The wine scene has changed since vineyards popped up in McMinnville during 1960s, but the town still has its old charms.
Destination: McMinnville, OR • 4 hours south of Seattle
The Atticus Hotel isn’t old, but it looks like it. General Manager Ben Perle says that guests always ask what the four-story building “used to be” before it opened this year, and they’re shocked to learn that behind the quaint window boxes and old-timey trim, it’s brand-new construction, not, say, the bones of a nineteenth-century boarding house.
Yet authenticity isn’t hard to come by in Oregon’s major wine region. I’m 40 miles southeast of Portland for the usual vino vacation: sun-kissed vineyards, knockout dining. The Willamette Valley delivers, the rural miles around McMinnville lined in tidy rows of grape vines. In town, it’s in the farmhouse stylings of restaurant Thistle, where the menu is scribbled on a blackboard and reservations are taken on a vintage telephone near the entry.
But there’s an undercurrent of change. Wine culture exploded here in the 1960s and ’70s when scrappy winemakers with names like Ponzi, Adelsheim, and Sokol Blosser put down literal roots; in 1979 David Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards pinot noir shocked the wine world by placing in the French Wine Olympics. Decades later, the old guard businesses are largely held by the founders’ kids or other local owners, but around them wineries are being sold to outside companies from Napa Valley or Washington state.
Will McMinnville stay sleepy, the downtown so charming one expects Pollyanna to skip by? The Atticus Hotel team thinks so, going all in on a high-end hotel with very discreet luxury—generous rooms decked in live plants and sumptuous linens, but behind a modest facade.
I ask the front desk about the famous back bar of Nick’s Italian Cafe, and I’m directed to an alleyway shortcut. I pass dumpsters to reach the joint that served Willamette wines for decades before earning a James Beard Classics Award in 2014. Grown up but not yet stodgy—Oregon wine country feels exactly the right age.