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McMinnville: 38 miles SW of Portland, 26 miles NW of Salem

Were it not for Prohibition, wine connoisseurs might be comparing California wines to those of Oregon rather than vice versa. Oregon wines had already gained a national reputation back in the days when Oregon became one of the earliest states to vote in Prohibition. It would be a few years before more liberal California would outlaw alcohol, and in the interim, the Golden State got the upper hand. When Prohibition was rescinded, California quickly went back to wine production, but no one bothered to revive Oregon's wine-producing potential until the 1970s. By then Napa Valley had popped the cork on its wine dominance. Perhaps one day Willamette Valley wineries will be as well known as those in California -- for fans of pinot noir, however, those days have already arrived. Oregon's pinot noirs have gained such international attention that even some French wineries have planted vineyards here and begun producing their own Oregon wines.

The north Willamette Valley wine country begins in the town of Newberg and extends south to the Salem area. The majority of the region's wineries flank Ore. 99W, and a drive down this rural highway will turn up dozens of blue signs pointing to wineries within a few miles of the road. To the south of Salem, there are more wineries in the Corvallis and Eugene areas. To the north of Ore. 99W, still more wineries abound in Washington County, which is actually in the drainage of the Tualatin River, a tributary of the Willamette. These latter wineries are included in this section.

The most important wine-growing areas within this region, and the areas that produce the best wines, are the Red Hills above the town of Dundee, the slopes outside the town of Carlton, and the Eola Hills northwest of Salem. Throughout this region, you'll find good restaurants and inns, so it's never too far to a bed or someplace to get a memorable meal.