As the chill of winter pushes on, the urge to uncork a bottle or two of wine, sip, and warm up is strong. With a robust list of wineries to choose from within 30 minutes of Corvallis, curious connoisseurs as well as novice sippers can visit local tasting rooms throughout the month of December. You can also knock out some of your holiday shopping while you’re at it. Chances are your friends and loved ones won’t turn down a bottle of local pinot.
“Obviously, you’re shopping local when you visit local wineries. Beyond that, we are the growers, we’re working from the dirt all the way to the finished product. There are very few local businesses that actually do that,” said Tabitha Compton, who owns and operates Spindrift Cellars in Philomath with her husband Matt.
It’s almost impossible not to hear the buzz about wines produced in the Willamette Valley. Hundreds of small, family-owned wineries are scattered throughout the region. The soil is rich and the valley has a glowing reputation for producing world-class wines.
Those in search of prize-winning and memorable pinot noirs no longer need to travel to faraway lands like France to enjoy a true and tasteful wine experience. Pinot noir vines were first planted in the Willamette Valley in 1965 by a man named David Lett, according to the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. From there, the wine culture grew stronger, as did the vines. And the stories of fabulous winemaking and a deep appreciation for the land, as well as sustainability, continue to grow.
Surrounded by lush green fields on the outskirts of Corvallis, Tyee Wine Cellars has been producing a variety of reds and whites on a commercial basis for the last 30 years. The small, family-owned winery, with a rich history and a tasting room that was once a cow barn and milking parlor, is worth visiting.
Located on the Buchanan Family Century Farm, Tyee is owned and operated by David and Margy Buchanan, and Merrilee and Brian Benson.
Five family generations have called the farm home and have helped continue its growing legacy. Fourth-generation family member David Buchanan grew up on the farm and started the family on their path to winemaking.
“I planted the first grapes on the farm,” he said. That was in the early 1970s.
Buchanan’s interest in wine and winemaking was sparked after he and his wife visited wineries in California.
“I fell in love, and there weren’t many grapes in Oregon at that time,” Buchanan said. “We started with pinot and Riesling. We made our first commercial batch [of wine] in 1985.”
These days, he’s handing more and more of the business over to his daughter, Merrilee, and her husband.
“Merrilee has learned from several different winemakers. She works really hard at it,” he said. “I really like all the wines my daughter is making.”
Currently at the top of his favorites list is the recently released 2013 Estate Barrel Select Pinot Noir.
Other Tyee wines include a selection of pinot noirs, chardonnay, pinot gris, and Gewürztraminer.
Buchanan says he’s more of a red wine guy, and can pick a handful of food pairings to enjoy with a bottle of this red beauty.
“I like pinot with lamb, beef, salmon, and lasagna. My wife’s a good cook, too,” he said.
For Tyee’s white varieties, he recommends pairing them with everything from seafood to stir-fry.
With three decades invested in the business, Buchanan said his family has been very, very lucky as they’ve been awarded numerous awards and accolades. And he’d like to see the land he’s worked so hard to care for, and the love of good winemaking, to stay in the family and carry on to the next generation.
“That’s the biggest thing that could happen. Merrilee and Brian are just leaping in to the farm business,” he said. “They grow the grapes now and they care for the grapes. Basically, to make good wine, you need to have good grapes.”
Merrilee Benson is Tyee’s head winemaker and vineyard manager.
Buchanan also wants to see other small wineries succeed.
“Right around here, we have a nice range of smaller wineries,” he said. “When you support them, you’re supporting diversity. The Willamette Valley is getting such a reputation as having some of the best pinots around the world.”
He added, “I have a real outdoor, land kind of natural ethic and it’s pretty obvious when you come out here. I’ve planted several thousand trees. I’m proud of that. Some people can take the hike on the property, and I’m pleased to see them do it—to see what the Willamette Valley can look like.”
Tyee Wine Cellars is located at 26335 Greenberry Road in Corvallis. The tasting room is open from 12 to 5 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through the end of December, leaving you plenty of time for a visit. Tyee will be closed for the Christmas holiday. As far as gift-giving goes, Buchanan recommends a nice bottle of pinot noir.
“It’s such a classic of the Willamette Valley,” he said.
Explore and Sip
Visit these local wineries to get a taste of wines made in the Willamette Valley. Most places offer gift packages and/or specials on bottles and cases for the holidays. Many tasting rooms have reduced hours during the winter season, so it’s always a good idea to call ahead before you visit.
By Abbie Tumbleson