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Will a White Wine Die-Hard Go Red? Where There’s a Willamette, There’s a Way

photography by PHYLLIS LERNER

Oregon Wine

A recent Candelaria Design wine tour to the Willamette Valley is packed with fine food, fabulous Oregon wine and some new friends.

For 20 years, beloved architect Mark Candelaria of Candelaria Design has lead wine tours to Italy, Spain and now Oregon, to bring his “Live Beautifully” approach to life to his friends, family and clients, and for the first time, I made the trip!

Mark and Isabel are a joy to spend time with over dinner but invest five days with them—together with a group of 16 travelers—and you are in for a good time! No detail was overlooked, and the itinerary represented the best, must-see places in the area. I’ve followed so many of the tours, I knew, this time, I had to make the time to go, and it was worth it!

We started our time together by meeting at the airport for our flight together. We all logged into the Life360 app and got on a group text thread, and instantly we are on the same page, ready to see it all together. I affectionately titled the thread “Oregon Peeps.”

Oregon Peeps

With 16 peeps aboard, we were off! It occurred to me to pack a waterproof jacket considering this was the Pacific Northwest, but I ran out of time to get one before the trip. Certainly, I wouldn’t need that, I said. 

As we descended into the Portland airport, dark skies turned to 100-percent cloud cover, and once on the ground, were in our first, and nowhere near our last, rain storm. Isabel shared that Columbia had a store in the airport, and I was shopping minutes after landing. After carefully putting together my outfits for the five days, you’ll see I wore my new, white raincoat daily. 

Usually, a forecast of steady rain would be a vacation downer, but it was actually beautiful. We enjoyed misty mornings and evening downpours, the terroir smelled so fresh and earthy, and the fog rolled in. Most of my travel companions said they didn’t mind the rain at all. In total Candelaria Design style, when we had special outdoor seating for tastings, the sun would come out. Our itinerary was filled with lovely wineries, and we really paced ourselves. 

Oregon Wine

We based our time together from Black Walnut Inn, a serene, nine-room villa perched above 100 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines in Oregon’s famed Willamette Valley. Upon arrival, we sampled Oregon wines from their vineyard and some neighboring vineyards, one of which would become one of my two favorites from the trip. 

We enjoyed a chef-prepared dinner that first night, but not before everyone started breaking out their cameras and iPhones to photograph the first rainbow of the trip. The photography hero was Phyllis Lerner. Mark had designed their magnificent home for she and her husband Gil, and years ago I got to celebrate with them as Mark cooked in their new kitchen. I was delighted to spend time with them again, and of course, grateful for Phyllis’s diligence in capturing every moment. That is no easy feat, and the images were amazing. You’ll see several of them here.

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Every day started with breakfast at the inn. On day one it was obvious we wanted to all be together, so tables of two quickly converted to one long farm table that we enjoyed throughout the trip. Every morning, I arrived at breakfast to hear Mark playing the piano, which is a most-lovely way to start the day. Isabel would lead early-morning hikes, which I never missed.

Every morning, I arrived at breakfast to hear Mark playing the piano, which is a most-lovely way to start the day. Isabel would lead early-morning hikes, which I never missed.

Playing piano

As for the wineries, there are more than 700 wineries in the Willamette Valley and most are dry-farmed, organically produced Oregon wines. This makes for healthier wines that won’t give you a headache if you over-enjoy your tastings. We started with a hike at Knudsen Vineyards, then lunch and sampling. We were among the greenest trees I think I’ve ever seen! 

That afternoon, we dressed up and toured Domaine Serene, one of the most magnificent campuses we saw on our trip, from the elaborate tasting rooms, to the impressive winery itself. The property boasts an inn for members. We learned the story of the owners who sold a business to get into wine, and today have an expansive estate to enjoy. We dined at a little local hot spot that night, Tina’s where we regaled our day of tasting and shared some laughs. 

Oregon wine

Our next day focused on all things olive oil at Durant Olive Mill. We walked through the olive grove and learned all about making olive oil, like that one tree can produce three to five gallons a year! At lunch, we learned all the health benefits of olive oil and how to use it as we tasted six different blends. 

The flavors were amazing, and now I know that high-heat bruises my oil and it’s best enjoyed from the bottle poured on top of my food or in cool dressings to preserve all the antioxidant-rich goodness. By the way, here is where I enjoyed my other favorite wine of the trip, their rose made by their resident winemaker by the same name as my son, Spencer. 

We went to McMinnville that night for dinner at Bistro Maison, and walked down Main Street. We were delighted to learn that the UFO festival was underway as well, so we chatted up aliens and Star Wars fans that evening before returning to our earthly dwelling at the inn. Who knew?

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Oregon wines

We enjoyed tastings at Domaine Divio the next day—another day, another charcuterie board. The day started gray and raining, and by the time we were able to sit on a scenic patio to enjoy the view, the sun came out in all its glory. That night we had a tasting and BBQ at Utopia Vineyards, where we met Dan Warhshuis, who is a spokesperson for Ribbon Ridge and the Willamette Valley winegrowers, and sure knows his subject. I recently interviewed him on my ICONIC Hour podcast, and he is a wealth of information on the more than 700 wineries in the Valley.

On the last day, we enjoyed Stoller Estates, a modern-designed winery with a fun vibe. That night we ate, drank, sang and danced at Osteria Romario, where Chef Dario blew our culinary minds. It was the perfect way to end a perfect trip. The friendships made and enjoyed on this trip cannot be described. 

Oregon Peeps

With Paris, The Canary Islands and Machu Picchu all being added to the roster, apparently, I’m working to invest in more wine tours.

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