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Oregon Wine Country vs. California Wine Country (Sonoma)

Girlfriend and I are currently planning a trip for May/June and are deciding between Portland/Willamette Valley and San Francisco/Sonoma. We have already done a trip to San Francisco/Napa so that is making me lean towards Oregon, but my girlfriend is a big chardonnay fan so she is leaning towards Sonoma.

Any suggestions? If any one has been to both I would love to hear your thoughts.

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  1. Do Oregon, and introduce your girlfriend to the beauty of Oregon Pinot Gris, Semillon, and Chenin Blanc, among others. Don't forget the Yamhill region, and the Chehalem region, where the grapes get a bit riper than the rest of Oregon.

    Also, bear in mind, the difference between the regular release wines and the reserve wines in Oregon is striking, among the biggest I've ever tasted. Pay any extra and taste the reserves.

    PS. I'm from Napa Valley.

    2 Replies
    1. re: maria lorraine

      Thanks for the advice....will definitely need to try the reserves

      1. re: tkuppens

        Yeah, especially if you go to King Estate outside of Eugene.
        As we went up the quality/price ladder with their Pinot Gris, the difference was amazing. Had a nice tasting and you can do lunch which was tasty and didn't break the bank. It is in the middle of nowhere, so you have to drive for a while, but it's worth it.

    2. Take the road less traveled . . .

      There are some great Chardonnays in Oregon, too, but many are in a "leaner" style than found in California due to the cooler climate. That said, Pinot Gris is the "star of the show," as far as whites are concerned.

      Now, if the two of you *hate* Pinot Noir, it would be a good idea to skip Oregon. Then again, you might want to skip Sonoma, too, as a number of excellent Pinot Noirs from from Sonoma. But Sonoma is filled with small wineries that make loads of different types of wines: Cabs, Zins, Sauvignon Blancs, sparkling -- the list goes on and on.

      I much prefer Sonoma to Napa -- and not only for the wines themselves It's more diverse; it's not as crowded or touristy; it's not as "nouveau riche." Then again, I've been visiting both Napa and Sonoma since the early 1970s, and spent 40 years in the wine trade -- including working for a Napa Valley winery and living in the town of Napa.

      On the other hand, I've only been to Oregon a few times. It's even more relaxed, more casual, less touristy, etc, etc. And the wines are wonderful.

      ML is right about the Reserve wines -- make sure you taste those!

      1 Reply
      1. re: zin1953

        Luckily we both like Pinot Noir, but I do like the idea of getting some good variety. I appreciate the help!

      2. I've been to both and I prefer both over Napa. Tells us where you decide to go and I can make some specific recommendations as long as she doesn't like oaky chardonnay.
        There's plenty of good chardonnay in the Williamette Valley.

        5 Replies
        1. re: SteveTimko

          Any preference between Sonoma and Willamette?

            1. re: zin1953

              Well he said he has been to both, so wondering which he prefers overall. My primary interests in the trip are good/fun wine tastings, good food, nice convenient lodging, and that is about it.

              1. re: tkuppens

                Any number of us have "been to both" . . .

                1) Wines are stylistically very different; both regions, however, produce some superb wines.

                2) Sonoma wins for food, IMHO, but -- once again -- good food can be found in both places.

                3) Sonoma is more relaxed and casual, and perhaps "fun," compared to Napa Valley; Willamette is more relaxed and casual compared to Sonoma.

                4) Sonoma is more diverse, and has a wider variety of hotels, etc., etc. Willamette is smaller than Sonoma, but -- no offense -- define "convenient." Do you want a cozy (albeit expensive) place in the middle of two dozen wineries? That's Napa, and you won't really find that in Sonoma or Willamette. Want to stay at a spa? Again, Napa, and to a certain extent Sonoma. Don't mind a bit of driving? Either place fits *that* requirement!

                1. re: zin1953

                  As usual I agree with your points zin. We were in the Willamette Valley most recently in 2010. My wife and I enjoy driving, so we tended to do a lot of it. Since I try to visit small wineries when I travel, we didn't go to some of the places that I would recommend for the first time visitor like Domaine Serene or Argyle. Both make pretty good Chards, if like you say, in a leaner style, which I happen to enjoy. Obviously, Pinot Noir is the draw in both regions, and the styles are very different.

                  I have to admit, our visit with Jim Anderson at Patricia Green, and Tom Mortimer at Le Cadeau were highlights of our trip, but we had a blast.

                  As I noted in my earlier post, if they have not been Portland is a great city to visit, especially if the weather is good. Powell's Books, dining from the food trucks, shopping amongst the hipsters (which was interesting for this old man) and in general enjoying a city that is very different than those here in the east. I even managed to drink a lot of craft brews while I was there, something I don't normally do. We enjoyed the city very much and will go back.

        2. If you have never been to Oregon, I'd say go there. If for no other reason, to go to Portland (be sure to see the Japanese gardens) because it is an interesting city. My wife and I have been to both, and we love Sonoma (and go every time we visit friends in SF), but had a wonderful time in the Willamette Valley. It reminds me of Napa Valley from 40 years ago in many ways. Definitely rural and small cities. There are lots of wonderful places to visit, some great B and Bs to stay at, and some fantastic restaurants. It is not nearly as scenic as being in Sonoma (there is just something about driving along the coast in Sonoma that is fantastic) but it has it's own charm.

          1. that's a really hard call as I love both places. If it's only the Chardonnay that's holding you back from Oregon, I'd say don't let that worry you. Plenty of amazing chardonnays being made in Oregon. Brick House and Chehalem come immediately to mind...

            Both regions are VERY different from Napa, as they are much less commercial, folks are more laid back, restaurants are more casual (in general).

            As far as I'm concerned, you won't go wrong with either choice.