What women in wine are bringing to the table

What do women in Oregon bring to the table? It turns out, everything. In the past, it might have made sense to celebrate Women’s History Month in March by slapping together a list of women winemakers and calling it a day.  Right now, there can be no doubt that the influence of women in Oregon’s wine industry is something to be reckoned with a bit more seriously. So let’s look at a few standouts.


Women might be olfactorially superior. 

Some studies note that women might have more olfactory cells, and may be better able to differentiate between types of wines, and that women’s enhanced olfactory talent might make them better tasters — and sniffers —  of wine. We can argue until the end times about that, but no one argues about the brilliance and sensitivity of winemaker Anna Matzinger, who has been building a brand under her family’s label Matzinger-Davies and whose extensive sensory training translates to wines with a poetic expression of place. Matzinger says she experienced an acute heightening of her olfactory sense around the births of her children. “I do think that women have a biological predisposition to smelling if they pay attention,” Matzinger says. “It’s a muscle you have to work.”  

Try it: Tastings available by appointment, and available at restaurants in McMinnville including Nick’s Italian Cafe


Women understand what women want. 

When McMinnville winery owner Meg Murray launched Nasty Woman Wines in 2016, she knew she wanted to create a wine with impact — one that combined the talents of women entrepreneurs and voices along every moment of the supply chain. “I want my wine at the table where conversations about gender parity are going on,” Murray said. To stand out on crowded shelves, she sourced pink wine caps only available in Europe. She featured women on the label, charming brands like Pantsuit Pinot noir and Lady Bubbles brand, now favorites for women in leadership. The label creator? A local woman-owned graphic designer Nectar Graphics. The model on the label? The owner of a woman-owned McMinnville salon St. Rue. “Nasty Woman is greater than what’s in the bottle,” Murray says. “It’s about building something that goes beyond this one glass.” 

Try it: At Crescent Cafe, or pick up a bottle at Harvest Fresh, a women-owned grocery in downtown McMinnville.


Women give you the panoptic experience you didn’t know you wanted.

It’s a fact that women tend to have better peripheral vision than men, who are known to have better focused vision. How might this translate in wine? Well, perhaps being able to see the full picture might give them advantages in hosting. Remy Drabkin, longtime winemaker at Remy Wines, worked out of an industrial tasting room in McMinnville for years before moving her tasting operation to a 1900s farmhouse in the Red Hills. “In both places, I responded to the environment to create something true to me but unique to the place,” Drabkin said. Whereas her old tasting room and it’s R Bar played up the aesthetic of its location — close to a railroad — the new facility is set up to be homey: small spaces, blankets for getting cozy. There, Drabkin hosts regular small receptions and events shaped around her Italian varietal wines, including a dinner series where she designs and cooks the menu.  “We really want people to feel at home here,” Drabkin said.

Try it: Remy Wines, Dayton, or pick up a bottle at Harvest Fresh


If you want to pull together a Women in Winemaking itinerary, put these stops on your next visit to McMinnville:

Coleman Vineyards, McMinnville
Winemaker: Kim Coleman 

Day Wines, Dundee
Winemaker: Brianne Day

De Ponte Cellars, Dayton
Winemaker: Isabelle Dutartre 

Maysara Winery, McMinnville
Winemaker: Tahmena Momtazi

Stoller Family Estate, Dayton
Winemaker: Melissa Burr 

 Westrey Wine Company, McMinnville
Winemaker: Amy Wesselman 

7 Ways a Tiny Wine Country Town is Saving Summer

Small towns slay the sweaty summer doldrums. Don’t believe me? In Oregon wine country, it’s actually possible to fill all those late sunsets with every kind of party and none of the hassle.

With a scene set for late-night strolls, nightlife that is just happening enough, and spaces meant to maximize the easy living of the wine country lifestyle, McMinnville might be just the right place to go big on summer.

  1. The wine country lifestyle actually relaxes.
    The Barberry, McMinnville’s newest fine dining locale, starts the weekend on Wednesday nights with live music served alongside an inventive menu of Pacific Northwest-inspired dishes. Think truffle fondue, halibut, local produce, foraged mushrooms and tasting flights featuring the best of the area’s 300+ wineries. Just try not to live in the moment when you’re slurping an oyster, sipping a cool Pinot gris and jamming out in a space made for loving on wine.
  2. Local farms are in high season.
    Summer nosh has an allure like no other. McMinnville, in the heart of Willamette Valley agricultural production, is ground zero for summer foodie culture. If your party style includes sweet farm stalls, artisan cheesemakers, jam purveyors, crafters, and produce worthy of an Instagram feed, head to the McMinnville Farmer’s Market on Thursday afternoons. Missed it? Locals flood the smaller, produce-forward market at the McMinnville Grange on Saturdays, a secret worth scoping out.
  3. The crowds are barely that.
    Anywhere you go in Oregon wine country’s small towns you’ll find a crowd, but just barely. Convivial gatherings in open spaces without the terrible parking, long lines and that guy with the personal space issue — that’s small town summer in a nutshell. Before dinner, try the free Thursday evening open air concerts right on U.S. Bank Plaza.
  4. Wine pairs with everything.
    Sipping a glass of Pinot noir while gazing at a wine country vista is one thing. Doing it while gazing at the world’s largest wooden airplane (at the Evergreen Museum) is another. Wineries pair culture with cuvees all summer long. Vineyard Vinyasa is a thing at Vista Hills. R. Stuart Winery and Nick’s Italian Cafe party off-site at the Lazy River Vineyard. If you can imagine it, it probably pairs with wine.
  5. The acoustics are intimate.
    Every Thursday evening in McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon Cellar Bar, a 1920s-style speakeasy, the mic stands open for closet troubadours, passion players and all manner of local talent. Lost your nerve? It’s fine to just grab a signature cocktail and admire how the sound resonates in the hotel’s century-old brick walls.
  6. The nightlife is walkable.
    With 12 downtown wineries and 25 restaurants, McMinnville is a walker’s paradise, even after dark. Saturday brings a lineup of music events at Elizabeth Chambers all summer long, with a nonstop taco line from award-winning area restaurants.
  7. Beer is also on tap.
    Wine is quite fine, but some cheer for beer. The Bitter Monk pours from 16 regularly rotating taps and 50 bottle pours with outdoor seating right on Third Street. Sunset views with an ale atop McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon are legendary, and The Grain Station pulls pints in a refurbished granary. The Grain Station’s outdoor plaza hosts events like the Walnut City Music Festival.

Read more at Visit McMinnville.

The best travel guide in Oregon wine country has four legs

Most horses can sense your relative ease or total incompetence and will carry you accordingly, but Gracie isn’t one of those horses. A chestnut-colored, flat-shod Tennessee walking horse who has been carrying visitors into the Dundee Hills AVA for over a decade, she’s got the breed’s trademark calm, its sure-footed legs and smooth stride.

In other words, the horse handlers at Equestrian Wine Tours put me on Gracie because Gracie knows how to take care of me.

Travel, like horseback riding, can feel a bit like a trust fall. You go to a new place with the hope that it will elevate your life for a moment. You hope the guidebooks weren’t wrong, the friends that urged you there were right, that the people will be kind an knowledgeable when your GPS fails, that you’ll come away feeling, rightfully so, like your life has changed. In Oregon Wine Country, those systems are in place. A sense of hospitality thrives.

But as welcoming as it is in the rolling hills around McMinnville, Dundee, Carlton, Dayton, Amity and other tiny wine country towns in Oregon, there aren’t many great ways to actually get up into the vineyards. Wine grapes grow on private properties, and you can’t just pick a path through the vines and travel between them.

Unless you’re on a horse, that is. I met Gracie at the Wine Country Farm B&B, tucked deep in the Dundee Hills AVA, a tiny island of red volcanic soil that produces some of the world’s most exceptional wines, especially Pinot noir. The area’s the Ur-Country for Oregon wine. Oregon’s 20th century wine pioneers staked their claims here first, recognizing the microclimate’s slopes as one of those paradisiacal places for grape-growing.

Gracie has no idea about the storied slopes she walks, but she still knows them deeply. She cocks her ears and we head out, cutting through the rows of grapes of Armonéa Wines  before we head up a hill. I’ve been told Gracie likes to take up the rear of the group, but today’s she’s decided to lead.

Within minutes, we’ve ascended the hill overlooking Domaine Serene to the west and are headed deep into a tiny oak grove. These little swaths of oaks are the heroes of the Oregon wine world, with so many winemakers connecting the pride of place found in Pinot noir to the magic found in these ancient environments, which once covered the valley.

I lean back as we descend, and tighten the reins a bit, but honestly, I have no idea if my beginner’s foibles affect Gracie at all because, true to her name, she both knows where to go and how to do the going. We’re developing camaraderie by the time we reach Vista Hills Vineyards, our first stop.

Gracie takes a rest and we hitch the group – six horses in all – in a wooded enclave right under the vineyard’s Tree House tasting room. The weather couldn’t have played nicer, and patches of sunlight shine through the trees onto the building’s expansive deck. A toddler comes over with his parents to pet the horses, which munch grass and scratch themselves on the trees and hitching posts while the group tries a flight from Pinot gris to Pinot noir.

Soon we’re ready to ride, so we saddle up and head east through rows of Pinot noir grapes, just leafed out. We can see all the way to Mt. Jefferson. Up into the field beyond the grasses waving in the breeze look as if a hand is petting them from above.

We hitch at Winter’s Hill and go inside the chilly barrel room, where The Beautiful Pig charcuterie has a pop-up salumi market alongside the tasting counter. My out-of-state companions are getting their first introductions to how it works in Oregon – that winemakers here want to make wine by establishing the frame, not messing with the picture.

Gracie’s spent the time nuzzling with her son, Chipper, at the post outside. Back astride, we head home. At least, I assume it’s home, since the horses seem to know the way and are eager to get there.

By now we all know much more about how little we need to control these horses. Except for a wayward chomp at a grape vine, they got this. Gracie trusts me a little more now, or maybe it’s me trusting her, and we ride back a little faster. I notice that I’m no longer holding the saddle’s horn.

I’ve taken friends and visitors up into these hills on roads for five years. I’ve visited the tasting rooms, stood at the edge of the rows, without ever really knowing how they all fit together. It strikes me that this is one of those experiences that shouldn’t be at the end of a list, but at the top. It’s the way in I’ve been waiting for.

Today, I feel like the patchwork in my wine country understanding is more filled out. It feels major, a feat accomplished at a horse’s pace, and I am awash in graciousness.

Learn more at Visit McMinnville.com.

McMinnville has much to sing about while shopping for holiday magic

When I think about Christmas in McMinnville it feels like opening an advent calendar, each little window a surprise tableaux of tiny festivities – a lit candle, a perfectly hung wreath, a shopkeeper reaching across a counter with a just-wrapped package, people snug in their winter coats, a simple child’s toy framed with a sprig of holly.

That McMinnville feels like something of a throwback is the whole point – there is nary a laptop in sight in these little windows, no digital displays on repeat.

What excites me most is how very much alive 3rd Street feels. It’s a full body experience to step into these scenes, so carefully crafted by – can I call them townsfolk? The writer in me does a gut check. Can real, touchable things made by flesh and blood people combine in a Christmas light-strung setting to become magic?

I think it can. Let us not forget that magic is a craft, and craft is made by hand.


The other good thing about magic is that it’s transferrable. So I thought I’d put together a song for everyone who is shopping for the last-minute perfect gift right here in town. These things are a reminder that you don’t need to go far to return a little convivial holiday hocus pocus to your loved ones.

“On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me…

Twelve Pinot tastings[Do one a month and you’ll hit every one on 3rd Street!]

Eleven skeins for knitting
[From Oregon Knitting Co.]
Ten pints of porter
[Not in one sitting, silly, at The Bitter Monk]

Nine perfect backrubs
[At Spa Bliss for relaxation, at Alderwood Massage for medical issues]


Eight sparkly earrings[Preferably the raw geodes from Mes Amies Ladies Finery or something special from Accessory Appeal]

Seven sexy tapas[At La Rambla Restaurant and Bar]

Six fan-girl show times
[The entire six-show season at the Gallery Theater is just $95 for adults and $79 for seniors]

Five “More LOVE” T’s![By Maijja Rebecca Hand Drawn, at the McMinnville Holiday Market]

Four funny cards…
[At Third Street Books]

Three French meals…
[at Bistro Maison]

Two romantic strolls…
[To take in the lights on 3rd Street]

And a year of YOGA at 4E!
[We’re all going to need it. 2017 slayed!]

Tag your favorite last-minute gift buyer if I’ve read your mind! Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you all! May the generosity, spirit and light of the season carry you through to a great New Year!

Read more at Visit McMinnville.

In the deep grey of Winter, poet Mary Oliver is all the travel inspiration you need

Here’s something we don’t talk about enough as inspiration for making a travel a part of our everyday life: Poetry. The right, perfectly timed poem can set me on my way like nothing else.

I was reminded of this recently when I had one of those sweet Oregon winter moments when a flock of Canada Dusky geese flew over our home in McMinnville. Despite every window and door in my house being closed, I heard the cacophonous squawking through the crisp and sunny New Year’s Day and knew I needed to re-read Mary Oliver’s 1986 poem “Wild Geese.”

It’s a very famous poem, and rightfully so. It’s a permission slip wrapped in a love note to the world, a clever call to the action of inaction, a reminder that we must always be open to the beauty of small moments.

I took my family to Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge to harness this feeling. The refuge, just 25 minutes south of McMinnville, is a popular winter vacation spot for 200 different types of birds, including those great, noisy geese whose shared flight can sometimes shake me out of my winter reverie.

As far as day trips from McMinnville go, it doesn’t get more perfect. Valley views on all sides from an easy incline, a quick walk in the woods exploring the specific life found in oak savanna habitats, wintering waterfowl – as an introduction to the valley there is perhaps no better one out there.

There are always chances to enliven the visit with a stop at for wood-fired pizza at Left Coast Cellars, or combining tasting with hiking at Van Duzer Vineyards. This time around we were content to be outside on a January day so sunny we wore sunglasses.

I don’t know about you, but birds don’t always fly on cue through my vantage point. Rarely do I walk out in the world and the wildlife gathers around me as if directed to change my life.

But they did that day. As we crested the hill on Coville Road, the best way to access the refuge from McMinnville, a flock of about 300 geese arose from a field, gathered, and dispersed into the wetlands of the refuge, the “slough,” muddy ponds with no particular definition. It looked like someone was shaking out a well-loved quilt.

Then, we walked up the hill, the same hill, towards an overlook just higher than the white oaks, to show us exactly where we were. The colors here take on such a muted palette of golds, greens and blues.

All around, people are setting intentions for the year. I am, too. I have spent a couple of days filling notebooks of intention, choosing single words to guide my 2018. With the first day calendar pages barely turned I seem to already be living in April. I am looking back, briefly, and looking so far forward some might think I am capable of time travel.

But nature affords us the privilege of thinking of none of that. This is why we travel, and why we needn’t go far from home to do it. It is for these Mary Oliver moments where all we need in the world is “to announce our place in the family of things.”

Learn more about wine country travel at Visit McMinnville.

A Love Letter to the Newberg-Dundee Bypass

Dear Newberg-Dundee Bypass,

In vain I have struggled to hold back my feelings. It will not do. I can no longer mask my ardor, the unrequited passion I feel surging in the depths of my being whenever I glimpse the verdant, silver-lettered sign heralding an alternative route from the beginning of Newberg to just past Dundee.

So many times in this life have I been scorn by the displeasure of advanced opinions long before I get to experience a thing for myself. And so it was with you.  As I awaited your arrival, it was as if the novelist Don DeLillo was tapping on my shoulder, warning me, as he does in White Noise, about how once you’ve seen a picture of a barn you can no longer actually see the barn.

So yes, I had seen the plans for you, Bypass, I had read the discussions, registered the anger and the dollar signs, weighed the supporters and detractors, taken in the months of news alerting me to your momentous opening. You were built in our minds before you could be built in our hearts.

And yet, I will assert it until my dying breath:

Newberg-Dundee Bypass: I see you.

I see you curving towards the Dundee Hills, redolent of a river, sweet as a song, your concrete so unmarred, your pavement pristine, your drivers relaxed, soft bodies dipped in serenity and not at all concerned about what they might be missing.

What they are missing are Newberg and Dundee, two towns sometimes relegated to drive-through status, towns growing in my esteem and admiration because I get to visit them intentionally. It is you, Bypass, who have made all things better, you great diverter of traffic. It is you who have made the walk across the highway from Argyle Winery to Red Hills Market a street crossing instead of a game of Frogger.

Are you not the true meaning of the word freedom? Do your five minutes saved not come with something much deeper, the chance to move unimpeded through the world, with only the side barriers to hold you back? Are you not the answer to the most important question posed by all long-term love stories: How shall we find another way, together?

You are my four-mile mid-day asana, my sweet side glance of century-old oaks, my moment of deepest exhale, my sensual embrace of time and place. And you flow, like not like blood surges and pauses in the heart – that feels like actual traffic – but like a feeling that sweeps over you when you are looking at the landscape and not a red light.

It has been over a month, and yet, my love grows stronger still. My skin tingles at the thought of you, and I find my thoughts wandering your way in the wee hours of the morning, when everything in life seems possible, everything in love reachable, everything in McMinnville just a few minutes less than an hour from downtown Portland.


Emily Grosvenor

Read more at VisitMcMinnville.com.

On the trail of an elusive Pinot noir to age with the Wine Country Detective

The far end of Cellar Season – dank and dim, no sunshine in sight – and I’ve got my nose to the pavement in pursuit of a character with a shifting personality. But I need some help, so I put word out on the streets that I’m looking for someone of the Pinot persuasion, complex but not complicated, and I needed her yesterday.

She blows right through my office door a few days later, a blond Oregon femme fatale in draped in denim and purple fleece, her hair pulled back in a loose chignon. She goes by Anna Matzinger, and round these parts she has a reputation for coaxing some magic out of even the worst-weather grapes.

“How can I help?” she says, sliding in at the table where I am sitting.

Is it a ruse, this openness? Time will tell. The charge between us heightens and every second is rife with possibility.

I lay out the case for her. I want a great Pinot noir, and I’m willing to wait. Up to now, all of my cases have been time-sensitive, in-the-moment pleasures. But I know there is more to the story. I need her help. Each passing day the question presses on me even more: Why is it worth this great gamble to age Pinot noir?

“Pinot noir, when it’s good, has a lot to say,” Matzinger says. “But it doesn’t say it all at once.”

I let the silence hang there. It’s an old trick of mine, creating the space for someone else to fill. You don’t get to be a wine country detective by blabbing out all your secrets at once.

“And what’s that that it says?” I ask her.

“You don’t really know what it might say,” Matzinger said. “Pinot noir, in its youth, it’s often precocious, nervy and bright and vibrant and fruity.”

It’s the folly of the youth. So much promise and possibility. I sit in quiet contemplation as she goes on.

“Some Pinots are great and complex upon release, but as a variety, it gets more complex as it ages, both in the barrel and then in the bottle,” Matzinger says. She’s moving her hands now, building the story.  “They also talk about it as growing in bottle, but it can expand in terms of palate weight and structure.”

I can’t take it any longer. I have to understand.

“Yes, but how do I know?” I say. “How can I tell if it’s going to age well?”

“There are times when you taste a wine and you know that it is so young and you say: I want to taste it again in five years,” she explains. “It is giving something of intrigue, something on the palate, but you can tell it’s got something more to say. If it’s all out there, it’s like a naked lady. Whoomp. There it is.”

That elusiveness, I think, the mystery, the hints of things to come. This wine of great riddles, a closed book in a bottle. And in a second, I’ve got it: Follow the clues. Look for the notes. Pay attention to perfume. Look for the change. Anticipate it. Savor it. But don’t predict it.

“There are certain criteria that are helpful to have,” Matzinger explains. “Wines need to have some element of structure: Tannin, phenolics, acidity, alcohol that is not out of balance, and enough aromatics and flavor to deal with the structure.”

She’s teasing me, holding back, distracting me with winemaker’s science. I let her finish her sentence and then I go in for the kill.

“How can you tell if a wine is going to be good to age?” I ask her, again. “Is it about the structure?”

“No, it’s about freshness,” she says. “It’s part energy and quantity and quality of aromatics and flavors. It has to do with oxygen. People talk about wines being open and closed. If a wine is really open, and really aromatic, and if it doesn’t change over five to ten minutes, it might be telling you all it has to say. It feels like a tautness, like a coiled spring. “

We’re done here. I thank her and am on my way.

I’ve got my marching orders. She sends me to a Winter’s Hill Estate in search 2015 Winter’s Hill Single Block Series – Block 10 Whole Cluster, a year she says is particularly well-suited to aging. Single block pinot noir, she says, is generally a good choice if collecting over time is my game.

The clues she has left me read like a poem: Complex and full of character, this wine opens with aromas of sarsaparilla, red currant, Oregon black caps, twig tea and raspberry leaf. The whole cluster component lends spice notes intriguingly reminiscent of Mexican mochas with cocoa, cinnamon and chili powder.  Palate is structured and rich, showing depth and a succulent swath of plush articulated tannin wound snuggly around a core of bright, vibrant cherry. Impressively energetic and intriguing.

Now, to get that bottle. And to wait. This is one mystery I’m content leaving unsolved.

Read more at Visit McMinnville.

10 Moments When You Understand Why You Came to McMinnville

Small town have a tendency to upend your expectations of travel. Instead of exalting vistas and towering monuments, there are tiny moments of deeper connection and everyday joy. The slower pace primes you to notice these snapshots, and the longer you stay in a small town, the more they start to accumulate. All of a sudden, you realize that it’s only been a few days and you have somehow already become part of the fabric of a place.

Here are some of my favorite McMinnville moments that feel like magic

1. You’re a celebrity. You hesitate for a moment at one of the crosswalks on Third Street and realize you’ve stopped traffic entirely.

2. Helpful people everywhere. You’re staying at the Atticus Hotel reading hand-selected books by Nicholas Walton of, who has hand-selected C.S. Lewis’s theological dream poem The Great Divorce for your room, and then you run into him the next day making your latte at Flag & Wire Coffee Company.

3. Civics matter. You’ve picked up and are reading the paper again. It’s the 152-year-old News-Register – seriously, what small towns put out such a large newspaper anymore? – and it looks like you might recognize a few names already.

4. Mom and pop thrive. After having stayed at the Douglas on Third boutique flats, grabbed your morning latte at Union Block Coffee Company, and finish the night off at The Oak, only to discover that they are all owned by the same family.

5. Somebody loves you. The staff at Red Fox Bakery is already pulling your seasonal fruit scone as you walk up because you’ve been there every morning this week.

6. Experts in the ether.  While up on the rooftop at McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon, you struggle to get the perfect angle to capture a sunset across the Willamette Valley and the town’s veteran photographer walks over to help you out.

7. Your new best friend. Dressed to the nines, you slip into the swanky cocktail lounge at Thistle and leave feeling like you’re besties with one of the nation’s top mixologists, Patrick Bruce.

8. Ease of access. Having snuck out of the rain and into the 5th Street tasting room of Brittan Vineyards and get schooled by an a true wine artist, Robert Brittan, who scrapped life in Napa Valley to coax brilliance out of the world’s most persnickety grape varietal (Pinot noir).

9. Farm-to-table for real You’ve eaten breakfast at The Diner, lunch at Valley Commissary, and dinner at Pura Vida, and you realize you’ve eaten produce grown by the same enterprising, first-generation Millennial farmers at Even Pull Farm.

10. Constant contact. The people on the street are looking you directly in the eye. Maybe it feels weird at first because you’re coming from a big city where eye contact sometimes feels like a threat, but you’re getting used to seeing, and being seen. It feels good.

Learn more at VisitMcMinnville.com.

Outdoor Dining Makes Everything Taste Better

Here comes the sun, everybody, and with it, one of those seriously Oregonic behaviors that are rooted in the intelligence of pure science:

Eating outside makes food taste better.

McMinnville has a king’s share of outdoor dining options, from the corner two-top tucked into the front of a restaurant to a long table at a hopping brewery.

These are the places that thrust dining into the realm of pure sensorial delight, where a simple meal becomes the equivalent of a full-body experience. The feathery touch of a light breeze, the changing light patterns as the clouds move across the sky, the tiny drama of a few ambling pedestrians walking by, the quietly shifting leaves of a plant growing right next to you.

Just look what happens to the perception of these signature dishes at restaurants in McMinnville when consumed al fresco. You might never be able to eat with a roof over your head again.

Bistro Maison, Burger

It is a burger that bites you back: Perfect ground sirloin molded into a disc and charbroiled to medium out-of-sight while you wait in a secret garden set on the right side of the train tracks. This burger comes with a warning: So much juice when you wrap your mouth around it the juices fly. Out of the corner of your eye, a hydrangea has unfolded its puffs like summer’s true cheerleader and at tables all around you, couples and families lean back in their chairs and speak in soft whispers. The crack of walnuts, a hearty laugh, the clink of wine glasses, it’s the soundtrack to that first big chomp into a burger to test your mettle. Are you a man or a mouse? Are you a woman or a wombat? In the shade, nothing is more sacred than the moment where you guard your lap from a burger that will ruin all others for you.

Valley Commissary, Chop Salad

Are you in, or are you out? You can be both. The garage doors are rolled up for tables set in sun or shade, the lunch scene a place where winemakers and town leaders pop in and out. A flurry of silent hands toss salads right in front of you, if you wish, and it is a salad of style and substance, no simple side but a full textural adventure in cured meats, chopped hazelnuts, pristinely boiled eggs, chickpeas, tangy sun-dried tomatoes, pickled red onions and blue cheese. Have you ever truly lunched before? Is salad the right name for this? Never before has a bed of greens held such contrast between soft and hard ingredients, nor been brought to life in a tiny mountain of flavor, color and texture. There it is, prepared with the intention of a monk, set before you, as casual as a picnic.

Pizza Capo, Margherita        
You know it as soon as you smell it: The old adage about even bad pizza being good pizza is wrong. You’ve lived your entire week for this. Maybe it wasn’t blood, sweat and tears. Maybe it was more like mild irritation, 20 too many emails and a flat tire. All is forgotten. The sun has nothing on the heat coming off the wood-fired oven where dough rises and crisps and sauce and cheese bubble just for you between thin strips of aromatic basil. What came first, the pizza or the dry-hopped sour? They do not compete, they work together, they take turns, on a patio where people like each other, where milling around feels like the point of it all. In the moment of tasting, you know it completely: To eat is to linger, to linger is to live, to live is to know, now and forever, that most other pies should fold themselves in half in shame by daring to take the name “pizza.”

1882 Grille, Onion Rings
Imagine for a moment what has had to happen for you to be here, on the edge of Third Street, just atop the treeline, not alone but with two families. Even in a town where it can be difficult to travel impromptu as a large party, 1882 Grille accommodates. Yes, there is room on the patio. Meanwhile, it is happening out of sight, behind the scenes. For the past 24 hours, plate of lowly onions has been bathing in a bath of buttermilk. Think of what magic might exist in a world where all vegetables are worthy of a trip to the spa! A thing of peasants becomes a dish for royalty. The crunch of breadcrumbs into the soft and savory beer-batter fried ring is proof enough: There is room in this life for every single ordinary thing to find its moment of glory.

Local Flow, Green Acai Bowl
From your perch on an orange Fermob chair tucked under an awning you have a perfect view of the scarf-swathed women moving in and out of Third Street’s tiny two-store Champs-Élysées, Mes Amies and Accessory Appeal. In a bowl before you,  so much more refined than a smoothie — cupped hands of of ice-cold, thick spirulina, apple, spinach and kale base with plump blueberries, thin-sliced bananas and the definitive crunch of granola. It is as if the Pacific Northwest took a South American vacation. Taste and texture, acid and sweetness, Oregon in a parfait. For a moment, you forget that you don’t actually know how to pronounce acai.

McMenamin’s Hotel Oregon, Tots
The path to the fourth floor of the Hotel Oregon exists to test you and your companion’s linguistic prowess. Take the test: Define McMenamin’s decor style in two words. Is it Vaudeville Eclectic? Casual Dream? Somnabmulist Whimsy? No matter, you are upstairs already and there is room on the top deck, the very top, where the view of the hills towards the Coast Range and across the farmland patchwork to the east remind you that you have made it to the Willamette Valley. Here the wind is like a caress, the street life a distant murmur. Order some tots and a beer and know the true meaning of feeling like you are on top of the world. The tots arrive fried crisp to a golden hue, piled high in a basket. Time stops as they move across the patio on the hands of your server. Everything goes silent until they are there on the table. Tots! It is as if gold has been mined from the deep caverns of the McMenamin’s kitchen and presented to you to marvel at as the sun warms your shoulders.

Learn more at Visit McMinnville.

Gluten-free dining options abound in McMinnville

Traveling while gluten-free: It’s not a crime, but it can certainly feel punitive if you’re in the wrong destination. But it doesn’t have to be this way, especially if the place is McMinnville, a town where farm and foodie culture mingle to great results.

I’ve been living the gluten-free lifestyle for five years now and still eat my way through every restaurant in this tiny and charming wine country burg. Here are my time-tested picks for the best gluten-free options in Oregon’s wine country capital.

Best options in a single restaurant

Pura Vida Cocina is where all of the gluten-free lifestyle gurus hang out (meaning, all of us). With its inventive Latin American dishes where corn reigns supreme, a dedicated staff committed to serving those on exclusion diets, and a menu featuring more gluten-free options than not, it is the single best place to be assured a satisfying and varied gluten-free lunch and dinner.  La Rambla is another all-around pleaser with an upscale feel and Spanish tapas choices that make you forget you ever even liked bread.

Gluten-free picnic options

Sandwiches feel so passé when you’re kicking it GF. And so, a couple of quick stops not to miss for your wine country picnic adventure: Pierano & Daughters, the fabulous Italian delicatessen run by the owner of famed Nick’s Italian Café, has enough charcuterie, olives, cheeses, fresh salads (think Beluga lentils and beets) to make an entire meal. Right on 3rd Street, Harvest Fresh Grocery & Deli has a deli case brimming with GF options and will put together a fresh GF sandwich (if you must) and Local Flow health bar can put together a giant, veggie-laden 3rd Street bowl with quinoa or rice to take with you.


You can get a dripping, juicy burger sans bun all around town, at Valley CommissaryBistro MaisonHotel OregonNancy Jo’s, and Golden Valley Brewery all come to mind.

GF beer and cider options

You can snag an Evasion GF beer at a dozen locations around town, or you can also go directly to the source at Evasion’s location on Riverside Drive. Or, opt for a “Felix” by homegrown McMinnville brewers Bierly Brewing, who make a sorghum and brown rice-based pilsner you can snag at Harvest Fresh, Mac Taps and on tap at Pura Vida Cocina. Traveling with a friend growling for regular old brew? All the breweries in town carry a cider option, or check out the latest from regional producers at the Bitter Monk on 3rd Street.  

Best Takeout

It just happens sometimes. You just can’t leave your hotel room but you still feel like a real meal. In this case, your best choice is to go to the family-owned Thai Country Restaurant, right on Third Street, and get takeout. Reasonably-priced, packed with flavor, and more than willing to accommodate any dietary request, this is easy and fast.

Gluten-free desserts to die for

If chocolate is your postprandial sin of choice, I will always send you to Nick’s Italian Café for the Budino (a chocolate pot de crème), or to La Rambla for a slice of flourless chocolate cake. If you dream of caramel, the flan at Pura Vida is your go-to. If you’re lucky, Brie Blankenship, the head baker at Valley Commissary, often has a surprising macaroon selection at Valley Commissary. Surprise yourself with one of the home-made ice cream selections at Bistro Maison or go for the golden with the crème brûlée and crème caramel duo.

And, lest I forget the obvious, Pinot noir is, and has always been, gluten-free.

Learn more at Visit McMinnville.