May is Oregon Wine Month - find ways to celebrate near Salem
Spring is in full swing, and summer is fast approaching—which means it’s perhaps the best time of year to explore the mid-Willamette Valley’s celebrated wineries: Whole vineyards are awash in greenery, sunny days mean glorious afternoons on tasting room patios, and new releases showcase the region’s many varietals and creative blends.
Not just that, but May is Oregon Wine Month—a celebration of the state’s beloved wine industry and a time when vintners and winemakers offer discounts, events, and other fun activities that promote the state’s renowned wine scene.
Given all that, we understand if you’re planning to visit the mid-Willamette Valley and its myriad tasting rooms soon. And as you research your destinations and get excited for that first sip, we wanted to offer a few tips for making the most of your time in mid-Willamette Valley Wine Country this spring and summer—whether that means having a backup plan or taking advantage of a winery’s variety of fun activities. (For instance: Did you know one winery invites visitors to stay overnight in a tiny home, while another hosts hiking trails through bucolic vineyards?)
In that spirit, here are three idyllic ways to experience spring and summer in mid-Willamette Valley Wine Country.
While it likely won’t be possible to drop into your favorite mid-Willamette Valley wineries on a whim this spring or summer, there are still plenty of opportunities for making the most of your experience. Here are a few ideas for enjoying your next visit.
Make a reservation: Almost all mid-Willamette Valley wineries require visitors to make reservations ahead of time; this allows them to staff their tasting rooms, control the flow of people through a tasting room or patio, and plan for the day. Some wineries accept walk-ins if space is available, but visitors shouldn’t count on being able to drop in unannounced—especially on scenic summer afternoons when tasting room patios routinely fill to capacity.
Bundle up: Weather in the mid-Willamette Valley can be unpredictable all year long—and while wineries have gotten wise to heaters and fire pits, outdoor tasting areas can still get chilly. Wear layers to account for changing conditions at your favorite tasting rooms.
Be mindful of your group size: We’re all excited to see family, friends, and loved ones after months of quarantine and social distancing—but group sizes are limited to 6-10 people, depending on a county’s current risk level for the spread of COVID-19. Try to keep your group size small to ensure your party is seated together at tasting rooms.
Pay close attention to a tasting room’s rules and policies: While state guidelines may restrict capacity or mandate face coverings when not eating or drinking, different tasting rooms have their own rules—and methods for keeping everyone safe. Visitors should familiarize themselves with those rules before arriving or brush up once on site to ensure they have the best possible experience. Karen Saul, co-owner at Andante Vineyard, says capacity limits and reservation requirements can have an especially positive impact. “Just controlling how many people are there is so good for the guests, good for our staff, and good for just the general ambiance of the whole place,” she says.
Figure out food ahead of time: Make sure you stay fueled up by knowing your food options in advance; check in with the wineries you’re visiting to see what kind of food they serve, along with whether they allow outside food on their property.
While it’s almost always necessary to make reservations and develop a plan in advance, it’s nearly as important to remain flexible with your itinerary. Heavy rain or high winds can limit outdoor dining, staff shortages might mean occasional closures or shorter hours, and changing restrictions might alter what services are available. (Indoor tastings might be limited or prohibited altogether, for instance, if county-wide restrictions are implemented to keep visitors safe and stop the spread of COVID-19.)
If outside forces impact your plans, try asking your server or the tasting room manager about rescheduling or for other recommendations nearby; employees are well-versed in local wineries and guidance from state health officials—and are happy to help find other ways to have fun in the mid-Willamette Valley. “If you haven’t had time to look to see who else is open around you and what kind of experiences they have available, our staff at the tasting room will know exactly where to send you,” says Emily Dougherty, marketing manager at Eola Hills Wine Cellars. “We’ve all gone out and tasted at our neighbors, and we want to promote our whole industry, so definitely use the staff as a resource for your experience.”
This summer, winery experiences aren’t limited to outdoor tastings. Rather, several wineries have gotten creative with new experiences and inventive takes on classic events.
Bryn Mawr Vineyards, for instance, has installed a tiny home on its vineyard for overnight guests. The two-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom lodging includes a full kitchen and affords visitors the chance to stay with their pod in a secluded outpost while enjoying the perks of Bryn Mawr’s wine club—such as free tastings and discounts on purchases.
Eola Hills, meanwhile, is preparing to reimagine its annual summer concert series with an eye toward safety. The winery's series of “Summer Uncorked” live shows will run on Fridays between June and August, with socially distant pods for safe seating, a cap on group sizes, and capacity limits that align with local guidance. A rotating cast of food trucks will be on hand to dish dinner, as well.
The winery has also opened a network of on-site "wiking trails", a series of self-guided hikes through Eola Hills' vineyard hillsides that boast sweeping views of the Willamette Valley. Dougherty says the trails offer the chance to connect with the region’s vineyards and wine culture in a new and enriching way. “If anything, it’s shown us that there are more platforms where we can be telling our story and connecting people with Willamette Valley wine,” she says.