Oregon Wine Country is often photographed throughout the summer, displaying the incredible views of the valley as the sun shows off its time to shine. For those of us who live in the PNW, however, we understand that winter is when the magic happens. Winter, also known as Cellar Season, is when the vines rest, and the rain soaks the soil with the hydration required to produce next season’s flavorful grapes. And with the sun often hidden, visitors can see the PNW in its true Brigadoon-like glory: veiled in a silver curtain of mist and dew, with more shades of green than you can count hugging in the foliage with thick moss, and encouraging you to snuggle up by a fire and sip the Pinot Noir that’s collecting its strength just outside. So while we’ve all had to bid summer farewell, the reasons to visit the Willamette Valley still abound, and we at The Independence Hotel have put a list together to get you started.
1. The Weather
Often when people think about wine tasting, they picture sunny skies, warm weather, and outdoor sipping. And while this is a very pleasant way to spend your time in the PNW, it masks the heart of the Valley, which brings enchanting mists that weave through the vines, moss that hugs ancient trees like sweaters, and the ultimate gift that nature bestows upon the PNW: rain. Wine tasting in the winter can feel like stepping out of the city and into a Emily Bronte Novel, only thankfully with modern plumbing, heated tasting rooms, and indoor/outdoor fire pits. You can keep your hands toasty by the fire as you snuggle into a warm sweater and taste the very wine that’s napping in the soil outside, preparing for its next harvest. Listen to the rain drum onto the roof as your Pinot Noir warms your stomach, perhaps with an added cheese board or other delicious local eats.
Want to make sure you taste by a fireplace? Here is a list of wineries to choose from…
The cozy fireplace at Willamette Valley Vineyards
Get cozy by the fire at Brooks
At Bethel Heights, incredible views, wine, and a fireplace to keep you warm
2. Fewer Crowds
Visiting the Willamette Valley during our “off-season” also means avoiding the commonly crowded tasting rooms. You’ll feel even further from home as you enjoy the extra space. Want to bring a big group? Perhaps plan a corporate event? Winter is the time to do it! Extra Bonus: winter tasters often receive more concentrated one-on-one time with their servers. Who knows, perhaps you’ll spot one of the owners walking by. They’ve even been known to stop and say hello during the less busy months. Reservations are encouraged.
A winter scene at Bethel Heights
Outdoor tasting at Eola Hills Winery rain or shine
Willamette Valley Vineyards pods can be reserved and protect wine tasters from the winter elements
A more practical reason to visit in our rainier season is that discounts abound! With slower tourism, local businesses from wineries and restaurants, to activity centers, tour companies, and hotels will often drop their rates… including… you guessed it! The Independence Hotel. So make sure to check out our website or give us a call for more information. You can ask about any specials or packages we may be catering specifically towards winter stays.
Winters at The Dundee are cozy and posh
Enjoy the crisp air and stunning views from our suite balconies and ask us about our Sip N Snuggle package with a Sackloth and Ash blanket and wine, of course!
4. Seasonal Foods
Curious to know if someone is from the PNW? Ask them about their favorite restaurants and count how many times they say “local,” “sustainable,” or “seasonal.” But there’s a reason for that! Menus in wine country are constantly changing to adapt to whatever is growing at the time. That means what you’ll order during the summer and winter at the same restaurant can change dramatically. You’ll never hear a bad word from us about our summer bounties, but a winter trip will allow you to taste from a different palatal variety: Broccoli, Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Lettuce, Turnips, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Mustard, and Rutabaga can all be harvested during the winter here in Oregon. Add to that our world-class wines and you’ll have a feast to kick off the season in style! At The Independence’s onsite restaurant Territory, the menus are seasonal with pasta and specials highlighting the freshest local ingredients. Territory features an indoor fireplace and heated riverfront solarium with excellent outdoor views but with protection from the elements.
Seasonal Cocktails at Territory
Pasta specials and wine pairings at Territory
5. Holiday Events
If there’s anything that tops trying Willamette Valley wine, it’s trying it during the holidays. Wineries often go all out with events, classes, themed dinners, and private tasting opportunities. The City of Independence hosts GLOW, lights begin every night at dusk and the holiday market is open on Saturdays, Nov 27th-Dec.18, 12-5pm. There’s no entry fee, so bring the whole family down and enjoy festive lighting, music and shopping! The market is located in the City’s amphitheater, directly adjacent to The Independence Hotel.
The Silverton Christmas Market, (less than an hour away) runs from late November-early January. This holiday event features over one MILLION lights, snow-less tubing, photos with Santa, a local artisan market, fire pits, live music, and more. While the Christmas Parlor Tour, (only 30 min away in Albany, Oregon) offers a horse-drawn carriage through the historic downtown area. Be sure not to miss the famous Albany Carousel though if you’re there. It’s over 100 years old and the first Wednesday of every month includes sensory-friendly rides.
6. Winter Festivities
Not all Willamette Valley festivities are holiday-centric though. So if you’re trip doesn’t coincide with Santa’s big day or the changing of one year to the next, there is still plenty to see and do. Towards the beginning of our winter season Red Ridge Farms will be holding their annual “Olio Nuovo Festival,” celebrating all things Olive Oil. Extending throughout the entire month of November, you can come taste the locally made, award winning olive oil made from the only olioteca on the west coast. Tour the mill and experience what is essentially the harvest season of the PNW olive. Did we mention there is a cooking series, which includes fresh pasta and Japanese Izakaya, as well as oysters and traditional Italian cooking? Check out the Red Ridge Farm website for specific dates and events.
Durant Olive Oil makes a great holiday gift
Visit for the olive oil harvest at Red Ridge Farm
Another “must-visit” winter festivity is one of our most esteemed events: “The Oregon Truffle Festival.” The truffle industry in Oregon is booming as it continues to develop and deepen its understanding of truffles in PNW soil. The festival brings together artisan food producers, truffle growers, chefs, speakers, industry experts, and most importantly, an ever-expanding group of truffle enthusiasts (like you)! The Willamette Valley has become a premiere destination for the allusive truffle in the United States, and now is the time to visit and learn why. Tickets proceeds help support local growers, education (including dog training classes to sniff out the truffles) and, of course, further research into sustainable farming and ethical developments of the industry. Don’t worry though, there will still be wine to taste in the world of truffles.
Ask us about truffle hunting tours an unforgettable winter experience
Stay with us during the Valley’s truffle festival and enjoy special events, classes, and of course dishes spotlighting truffles.
7. Outdoor Recreation
Lastly, just because it’s raining doesn’t mean you need to stay inside. The Willamette Valley provides countless hiking and biking trails that are arguably even more beautiful in the winter. From leisurely walks through Riverview Park, to full day adventures like Silver Falls State Park, make sure to pack rain gear, sturdy closed-toe shoes, and a camera with a fully charged battery as we promise you’ll want to take a lot of pictures.
Take a brisk jog or walk on the waterfront trail right out the front doors of the hotel
Several miles of trails along the Willamette River, then get coffee, tea, or soup at Territory in the Independence hotel.
Silver Falls, dramatic with a dusting of snow
Needless to say, there are countless reasons for you to come visit the Willamette Valley in the winter outside of the fact that your wine will automatically stay cold, no matter how long you leave it in the trunk. Soak up the majestic and mysterious views while you mimic the vines and let yourself rest, recuperate, and take time to recover from your outside busy life. Just make sure to bring weather appropriate clothing, book your trip in advance, and prepare to brag to your friends about seeing the real Oregonian Wine county as those of us who live here love it best.
The vineyards at Bethel Heights in the chilly winter air
A layer of ice on the vines at Bethel Heights
Brooks Rosé in the winter evening glow
The grounds at Van Duzer Vineyards, glisten in the snow
The tasting room at Van Duzer even more charming with a dusting of snow
Unrivaled views at Gran Moraine Winery