A getaway weekend to the Willamette Valley during the summer months is undeniably wonderful. But we are here to argue that exploring the valley during winter months can be just as – if not more – enjoyable as those warm weekends.
1. Fewer People Means Focused Attention
The Michelin star restaurants, award winning wineries, and popular attractions can be overwhelmed with visitors in the summer. When visiting between January and March, the smaller crowds often translate to you getting a more personalized, intimate experience at your visits. The staff member leading your wine tasting can focus on you and your friends, answer questions with abandon, and point you in the right direction to purchase the bottle worthy of being a vacation keepsake. Restaurants are likely to have more availability to seat your party, the cozy factor gets turned up with candlelight, and winter veggies from local farms are at their prime.
2. Our Food Scene Continues to Expand and Impress
McMinnville’s dining scene has been spectacular long-term – just look across the street from our tasting room at Nick’s Italian Café as proof of this. In recent months, new players have come out to showcase the bounty of our valley. Here are a few new friends worth indulging in:
Priding themselves on using practices like regenerative farming and small-batch craft, Humble Spirit is quickly becoming a “twice weekly” spot for locals. Whether you’re ordering the hamburger (made with incredibly fresh, humane, and sustainably raised beef from their farm) or roasted half chicken, almost every element is made from ingredients found on The Ground/Tabula Rasa farm. Make sure to leave room for the TRFOs – Tabula Rasa Farms Oreos (seen right) – made with pork lard from their pigs, just like the Oreo company used to do until the early 1990s. We’re feeling extra lucky that Humble Spirit is now open 7 days a week, as well.
Want to get a taste of R. Stuart and Humble Spirit? Join us on February 10th for Love, R. Stuart – A Winemaker’s Dinner, taking place across the street from our winery at the newly minted Stillwater building. We will be pouring wines not yet released to the wine club or the public – including an exciting new sparkling release which we can’t wait to share with you!
This intimate dining experience – recently nominated as a 2023 James Beard Best New Restaurant – is truly one of a kind. The ingredients which will be included in your coursed out meal are presented as soon as you walk into the space. Ron, the wine director, has selected incredible wine pairings – ones that are hard to find on your own – to go with each course. The food featured will feature elements ranging from seafood to duck, ingredients from their local farm, and gastrique-style accouterments. Okta is here to prove that the high-end, fine dining experience isn’t just for Portland anymore. Be sure to pop down to their cellar bar to experience beautifully crafted cocktails and a small bite menu.
After years of serving Yamhill County as the “Renegade Food Truck,” owners Nick, Cody, Noelle, and Wesley outgrew their commissary space and have established roots in downtown Carlton with The Blind Pig. Offering dishes with a wide variety of influences, you can find items like a bahn mi alongside tuna poke and a goat cheese tart. This team has found the balance between wine industry level food and elevated comfort-food dishes that are bound to please a variety of palettes. Nestled in the heart of downtown Carlton, you’re next door to a variety of tap and tasting rooms, as well as local gems like the Carlton Bakery and the local’s institution of the Carlton Corners (a favorite of the R. Stu Crew as a break on long harvest days).
3. Embrace the Outdoors
The die-hard Oregonian’s adage is that “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear,” and we tend to agree. If you have a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes and a solid rain coat, you can traverse just about anywhere in Oregon despite the season. McMinnville sits close to several outdoor adventures worth a few minutes’ drive from downtown.
Photo courtesy of Miller Woods
- Miller Woods
- Locals know the incredibly hard work that has gone into making Miller Woods the incredible system of trails that it is. A part of the Yamhill Soil & Water Conservation District, volunteers have spent inordinate hours establishing trails, creating interactive interpretive signs, and maintaining the legacy of Frieda and K.T. Miller, the original owners of the property. A quick 10 minutes drive from the heart of downtown, trail runners, hikers, and meanderers alike know that this section of forest is something truly special to Yamhill County.
- Trappist Abbey
- Tucked on the outskirts of Carlton, just 15 minutes from McMinnville, is an operating monastery. They have graciously opened their grounds to the public, giving access to beautiful trails with the mission of “welcome all guests to a safe and spiritual environment of natural beauty; to reflect, to pray, to heal and to grow spiritually.”
- Baskett Slough Wildlife Refuge
- Just over 20 minutes south of McMinnville lies this beautiful 2,492 acre refuge that is open year-round for visitors to enjoy. With over 5 miles of trail and 320 identified species living in the area, it is worth it to bring a pair of binoculars and plenty of time to soak in the sights. To really make a trip of it, this wildlife refuge is just a stone’s throw away from Johan Vineyards and Left Coast Cellars. Warm up with a glass of Pinot and a pizza at Left Coast before coming back to McMinnville.
4. Drink More than Wine
While our world class wineries live up to the hype, there are a variety of other crafters in our midst that will wet your whistle.
Photo courtesy of Conservatory Bar
- Each bartender at the Conservatory is a wizard at crafting creative, locally inspired beverages. They are avid supporters of ingredients from local partners, such as Honeywood Winery for mead, Stone Barn Brandyworks’ cordials, and even garnishes and flavors from their staff’s gardens. Staying open later than many spots on Third Street, the Conservatory is a perfect place to wrap up your night with one last cocktail, a big bowl of french fries, and their portobello sandwich with homemade tomato jam.
- Mac Market
- Just down the street from our winery lives Mac Market – a community and collaboration-focused initiative located in a warehouse that started as Huberd’s Shoe Grease Factor in 1929. The building has since been revived and houses some of the best food and cocktails in McMinnville. We appreciate that their bar always has a low-ABV cocktail on the menu, like The Bitter Gold, in addition to unique cocktails like The Pining which is made of wine, amaro, and rosemary. Note to visitors: Chef Kari’s food is not to be missed. Whether you’re snacking on the grazing platter and panisse frites, or her mushroom & duck rangoon to salt & pepper squid, every flavor showcases Kari’s ethos and respect for food and cooking.
- Simply put, Thistle never disappoints. A longtime staple on Third Street, this cozy restaurant and bar reminds us why we love our little valley. Each dish carries the flavors that showcase Oregon’s bounty and richness, and reminds us why Thistle won Oregon’s Best Restaurant in 2011 and gives us reason to return. Steak tartare, simple bread and fat, and a dozen oysters paired with a couple pre-prohibition style cocktails – Thistle’s specialty – is our ultimate comfort on a rainy, cold day in McMinnville.
As you journey carries you around our beloved valley, be sure to stop in at the R. Stuart Tasting Room on Third Street – just a stone’s throw away from Thistle, Humble Spirit, and more. We’re open 7 days a week and would love for you and your group to join us. To make a reservation, call the tasting room at 503-472-4477 or email tasting room manager, Malorie, at email@example.com.