After our morning exploring Silver Falls State Park, Emma and I have some free time to explore. So what do you do when you find yourself with nothing to do in wine country? Visit wineries, of course! Fortunately for us, the Willamette Valley is filled with them.

Our first stop is Bethel Heights Vineyard. While you might fine some wineries with better wine, you won’t find any with better views.

willamette valley

You can choose to sit either inside or out on the patio. It’s hot out, but the air quality is improved from the forest fires we’ve been having, so we opt for outside. The wine stewards bring each glass out to us as we finish, so we can concentrate on enjoying the scenery.

The tasting here comprises five different wines, starting with whites, followed by reds and finishing with dessert wines. While sweeter wines are probably my least favorite, I consider myself an equal opportunity wine drinker and enjoy them all.

For our next tasting, we head down the road to St. Innocent Winery. We arrive just before closing, but fortunately they are more than happy to serve us.

The tasting here pairs two glasses of wine together, usually the same grape but either from a different year, or fermented differently. In some cases, I can’t tell the difference at all. In others I’m amazed out how the weather one year can have such an effect on the flavors compared to the same wine of a different year. It’s a unique and fun way to try different wines, especially for someone who isn’t very wine-savvy.

We stay past closing to sample all the wines before heading back to Salem for dinner. It’s a good thing Emma is driving. After all that wine, I’m feeling a bit loopy.

The following day we check out the Willamette Valley Vineyards. Emma’s mom is a member of the wine club here which means on top of her monthly wine selection, she has access to a different wine tasting than what’s available to the general public. We plan to take full advantage.

This is easily the largest and most commercial of the wineries we visit. It’s also the most popular. I think there’s even a wedding taking place in the outdoor dining space.

Me, Emma, Emma’s mom Barbara, and Emma’s aunt.

To many people, Salem seems like the kind of place you would never choose to visit. But if you like outdoorsy activities and wine, you can keep yourself well occupied for several days. The final activity of my visit is a relaxing float down the Santiam River with Emma, her mom and aunt. More on that coming soon!

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