Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Last weekend Kerry and I had a great 4-day trip wine tasting in the Umpqua Valley and then exploring the southern Oregon coast. We decided to avoid the usual crowds in the Willamette Valley and left Friday morning to drive down to Elkton, the northern most part of the Umpqua Valley, about 20 miles west of I-5 exit 162.

Elkton is a small town of about 120 people with 3 wineries, a cafe, a gas station and a city hall. Our first stop there was the Brandborg Winery which has its tasting room right in town. Across the street is Tomaselli's Pastry Mill & Cafe where we stopped for lunch. Their pulled pork panini sandwich is awesome! After lunch we made a brief stop at River's Edge Winery then headed south of town to Bradley Vineyards. We found Bradley's location out in the country to be very peaceful and the owner was great to talk with.

We then headed south toward Roseburg on OR-138 which is a very scenic drive that winds along next to the Umpqua River. Along the way we stopped in at the Reustle-Prayer Rock Vineyards. It was a little difficult to find (especially when using the back entrance) but the tasting room is located in a small, picturesque valley surrounded by vineyards.

That evening we drove on into Roseburg and stayed at the Windmill Inn. The inn itself was nothing extraordinary but it was clean, quiet and comfortable. For dinner we went to Anthony's Italian Cafe in the historic downtown. It seemed like a popular place for Friday night and the food was excellent, especially for garlic lovers like myself.

Saturday morning we started our wine tour at Melrose Vineyards. It has a large tasting room overlooking a grassy picnic area and vineyards in the valley. Afterwards we drove over to HillCrest Vineyards. We had tasted their wines at the Bite of Oregon and they were one of the reason we had come down to the Umpqua Valley. It's a small family run winery that doesn't distribute their wines through stores. We stayed and talked with the owner for a while who suggested we check out Palotai Vineywards.

Palotai was by far our favorite. The owner, Gabor, had come to the US from Hungary in 1980s. Other than at harvest time, he runs the winery entirely by himself. He loves to talk and has some great stories. The winery is located in his vineyards down a gravel road and the tasting room looks like an Old World cafe. Definitely worth the drive and we're planning to go back next time we're in the area.

Our last stop on the wine tour was Girardet Wine Cellars. Their Grand Rouge is one of our everyday wine staples. We ended up liking their Baco Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon and added those to our growing collection in the trunk. After having tasted mostly Pinot Noir the last two days it was nice to finish with something different.

Saturday afternoon we headed west on OR-42 to Bandon on the southern Oregon coast. We stayed at the Bandon Inn overlooking historic downtown. The inn is probably the nicest hotel in Bandon and their service is great. Every night they have fresh chocolate chip cookies in the lobby and every morning fresh cranberry bread and coffee. Saturday night we had dinner at the Bandon Boatworks. It's location near the ocean was great for watching the waves and the service good, but the food was somehow lacking.

Sunday morning we got up and hiked a 5 mile loop along the beach and back up on the bluff. It was stormy and we watched the waves crashing in on the Bandon Rocks. Afterwards we had a late breakfast at the Minute Cafe back in the historic downtown. That afternoon we headed north to the small fishing village of Charleston, near Coos Bay. We were there to check out Shore Acres State Park, built around the 1906 estate of timber baron Louis Simpson who gave it to his wife as a gift. The mansion has since burnt down but the English formal gardens, rose gardens and Japanese gardens are still there. It's a strange find on the Oregon coast and would definitely be worth visiting in the summer, although I bet it gets crowded on the weekends.

After exploring the gardens in the rain we drove back to Charleston for an early dinner at a crusty placed called the Portside Restaurant. I love oysters on the half shell and this place by far had the best I've tasted. The Crab Louie Salad was very good too. That night we played cards, drank a bottle of wine and watched the rain from our room back at the Bandon Inn.

Monday morning we checked out of the inn and headed north on US-101. Our first stop was the sand dunes outside of Florence. I've tried to visit these on several occasions but always ended up getting rained out. Despite the rainy weekend forecast, we managed to time our visit to the dunes between showers. We did a short hike thru the dunes to a isolated beach that we had completely to ourselves. I'd love to go back there some day to explore some of the larger dunes and maybe do some camping.

For lunch we stopped in Florence's historic downtown. After walking up and down the main road we settled on a seafood restaurant near the end of the dock. It had a nice view of the bay, but unfortunately some of the worse service I've experienced and the seafood tasted horrible. So far the lesson learned with these coastal "historic downtowns" is that they're very touristy and don't have the best food. It's much better to find some off the beaten path place like we did the day before in Charleston (which was actually recommended to us by Gabor at Palotai).

Anyway, worried about getting sick from our lunch we decided to cut out the afternoon hike we had planned and continue north on US-101 to Yahacts and Waldport. Between those two small towns we drove past several beach houses that looked promising for a trip to the central Oregon coast. From Waldport we cut inland on OR-34, itself a very scenic drive, to I-5 then back home.

All in all it was a great 4-day weekend. A little late in the season for wine tasting and going to the coast, but we manage to avoid all the crowds you'll find in the middle of the summer. Most of the places we went we were the only ones there or maybe there were a couple of locals. Next time we had back down there I want to explore the central part of the Oregon coast. It looks like it would have some great hiking.

For more photos be sure to check out the photo album from our trip.

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