Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine country is a grand place for a weekend getaway, a lush area of vineyard-covered hills where visitors may relax with a glass of vintage pinot noir on a winery’s open patio and enjoy a distant view of the lofty Cascade Range.
Most of the valley’s estimated 400 wineries are within a three-hour drive of Central Oregon. But after a day of sipping wines, perhaps followed by dinner at one of the region’s outstanding restaurants, the last thing a couple want to do is race back over the mountains as the veil of night is falling.
On the other hand, hours of luxuriating don’t often translate to a desire to overnight in a Super 8 or a TraveLodge, no slight intended. You don’t want a no-frills business motel. You want to extend the pampering into the next day. You want to stay in one-of-a-kind lodging, somewhere that’s truly unique.
Fortunately, the Oregon wine country has many unusual options, even beyond the extravagance of Newberg’s 6-year-old Allison Inn & Spa. Outside Carlton, The Abbey Farm features a trio of grain silos that have been converted into a bed-and-breakfast inn. In Dayton, a set of retro travel trailers, known as The Vintages, offers a taste of yesteryear within a popular RV park. Several wineries, all the way south to Eugene, feature guest suites and houses within their vineyards, and numerous B&Bs offer posh rooms with gourmet breakfasts close to the center of the action.
Perhaps the quirkiest of the bunch is the Abbey Road Farm, whose owners bought an 82-acre horse ranch and turned it into a luxury inn and nearby event center.
John and Judi Stuart, who have six grandchildren between them, came from Las Vegas in 2003 with a background in insurance and hospitality, and with a lot of additional skills to apply to their new life in the Oregon countryside.
Three silos standing side by side, previously used to hold grain, were all it took to spirit John’s imagination. Not many people would see large cylindrical containers and think “guest rooms,” but that’s what happened here. Each of the trio was split into upstairs and downstairs, with private baths and steep staircases; they became five individual rooms, with a shared parlor in the center of the ground floor.
These rooms have no squared corners, of course. Queen-size beds and furnishings seem to float beside windows cut in the aluminum walls. But the sheets are Egyptian cotton and some of the rooms feature whirlpool baths. There’s nothing bucolic about these lodgings, which have been luring curious visitors for 10 years.
Breakfast is served a short walk away on the ground floor of the original farm house, moving into a screened patio during warmer weather. The eggs and herbs come from Abbey Road Farm itself — this is, after all, a working farm. Chances are, you’ll see John tending the organic garden; guests are invited to assist with weeding, harvesting or pruning the trees in a cherry orchard. They may also contribute to the care of animals, including goats, chickens, sheep, llamas and alpacas. Mucking stalls is always a good way to start.
At the top end of the property, the AgriVino Event Center features five-course Friday dinners prepared in a commercial kitchen by Italian chef Dario Pisoni, accompanied by wines highlighting the 20 viticultural areas of Italy. Reservations are essential.
I’ve sometimes wondered what life might be like in an Airstream trailer. The shiny metallic finish of these open- road seductresses has captivated me for years.
At The Vintages Trailer Resort, which opened last year in Dayton, I nearly found out. Several Airstreams stood on site, relics of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s; alas, I was booked into a slightly larger 1965 Avion. But any disappointment I may initially have felt was short-lived.
My trailer home was wonderful. From the red racing stripe on its white exterior, to the plush sofa facing a tiny television set, it felt like something from an “I Love Lucy” set. But the twin beds were comfortable and well lit, terrycloth robes hung in a closet, the fully stocked central kitchen was sufficiently spacious and the morning coffee, so essential, was provided by a local gourmet roaster, Caravan Coffee.
There are 10 remodeled vintage trailers and five new Airstreams and Flyte Camps for rent here, gathered in their own community on the north side of the 14-acre Willamette Wine Country RV Park. Outside each are a pair of old-time cruiser bikes with front baskets just large enough to carry two bottles of pinot noir from area wineries you might easily ride to — places like Sokol Blosser or the Stoller Family Estate. And you’ll want to pick up a couple of steaks to complement that wine, as each patio features a couple of retro deck chairs flanking a propane grill for cooking that beef.
The RV park also has a swimming pool and hot tub, with adjacent changing rooms, for vintage guests to enjoy.
My favorite winery accommodations are at the Willamette Valley Vineyards, just south of Salem with a sunset view across Interstate 5. The only negative is that there are a mere two suites available for rent.
But what luxurious suites these are! Each has a king-size master bedroom, a soaking tub in the spacious bathroom and a living area with a queen-size sleeper sofa, in case you’re sharing your stay with in-laws or another couple. There’s satellite TV, of course, and Wi-Fi access. The butler kitchen has a full-size refrigerator to keep your white wine chilled, and an outdoor patio where you can relax in the evening beside a fireplace with a panoramic outlook on hundreds of acres of vineyards.
The only difference between the two suites is that the upper unit has a dining extension with windows on three sides, a perfect place to enjoy the selection of pastries delivered for enjoyment with fresh cups of Keurig coffee. Rates aren’t cheap, but they include a $150 credit for wine purchases that is subtracted from the bill after the first night’s stay.
And here’s an added bonus for Bend wine lovers: During the annual Bend Brewfest in August, Willamette Valley Vineyards will hold a drawing to award a complimentary one-night stay for two in its suites, along with a winery tour and tasting. It’s rare proof that beer and wine go well together.
In the vineyards
Three more winery stay options — all of which I’ve personally checked out — are in the Dundee Hills and in the rolling hill country southwest of Eugene.
There are nine guest rooms at the Wine Country Farm. Six of them are in a restored century-old farmhouse; the remainder sit atop the Armonéa Winery tasting room. Among the best lodging deals in the area (most rooms are priced $150 to $200, regardless of season), the farmhouse rooms share a living room with library shelves and a glassed-in porch that opens to a brick patio with sweeping views east toward Mount Hood.
From a gazebo in the heart of the 13-acre grounds, you can easily see the estate’s 1870 horse barn, constructed 100 years before its first pinot vines were planted. Guided trail rides are offered by reservation. There are no televisions in the farmhouse units, but the spacious luxury suites welcome those who can’t live without their nightly broadcast fix.
Just downhill at the 120-acre Red Ridge Farms, whose properties include the Durant Vineyards, two very different lodging choices are available. Above the beautiful nursery shop is a guest suite, a fully furnished apartment loft with views across a lavender field. And half a mile distant, on the other side of the Oregon Olive Mill, the discreet Stoneycrest Cottage is a two-bedroom, two-bath home with a wraparound porch and all the amenities of home.
The olive mill is unique in the Oregon wine country. Built in 2008, it produces extra-virgin oils from more than 10,000 trees planted in a 17-acre grove. Cold-hardy Spanish, Greek and Italian varietals are pressed and offered for tastings, and private tours of the facility are available by appointment — which is sort of a no-brainer for guests at Red Ridge Farms.
The Eugene area might be overlooked as a wine weekend destination, were it not for its sprawling King Estate Winery. Several other wineries are in the region, however, including the Sweet Cheeks Winery, a 65-acre estate vineyard located in the Lorane Valley 14 miles southwest of downtown Eugene. A popular special-events venue, the winery produces a dozen different vintages, including award-winning Rieslings and rosés.
The Farmhouse at Sweet Cheeks is about a mile north of the winery itself, set on a hillside surrounded by vines. Besides the four-bedroom, three-bath farmhouse (with a full kitchen, sun room and hot tub), a studio loft may be rented separately from the main house. It’s especially popular among wedding parties and reunion groups.
And then there are the dedicated bed-and-breakfast inns, of which the Oregon wine country has a substantial number. One of my favorites, both for location and for luxury, is the Franziska Haus, between Newberg and Dundee.
A newly constructed log lodge with a grand continental flavor, the Franziska Haus pays homage to the grandmother of owner Brigitte Hoss, a refugee from German-speaking Europe. A 29-foot-high stone fireplace dominates the great room, while cast-iron skillet breakfast entrées highlight traditional German cuisine. Two rooms in the main house, and one in a detached guest house, have luxurious beds and bathrooms along with views of vineyards, filbert orchards and grazing sheep.
Among several other wonderful Dundee Hills B&Bs are the Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard and the Le Puy A Wine Valley Inn. The Black Walnut, owned and operated by the Utz family, has nine rooms set in a 42-acre Red Hills vineyard. Le Puy is an eight-room, French-inspired inn with spa amenities and on-site massages, surrounded by a field of sunflowers.
Midway between the Dundee Hills and Eugene are two B&Bs, both in Corvallis, that are worth considering for their comfortable vibe and central location. Donovan Place sits on a working 11-acre Christmas tree farm with two guest houses, a four-bedroom 1880s farmhouse and a two-bedroom contemporary apartment; owner Dale Donovan, a ceramic artist for four decades, can offer private lessons in the making of glazed stoneware and porcelain pottery.
A new townhouse community currently under construction along its entry road has comprised the view from the Hanson Country Inn, but the handsome 5-acre country estate maintains its dignity. Built in 1928 and restored in the late ’80s, the Dutch Colonial-style farmhouse has four guest rooms, a separate two-bedroom cottage and plenty of antiques and museum-quality art.
— Reporter: email@example.com