown Association promotes as “Oregon’s favorite main street,” and that Parade magazine readers recently voted No. 2 in the country after Collierville, Tennessee. Several new restaurants have added to the ambience of Third Street, already filled shoulder to shoulder with blocks of shops, wine-tasting rooms and McMenamins’ Hotel Oregon, a memorable historic preservation project that opened in 1999.

Looking back

The highlight of Hotel Oregon’s year comes in the middle of May with the annual UFO Festival, second largest of its type in the United States. While any day of the year is a good one for downing a beverage in the rooftop bar (literally the high point of downtown McMinnville) as you search the skies for unidentified flying objects, I am told its quirky festival parade is a don’t-miss occasion. The festival was started in 2000 on the 50th anniversary of a historic “flying saucer” sighting near McMinnville.

I have yet to attend the UFO Festival. But I have been a frequent visitor to McMinnville, which dates its history back to 1843. That was when William Newby, an Oregon Trail emigrant from McMinnville, Tennessee, built a homestead on a Donation Land Claim. Ten years later, he constructed a grist mill beside Cozine Creek, where City Park now stands.

The city was platted in 1856 and incorporated in 1876. Linfield was chartered in 1858. The handsome brick structures that comprise downtown were erected mostly between 1885 and 1912, replacing earlier wooden buildings between City Park and the railroad tracks, to the east.

McMinnville’s population today stands at just over 33,000. Once best known as a farming center — it was noted for its production of turkeys, walnuts and hazelnuts — its economy is now largely tagged to regional wine production. Yamhill County, of which McMinnville is the governmental seat, has the highest concentration of vineyards and wineries (more than 200) in Oregon. About 70 percent of the wine-growing terrain in the state, 19,000 acres, is in the Yamhill Valley region.

That’s the main draw for McMinnville visitors today. But there’s more. Chief among the attractions is the Evergreen Aviation Museum, the home of Howard Hughes’ famous Spruce Goose airplane and one of the finest air museums in the country.

A two-day itinerary

Here’s how I recommend filling your schedule on a 48-hour visit to McMinnville:

On day one, arrive for lunch after a three-plus-hour drive from Central Oregon. (The distance from Bend, via Salem, is 159 miles.) Dine at any one of several excellent eateries, such as the new Community Plate, where you order at the counter and share a table with new friends.

Then set your radar for the Evergreen museum, where you should plan to spend a full afternoon. It’s not only the Spruce Goose, the Hughes H-4 Hercules flying boat (it made one abbreviated flight in 1947) has the largest wingspan (over 320 feet) of any aircraft in history. Dozens of other aircraft are exhibited in two giant hangars, one of them dedicated to space technology. A third building has an IMAX theater; a fourth houses Oregon’s largest waterpark.

Return to town to check into the Hotel Oregon, which is not McMinnville’s fanciest hotel (expect your bathroom to be down the hall) but is certainly centrally located. Most other accommodations, save for some luxury suites and a couple of bed-and-breakfast inns, are not within easy walking distance of the downtown area.

You’ve got a tough choice for dinner. Nick’s Italian Café is a Wine Country classic, a perfect place for pasta and pinot noir. Established in 1977 by Nick Peirano, it is now owned by his daughter, Carmen, and her husband, Eric Ferguson, although Nick still makes regular evening appearances in The Back Room bar.

Just across the street and around a corner, Thistle has emerged as one of the Yamhill Valley’s finest restaurants since it opened in late 2010. Emily Howard’s rustic eatery has a constantly changing, cutting-edge blackboard menu and a delightful small bar area. If you don’t eat here on your first night, put Thistle on your list for the second night.

Historic downtown

Start day two with coffee and quiche at the Red Fox Bakery & Café. Then put on your walking shoes and devote the morning to exploring historic downtown McMinnville.

If you start at the four-story Hotel Oregon, built as the Elberton Hotel in 1905, you can turn east and follow the north side of Third Street for three blocks to the railroad tracks. En route, you’ll pass the 1904 O’Dell Building, now home to The News-Register, McMinnville’s newspaper, and the Oregon Wine Press. Further on, the 1895 Henderschott House is now a fine-dining French restaurant called Bistro Maison (it was closed during my last visit). The 1912 Southern Pacific Railroad depot still serves its original (albeit less active) purpose.

Crossing Third and returning west on the south side of the street, the 1886 Cooks Hotel is now anchored by a Victorian-era ice cream parlor, Serendipity, which has its own player piano, and the vacant Mack Theater. Across Evans Street is the former J.C. Penney department store. Next to that, is the 1893 Wright Building, its ground floor now La Bella Casa home-décor store.

At the corner of Cowls Street, the 1901 O.O. Hodson Building, once a hardware and grocery store, is now home to the Willamette Valley Vineyards tasting room. The 1885 McMinnville National Bank Building has a popular local pour house, the Bitter Monk, in its corner space. Its second floor contains the boutique 3rd Street Flats, whose 11 short-stay guest units are divided between this building and the 1909 Odd Fellows Hall, three blocks east. Next door in the 1884 Schilling Building — probably the oldest brick building standing on Third Street — is La Rambla, a popular tapas restaurant.

At the west end of Third Street, at the edge of City Park, the 1912 Carnegie Library still serves as the city’s public library. The 1892 Samuel Cozine House, at Third and Adams streets, is a wood-frame Queen Anne-style Victorian that now is home to the McMinnville Downtown Association.

A couple of blocks east on Third, the 1892 Campbell Building, which has served many businesses over the years, currently has two popular restaurants on its ground floor — Community Plate, where you may have had lunch yesterday, and the Pura Vida Cocina, where you definitely should have lunch today. Its fresh, creative Latin American menu ranges across Central American and Caribbean specialties, and it’s very easy on the wallet.

Wine tasting

After lunch, turn your attention to wine tasting. One of the great things about staying downtown is that you’re able to visit as many as 10 tasting rooms and not have to worry about driving anywhere afterward.

On Third Street, from west to east, are Willamette Valley Vineyards, R. Stuart & Co., Lumos Wine Co. and Terra Vina Wines. Turn the corner across the tracks at Irvine Street, and you’ll quickly spot the Elizabeth Chambers Cellar in the Old City Power Plant. Built in 1926, it was converted to a winery and tasting room in 1990 and is open every afternoon. Its Meneffee and Freedom Hill vineyards produce exceptional fruit.

Behind the landmark Houck’s Flour Mill, a city landmark since 1888 that continues to be used as a grain-and-feed store, several other wineries are located in what has become known as the Granary District. Dominio IV stands beside a grain elevator that now houses a spa and yoga studio; across a parking area is the Grain Station Brew Works, whose pub adjoins a coffeehouse. A couple of blocks north, hard by the railroad tracks, Remy Wines specializes in Italian-style blends such as barbera and tempranillo.

It’s a short walk from here to the tasting room of The Eyrie Vineyards, whose pedigree dates from the very beginning of the modern Oregon wine industry. Founder David Lett planted the first pinot noir and pinot gris cuttings in the valley in 1965, in the Red Hills of Dundee, 12 miles northeast of McMinnville. Lett and his wife, Diana, produced their first vintage in 1970, and their 1975 pinot noir raised eyebrows when it successfully competed with French pinot noirs at competitions in Europe in 1979 and 1980.

In 2005, three years before his father’s death, Jason Lett took over as The Eyrie’s winemaker and vineyard manager. The winery now produces its wines in McMinnville, drawing from 49 acres of regional vineyards. The tasting room is open afternoons, Wednesday to Sunday.

Dinner tonight is at Thistle, or if you’re looking for something new and different, The Barberry, near the tracks a few blocks east of the downtown core.

Beyond town

If you’re looking for something to do on your second McMinnville morning, after breakfast and before you head back across the mountains, you might continue your penchant for wine tasting 5 miles north up State Highway 47 to tiny Carlton. In particular, look for Scott Paul Wines and Ken Wright Cellars, both long-established producers of considerable renown.

This charming little town is also home to the Carlton Winemakers Studio, founded in 2002 as Oregon’s first multiple winery facility. Winemakers Eric Hamacher and Luisa Ponzi, with partners Ned and Kirsten Lumpkin, have 13 different producers under the roof, all of whom market their wines in the Studio Tasting Room (open daily).

Take the backroads on your return to McMinnville, following Abbey Road — no, it didn’t give The Beatles their album name — to the Trappist Abbey of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It’s been here since 1955. Respectful visitors are welcome to stroll the landscaped grounds and enjoy the Gregorian chanting of prayers and psalms, which the monks gather to perform five times a day. They also operate a wine warehouse and a book bindery, and they bake fruitcake — 16 tons a year. Don’t leave without taking some away with you.

Equally as far from McMinnville, but south rather than north, is the Brigittine Monastery of Our Lady of Consolation, off Walker Lane between the towns of Amity and Sheridan. Founded in 1976, the order is devoted to prayer and meditation. The Brigittines have a lovely chapel that welcomes visitors. But more folks trek here for gourmet fudge and chocolate truffles, made in an on-premises confectionery. I left with a 1-pound box of Chocolate Fudge Royale. It seemed like the perfect Valentine’s Day gift.

If you’re in McMinnville on a Saturday, a visit to the Yamhill Valley Heritage Center, stretching into the farmlands at the south end of town, is worthwhile. Not only will you see dozens of historic vehicles, from covered wagons to milk trucks to antique threshers; you will also have the opportunity watch a veteran blacksmith forging tools the way it used to be done.

— Reporter: janderson@bendbulletin.com

Next week: Longview, Washington

Next week: Longview, Washington

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