Late summer is the perfect time for Portlanders to visit Oregon wine country in the Willamette Valley. Many of the wineries are anticipating the forthcoming harvest and it’s a great time to snag some deals on summer time whites and rosés. The little town of Carlton, Oregon, is actually an ideal town for Portland wine tasters looking for a relaxing day trip to sample the myriad of wines that Oregon has to offer, not just the Willamette Valley. Park your car for the day and everything you need is in walking distance.
The most scenic route to get to Carlton is to take I-26 West from Portland and then hop on 47 south at Banks. Taking a little more than an hour, this drive shows off the beauty of the Coast Range and the vibrant farming and vineyards southwest of Portland.
First stop, breakfast at Henry’s Diner, a food cart that “serves a Classic American Diner Menu with a focus on Breakfast. Fresh, Seasonal, Local Ingredients Cooked from Scratch with Love #EATHOTBREAKFAST.” Henry’s is open Friday through Monday 8-2 pm. Alternatively, the Carlton Bakery offers a delightful array of fresh baked goods with Pacific northwest ingredients in an old world style. Open Tuesday-Sunday 7:30-5 pm.
Most of the tasting rooms in Carlton open at 11:00 am. First check out Carlton Cellars for a number of refreshing whites, such as Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Auxerrois. They offer a gamut of Pinot noirs from light and pretty to robust and tannic. Across the street is the venerable Ken Wright Cellars, which has been making Oregon wine since the early 1980's. Their tasting room is open daily 11-5.
There are several spots for lunch in Carlton, including the Carlton Bakery, The Horse Radish, Farmer's Plate and Pantry and Barrel 47. All of these spots are located right on Main Street in down town. Around 12, another round of tasting rooms open up, including Omero Cellars, a boutique winery sampling Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, rosé of Pinot noir and Pinot noirs ranging from broad Willamette Valley blends to single vineyard designates. Unlike most tasting rooms, Omero Cellars offers a seated option that gives tasters the ability to go back and revisit and compare wines. Another added bonus is that Omero Cellars is one of the few tasting rooms that is open seven days a week.
Hop over to a little side street and visit De Ponte's Lonesome Rock Ranch tasting room. While their Pinot noirs are exceptional, the real stand out is their Melon de Bourgogne, a little known, but delicious, white wine. Across the street is another purveyour of interesting whites: Kramer Vineyards' Müeller Thurgau and their line of delicious sparkling wines.
Finally, skip on down to the northwest end of Carlton and visit the Carlton Winemaker's Studio and Cana's Feast winery. Both spots offer an eclectic variety of wines, not just Pinot noir, especially some warmer climate varietals. The Studio has the added bonus of many winemakers and different styles under one roof. Cana's Feast shows off some Italian varietals and a diverting bocci ball course.
Once you've tasted your fill or the tasting rooms have closed for the day, around 5 pm, scope out Carlton's lovely dining scene. For a fancier dining experience, give Cuvée a try. It's open Wednesday through Sunday. On the other hand, if you're ready for something more casual and less wine oriented, head down to Barrel 47 (right next to Omero Cellars). Barrel 47 offers pub fare and great beer taps.