The Heart of the Willamette Valley: McMinnville
You know you have arrived when the New York Times makes you the centerpiece of an article. McMinnville had this honor last week when the Frugal Traveler did just that. Entitled, “Sip Oregon Wine Country, No Driving Required”, McMinnville was highlighted as the rare wine region accessible by public transit from the city center and the Portland airport.1 Though reachable by car in a little over an hour, it will take double the time to arrive first by light rail (Trimet Max line) to Hillsboro, then by the Yamhill County transit bus. From the McMinnville transit center, it’s an easy 4 block walk to the center of this town of 35,000 where several hotels from the premium Atticus Hotel to the more affordable Hotel Oregon are available for wine country visitors.
15+ tasting rooms reside within downtown McMinnville, with another 250+ within a 20 minute drive—plenty to sate the average wine enthusiast, and walking between stops eliminates the hazards of drinking and driving.
You may be wondering why I would be promoting a walking wine tasting tour since my business is driving tour guests to scenic wineries. Well, I believe the more access the better! Since we pick up in McMinnville, I would encourage guests to stay an extra day or two to visit those easy to access tasting rooms on their own. Our tours specialize in boutique wineries which combine amazing views, great wines and knowledgeable, friendly staff, which often include owners/winemakers. The tasting rooms in McMinnville represent wineries which are remote or don’t have facilities at their vineyards for an on-site experience. What McMinnville can’t offer are the scenic valley views that we can reach via van but visitors can fit in more tastings in a day plus walkable restaurants, shops, coffee houses.
My favorite McMinnville tasting room is Troon,2 a modern storefront room on 3rd Street. Troon’s Demeter certified biodynamic vineyards are located several hours south in Grants Pass. They offer “bold reds” that wouldn’t ripen in our cool Pinot Noir climate, so you can taste a diversity of wines not available at the “classic” Willamette Valley stops. These include Syrah, Tannat, Vermentino plus red and white blends, Pet Nat and Piquette sparkling wines.
Other great options include:
- Montinore which recently closed their iconic Forest Grove tasting room and will be tasting at a new site here in McMinnville.
- The Eyrie, home of one of the original gang of four: David Lett, who banked on this valley providing the perfect second home to Burgundian Pinot Noirs.
- Pike Road Winery, sister label of Elk Cove
- R. Stuart & Co Wine Bar
- Brittan Vineyards
- Martin Woods Winery
McMinnville is home to many great restaurants. La Rambla, a tapas restaurant and wine bar, is a local favorite. Community Plate serves breakfast and lunch in generous portions. Okta is a newcomer with a Michelin starred chef and tasting menu, recently compared to the French Laundry, famed St Helena, CA restaurant, by Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible.3
Breweries, antique stores, coffee houses, a record store, as well as food markets filled with local products round out the downtown offerings. Plus, the town boasts one of the area’s largest farmers markets on Thursdays during the summer season.4
Did I mention Remy Drabkin owner/winemaker of Remy Wines is the mayor of McMinnville? Remy, born and raised in McMinnville, co-founded Wine Country Pride in 2020, celebrating LBGTQ+ events in OR and hosted the first Queer Winefest at Remy’s winery this year.
Just outside of town you will find the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes’ enormous wooden airplane housed at the Evergreen Aviation Museum. It’s a must for aviation enthusiasts and even for the casual history buff. Check out the story of moving the Spruce Goose from its original home in Long Beach, CA on YouTube.
McMinnville is also home to Linfield University, which hosts several events at the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) held in July. IPNC is one of the wine industry’s premier events celebrating Pinot Noir wines and attracts winemakers and Pinot Noir lovers from around the world.5
The Willamette Valley is full of hundreds of great wineries (700+!), most requiring a vehicle to reach, but McMinnville is an exception reachable by public transit and walkable for many attractions, including tasting world class wines. Consider spending a few days here and tour with Triangle Wine Country Tours to reach the wineries with amazing views that you can’t reach by foot, and juxtapose this with a day soaking in the local culture of this idyllic wine country town.