The Ultimate Vancouver Wine Guide: Drinking the New Oregon Trail

Here’s your road map to finding Oregon's best beer, cocktails, wine and everything in between.

Here’s your road map to finding Oregon’s best beer, cocktails, wine and everything in between.

Undeniably the creative incubator for craft in the United States, Portland and its environs perpetually reinvent themselves—shifting perception and informing opinion on who, why and what is sustainable and of sustenance.From fresh-roasted coffee to savoury ice cream, full-flavoured microbrews to secretly foraged mushrooms, superlative pinot noir to superlative pinot  gris, Pacific-harvested sea salt and countless other delicious things, this is a place where driving a spell in any direction yields a new bounty. Here’s your road map to figuring which way to point the wheel to dive deep into the area.

Nexus: Portland

An easy straight-and-narrow down the I-5 from Vancouver (or a much faster YVR–PDX flight, or much longer but more scenic Amtrak Cascades ride), and you’re in the pulsing heart of it all, downtown Portland.

Breakside Brewing.

Slake that thirst rapidly at one of the city’s 60-plus breweries. Widmer Brothers is one of the largest and oldest, but that doesn’t prevent them from putting out gems in their limited-release level at their brew pub. If bottle-conditioned and barrel-aged beers are your thing, you need to make it to Hair of the Dog, one of the first in America to specialize in this style—and they currently have 180 oak barrels aging beer from six months to eight years. My favourite place to flight through is at the newer Slabtown location of Breakside Brewing. The airy double-decker room is as great for people-watching as it is for brew pub fare.

Rum Club. (Photo: Kari Young)

Portland’s cocktail scene is, as John Horgan might say, lit, and has been since before bartenders called themselves mixologists. Classics like the Multnomah Whiskey Library, a classy, reso-only booze homage of biblical proportions, cements the city as one of the world’s greats. I always satisfy my amaro geek at Solo Club, a tidy jewel box of a bar that agrees with my credo that bitter makes it better. Bit House Saloon will win you over with boozy slushies, fresh tacos and its brick-hewn splendour, while Rum Club will warm the blood with one of the best daiquiris you’ll come across in this part of the Americas.

Bit House Saloon.

La Moule sates my longing for France, with lusty plates of mussels and briny platters of oysters, plus Euro-potency cocktails, many absinthe-touched. You may think you’ve been to kitschy bars before, but until you’ve had a volcano-erupting flaming tiki head of Jet Pilot at Hale Pele, you really haven’t lived. Expatriate is where you want to find yourself drinking up some of this city’s Asian flavours in liquid form—the stunning Southeast Asian decor and soundtrack might entice you to sit and absorb all night.

Clyde Common.

That said, you can’t go to the city without sitting at the bar at Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Clyde Common, or downstairs in the hidden basement bar, Pépé le Moko. Home of one of the world’s top bartenders and founder of the barrel-aged cocktail boom, this is a place of must-stop stools.

Westward Ho

From Portland it’s a straight shot west one hour or so to get to the crux of the Willamette Valley and America’s most exciting wines. At any point of the day or evening you can park yourself at Red Hills Market, soon to be one of your happy places. Wood-fired breakfasts and pizzas, fresh-baked scones and freshly pulled salads, a takeaway counter of locally cured meats and cheeses, plus rotating taps of local microbrews and bottles from the valley will keep you satiated and satisfied. Oh yeah, and you can grab many of Oregon’s top bottles from the shelf for your future picnic. It’s conveniently located in Dundee, mid-valley, so plan on stopping here numerous times during your visit.

Filled with Portland’s beer and cocktails, now is your time to drink in what the Willamette does best: wine. Of course, pinot noir reigns supreme, not surprising considering the proliferation of volcanic and marine sedimentary soils. I see chardonnay hot on pinot’s heels, and a thrilling direction for the region.

Red Hills Market.

A pilgrimage to the Eyrie Vineyards is a must as much for the historical context (David Lett, a.k.a. Papa Pinot, pioneered both pinot gris and pinot noir in Oregon) as for the exciting direction that his son, Jason, is taking the winery in the future. Sustainable, terroir-specific, sensitive wines from melon de Bourgogne, pinot blanc, and trousseau will entice as much as their single-block pinot noirs. 

Beckham Estate Vineyard is another winery that pays homage to the far-distant past while having eyes firmly on the future. At their organically farmed estate, pinot noir, pinot gris, grenache, vermentino and other vinous friends spend time in amphorae that owner/ceramicist Andrew Beckham handcrafted and then fired on-site.

Brooks Wine.

Chad Stock and his Minimus Wines are spearheading the future of Oregon wine, working with growers to trial new grape varieties and make wines in a low-interventionist way. Memorable and distinct labels express the individuality in the bottle. Thrill of a time when schioppettino, mondeuse, furmint, petit arbane, chenin blanc and gamay will be players in the scene.

Lingua Franca is one of the newer wineries in Eola-Amity Hills, and it’s the most impressive newcomer I’ve tasted. Though the spacious, simple winemaking facility may be brand new, the men behind the project, Larry Stone, David Honig and Dominique Lafon, need little introduction in wine circles. Watch for masterful pinot noir and chardonnay from young French winemaker Thomas Savre.

In the land of plenty (of pinots) it’s a thrill to visit Brooks, the picturesque biodynamic-farmed estate that specializes in riesling. At any given time you might be able to taste 20 or so different rieslings, from fizzy to dry to dessert. Plan your visit to include small bites on the patio overlooking the vineyards.

Coastal Goals

Headlands Coastal Lodge.

Unlike our rocky coastline, Oregon has a greater expanse of flat, sandy beaches and a great culture of tiny seaside towns dotting the length of the state. I took the mountain pass out of the Willamette and over to friendly Pacific City and the brand-new Headlands Coastal Lodge. Neighbouring Cape Kiwanda State Natural Area, the eco-chic lodge offers full ocean views and patios from all suites, a full-service spa and numerous recreational activities.

Pelican Brewing Company.

After a refreshing pint at Pelican Brewing Company, I tackled an incredible dune hike up the mega-mountain of sand next door to the resort, slipping and sliding my way to the top and to glorious views up and down the coast for miles. It was easily enough to work up an equally mega-appetite for dinner at Headlands’ Meridian Restaurant, where chef Andrew Garrison serves up boat- and farm-to-plate cuisine alongside a smartly selected wine program. 

We’ll be adding to our Ultimate Vancouver Wine Guide over the next few months… follow along with somms’ top picks here!