[Scene] Daybreak over Newberg, Oregon, population 22,400. Your intrepid adventurers awake to find that nothing has gone wrong overnight. The bikes – right were they were left. No missing parts, no mysterious failures.
To top it off, the sky is a brilliant blue, the temperature is in the low 60s – refreshing to body and spirit, and the local coffee shop makes a nice espresso. Paired with a marionberry scone and a breakfast quiche, our route review went splendidly. We mapped out each day of the tour before we departed D.C., but purposely built in some flexibility to account for our changing ambitions in both the distance and winery visit categories. Today we decided to forgo visiting one of the wineries we had planned on – cutting out a few miles and allowing for more time to explore our next destination – McMinnville. It was a worthy tradeoff.
Our riding was predominantly in the flat to mildly rolling floor of the Willamette Valley, which offered spectacular vistas of ridges and distant mountains throughout the morning. Within minutes of our departure we were in truly rural country. In general car traffic was very low, meaning you could be sucked into the experience of riding in the unfamiliar and beautiful country, sights and sounds of bike tires humming along and whatever thoughts you had in your head.
And – our bad luck was about to completly evaporate. As we came to an intersection we discussed the winery stops for the day – but Kate couldn’t remember the exact name of the first venue. We turned left and pedaled along until she stopped at a gravel turn-off. A sign had jogged her memory – Penner Ash Wine Cellars – open at 11:00am. I quickly looked at my GPS – 11:20 – let’s go!
Take a look at the elevation profile at the bottom of the map above – can you guess where the winery was? Yeah, about Mile 9. After a really grueling climb we were greeted at the top with spectacular views, and the tasting room staff! They offered us free tastings on account of the fact that we were their first customers of the day, and we had just climbed that steep hill – bonus! And the wine – amazing! If you have a change to try their “Pas de Nom” do not pass it up (it is a $100 bottle at retail, probably $250 in restaurants, so it isn’t a regular tuesday wine!).
We didn’t want to leave, but we eventually made our way down the hill and continued on our journey, even getting a bit of gravel grinding action along the roads to Carlton. Carlton is a pretty sleepy small town that wisely saw the wine tourism business in the valley picking up, and capitalized in a big way. Every shop, restaurant and tasting room still retains that small rural town charm, but would be equally comfortable in a bigger cosmopolitan city. We stopped for lunch at Horse Radish (on the recommendation of the folks at Penner Ash), then meandered our way to the Carlton Winemakers Studio. The studio is basically an incubator for aspiring winemakers – they supply the labor, materials and marketing, and the studio offers the equipment and space. We were able to sample some pretty tasty small batch wines there – I recommend it!
Eventually we landed in McMinnville – which was kind of the perfect small town USA. The farmers market was in full gear, downtown was bustling, and our hotel (a McMenamins location) was pretty neat. By arriving early we got the chance to visit a few tasting rooms, where we chatted with the locals (including one of the winemakers who stopped in after work), and got a real feel for the town. Fun loving people, amazing civic pride, and what seems like an economy bouyed by great wines. Dinner recommendations were passed around, including all the little secret “locals only” places – it was a great way to end our first real full day of touring!