Beyond Portland: Historic McMinnville and the heart of Oregon Wine Country

StreetPhoto by star5112 on flickr

Sometimes there can be a place so unique and charming that gets overlooked merely because larger, more boastful cities reside nearby. I never thought much of McMinnville, Oregon, but that’s only because I had never been. However knowing that it’s in the heart of Oregon Wine Country, I became increasingly curious as to what this small town had to offer. Once I learned that it was accessible by bus from Portland, it was settled. I had to visit.

My journey began in downtown Portland at Pioneer Courthouse Square. From there we boarded the MAX Blue Line to Hillsboro, and got off at the Hillsboro Central/SE 3rd Transit Center. We then connected to Yamhill County Transit Area bus line 33, which took us right into historic downtown McMinnville. Eager to get to my home for the next couple of days, we began the easy walk to the Oregon Wine Cottage.

OregonWineCottagePhoto by Stephanie Paris

I’ve stayed in many hotels, B&Bs, cabins, and vacation homes. Until you’ve been to a place, you just can’t be sure what you’re going to get. The Oregon Wine Cottage exceeded my expectations in many ways. It was clean, inviting, and quaint. But not quaint in the way your grandmother’s house is quaint. More like your best friend’s house where you immediately feel comfortable and at home. This is the perfect place for a double date weekend, featuring two bedrooms, each with their own bathroom. Although you may just have to rock/paper/scissors to decide who gets the room with the fabulous soaking tub.

In addition to the cottage being simply adorable, the location was perfect. It’s close enough to the main drag that you feel like you’re still part of the action, but far enough away that you get that secluded privacy that a hotel just can’t offer. The owners gave recommendations for dinner and breakfast, and trusting they knew what they were talking about, we went with a couple of their recommendations, which ended up enhancing our weekend experience.

Both restaurants were located in historic downtown McMinnville, which is a short, pleasant walk from the cottage. For dinner, we tried Nick’s Italian Cafe, where the Lasagna Bolognese was absolutely heavenly. After dinner we ended up spending the rest of the evening in The Back Room, their appropriately named bar. Whether you dine in the main restaurant or the bar in the back, they offer a huge wine selection, and refreshingly inventive cocktails.

CommunityCoffeePhoto by Stephanie Paris

The next morning we had breakfast at Community Plate, where I was pleased to enjoy my home city’s Stumptown Coffee. It was a pretty busy morning in the cafe, so with our coffee we opted for one of their savory bacon-cheddar-chive scones from the pastry case to hold us over before our order was up. That was a good move, because it was super tasty, but not necessary because despite the crowd, our food arrived surprisingly fast. Both restaurants were as good as promised! Having great dining options close to the cottage was a huge plus for our stay.

Now it was time to do one of the activities that was the main inspiration for our trip. It was time to taste some wine! The greatest thing about McMinnville by bus is that there is a plethora of good wine tasting options right in the heart of walkable downtown. Visit any or all of the tasting rooms listed below, and your palate will thank you!

Wine Tasting in historic downtown McMinnville

  • R. Stuart and Co. Wine Bar – 528 NE 3rd St – “R. Stuart & Co. is a winery specializing in Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, located in McMinnville, Oregon. Winemaker Rob Stuart gathers the best fruit possible to make wines that are friendly and approachable for real people to enjoy with their friends, family and good food. Our Wine Bar is the perfect setting to taste through our wines, linger over a glass, have a snack, and purchase wine to take home. For a little variety we also offer a couple of local microbrews, and espresso from our favorite Portland roaster.”
  • Willamette Valley Vineyards – 300 NE 3rd St –  “Our mission in growing cool-climate varietals is to create elegant, classic Oregon wines from the Willamette Valley Appellation. As native Oregonians, we treasure our environment and use sustainable practices in growing and vinifying our winegrapes. The Willamette Valley Vineyards Tasting Room in McMinnville provides an opportunity to experience our award-winning Pinot Noirs right in the heart of Downtown McMinnville.”
  • Terra Vina Wines – 585 NE 3rd St – “Delicious! Is the adjective we hear the most when describing our wines. Many different varietals crafted in small lots showcase the purity of each varietal’s flavor and uniqueness of the terroir of the finest Northwest vineyards. Consistently recognized by the NW Wine Summit, and receiving numerous gold medals over the years, in 2007, our 2005 Amore, Late Harvest Semillon, received a gold medal and “Best Dessert Wine.” We are honored by the awards our wines have received showing the consistency in our winemaking.”
  • Dominio IV – 845 NE 5th St – “At Dominio Wines, we practice Biodynamic™ farming to ensure that the land which feeds our grapes remains viable and fruitful for future generations. Our winery resides in the thriving Granary District of McMinnville, Oregon. What was once a dilapidated, agricultural storage building has since been renovated into the perfect home for creating and enjoying wines. During the warmer seasons, the doors to our tasting room spill out to an outdoor patio. There, you can explore our wines while enjoying the sunshine.”
  • Eyrie Vineyards – 935 NE 10th Ave – “The Eyrie Vineyards has been known for elegant, classic wines since 1970, when we produced the first Pinot noir and Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley, and the New World’s first Pinot gris. Join us in McMinnville, at Yamhill County’s original winery, to enjoy current Eyrie releases and a taste of Oregon wine history!”
  • Remy Wines – 905 NE 10th Ave – “Remy Wines is a small, urban winery producing Old World Style Italian varietals including Sangiovese, Barbera, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo and Lagrien. We are also home to the Three Wives Wines.  baR (pronounced R bar) is open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we offer fantastic small plates, wines by the glass, and outdoor seating. Ciao!”

Walking from tasting room to tasting room made for a fun and relaxing day. We met so many wonderful people, and whether they were locals or fellow travelers, the conversation was always lively and interesting. And if you’re looking for a guided tour experience with a chance to visit some of the actual vineyards, sign yourself up for the Tour and Taste Daytrip offered by Grape Escape Winery Tours. Their joinable tours begin at McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon in downtown McMinnville one Saturday per month, and ticket packages can be purchased through the Hotel Oregon website.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto by Adam Sawyer

With all of these amazing experiences, it’s easy to say that my stay in McMinnville was nothing less than fantastic. The community, the sense of history in the town, and the great food and drink were all things that contributed to creating a memorable trip. As I boarded the bus to return to my Portland home, I found myself wishing we had booked more days at the Oregon Wine Cottage. I have a feeling that the next trip I take to McMinnville will end with me thinking, “Just one more day …”.

Alternative bus routes and lodging

For a unique hotel experience, try the McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon. The building is a wonderful piece of McMinnville’s history. They even offer a self-guided walking tour of art and history that provides detailed information about the furniture and interior design, architecture and room detail, and art and old photos that grace the walls. Their European-style rooms feature original porcelain sinks, with shared bathrooms exclusively for hotel guests conveniently located down the hall. For a bit more privacy, they also offer King and Queen rooms with private bathrooms. Dining and nightlife options at the hotel include their McMenamin’s Pub where you can get daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner, their Cellar Bar which is described as a “20s-style speakeasy meets modern day wine bar,” and finally their Rooftop Bar where the views offer an unobstructed look at Oregon’s lush wine country, the impressive Coast Range and beyond.

As an alternative to the route described in the article, you can also take TriMet line 12-Barbur to the Tigard TC and then the Yamhill County Transit Area line 44 on Weekdays, or 46S on Saturdays, to the downtown McMinnville TC. Making this trip on a Sunday is less convenient, so if you’d like your travel plans to include part or all of the weekend, I’d recommend making sure that both your arrival and departure days fall on a Monday through Saturday. For example, bus in on a Friday or Saturday and leave on a Monday. For more information visit the websites of TriMet and Yamhill County Transit Area for trip planning assistance. You can also plan your trip using google maps and choose the bus option when finding directions from a beginning and ending location.

Article written by Stephanie Paris

One thought on “Beyond Portland: Historic McMinnville and the heart of Oregon Wine Country

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