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Originally published Saturday, March 6, 2010 at 7:03 PM

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Wine Adviser

Oregon takes a leap forward in wine-country touring

Oregon has taken a big leap forward in creating the atmosphere and venues for good wine-country touring. In Yamhill County alone, new restaurants, hotels and tasting rooms are inviting enthusiasts.

Special to the Seattle Times

Pick of the week

Pick from an array of good choices on March 11, when 50 Oregon wineries will pour their current releases at Seattle's Sodo Park by Herban Feast. The tasting runs from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.; tickets are $55. Visit www.willamettewines.com for ticket information, or phone 503-297-2962.

WINE-RELATED projects — be they vineyards, wineries or destination resorts — are long-term. Despite the economy, new wineries, restaurants and wine-country lodging continue to debut across the Northwest. On a recent trip through Yamhill County, I was startled at the changes — in the number of new wineries, the appearance of restaurants that can compete with Portland's best, and the debut of at least two destination hotels.

Whether or not you love pinot noir, wine-country touring in Oregon is hard to beat. Early spring is an ideal time to visit, as you will avoid summer crowds and summer heat. Get a copy of the current winery guide and wine-touring map (free from the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, info@willamettewines.com).

Give your trip a focus. There are six subregions (AVAs); pick one or two and explore them. Or choose a style of wine and find the wineries that specialize (aromatic white wines or elegant pinots or big blockbusters). Keep driving distances minimal; it's easy to get lost on the back roads or eat up too much time moving from place to place.

If there is a special tasting room you want to visit, call ahead to be certain they're open on the day you plan to be there. Many will open for you if you make a reservation. There is usually a small charge ($10 to $15) to taste wines.

General strategies: Get off the main highway into the hills, which are spectacular, but cluster your visits. Don't try to taste everything at every stop. Drink lots of water.

The wineries association's Web site (www.willamettewines.com/">www.willamettewines.com/) has a helpful "Where To Stay" listing of accommodations at a variety of prices. Newly opened are two of particular interest. The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg (www.theallison.com) is the most luxurious, with every amenity imaginable and a restaurant (JORY) specializing in regionally inspired food. The Inn at Red Hills in Dundee (www.innatredhills.com) is smaller and a bit more down-home, but includes a marvelous deli, gift shop and wine bar that holds daily tastings of hard-to-find boutique wines. Both places opened in the second half of 2009.

How to choose from among the 200-plus wineries that are hoping to see your smiling face? Good luck! Here are a few highlights from my own recent trip:

ArborBrook. Home is a bright red and thoroughly charming former walnut and hazelnut farm. Owners Dave and Mary Hansen have the enthusiasm of midlife newcomers to the wine business. Their hands-on enterprise now includes a 12-acre vineyard, a tasting room in a century-old nut-drying barn, and case storage in what were once paddocks for the owners' horses.

The Carlton Winemakers Studio. The town of Carlton (and surrounding area) is the epicenter for wine touring, and this studio, built and managed by winemaker Eric Hamacher, has as many as a dozen garagistes on site. It's a great one-stop opportunity to taste through some of the newest and rarest of the region's offerings, and a lesson in green engineering.

Trisaetum. James Frey is the owner, a talented photojournalist and painter whose marvelous artwork occupies an on-site gallery. Specializing in truly Germanic rieslings and a limited selection of elegant pinot noirs.

Paul Gregutt is the author of "Washington Wines & Wineries." Find him at www.paulgregutt.com or write to paulgwine@me.com.

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About Wine Adviser

My column is all about sharing the joy of exploring all the world of wine. I want to guide people to make inspired choices, and encourage them to try as many different styles of wine as they can. I will always seek out the best wines at the best prices. Wine Adviser runs on Sunday in Pacific Northwest Magazine.
paulgwine@me.com

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