This rich agricultural area is just east of Salem, Oregon, with the Willamette Valley to the west and the Cascades to the east. We enjoyed the beauty of the Valley.
The first stop was Iverson Family Farms to chat with third-generation family farmer Jon Iverson. Jon's grandpa started the farm in 1950. Diversification has been their focus, and through the years, they have grown over 100 crops and now own several companies. Probably the most popular one is Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm. During the spring, folks from all over the world visit. On one particular day, the count was 55,000 visitors!
Our visit was during the fall when they were harvesting the wine grapes, so we sampled some of the prior year's vintages. The first wine we tasted was their estate-grown albariño, grown primarily in Spain and Portugal. We enjoyed the light lemon notes, and Jon was wise in taking the suggestion of Oregon's iconic wine to expect Kevin Chambers to plant this. Next was the sparking albariño which was equally refreshing and dry. Next up was Jon's favorite and mine, marchall foch. It was fruit-forward with smooth tannins. After the tasting, Jon suggested we visit his winemaker, Sean Allen. That was on our list for later, but it was time for a late lunch.
Ten minutes later, we arrived at the Bavarian-themed town of Mt. Angel and were ready to enjoy some homemade sausage at Mount Angel Sausage Company. The sausage company is undoubtedly a perfect match for the strong Bavarian roots. In the late 1800s, Father Odermatt, from the Benedictine Abbey of Engleberg, Switzerland, settled here, and many Bavarian Catholic settlers followed.
Elizabeth had the currywurst bratwurst with the house-made curry sauce, and I had the Polish Kielbasa made from smoked pork and beef and smoldered in fried onions and sauerkraut, of course. It reminded me of what I used to get in Chicago's Germantown neighborhood.
Mt. Angel Sausage Company is a family affair with Jim Hoke, his wife Robin, and their two kids all part of the company. Jim's path was a little different - he started as superintendent of an offshore oil rig in China and was looking for something family-oriented. Jim found himself in the Salem area and worked in the Saturday food markets during the summer. Interestingly he met a Dutch couple selling a sausage business in 2000. So for $20,000, Jim got a trailer, a route, and probably most important: the recipe. Today, Jim has his son James (trained as Wurst Meister) making these fresh meats. We checked out their storefront and were tempted to buy some of their 24-wurst flavors to take home. But, alas, we were traveling.
Some would argue that the main draw to Mt. Angel is the sausage we just tasted. However, one would be remiss if they did not check out the Mt. Angel Abbey. We first took a detour at their Benedictine Brewery, one of a very few monastic breweries left in the United States. The monks brew the beer on the Abbey grounds using local hops. Monks making beer is steeped in history going back to the fifth/sixth century when Benedict of Nursia wrote the Rule of St. Benedict. Part of the rule is monks should earn their keep and donate to the poor. So it was common for monasteries to produce and sell goods such as cheese, honey, and, of course, beer.
Furthermore, there was the need to show hospitality to strangers; thus, visitors enjoyed the beer. Given that the water was often contaminated, beer was a great option. We weren't worried about contaminated water but did not miss the chance to taste the delicious and hoppy Haustus and the St. Michael, a golden lager.
After the beer tasting, we considered walking up Abbey Road to get to the Abbey, but we decided to take the short ride in our car. As we climbed up the hill from the parking lot, the first thing to catch our eye was the big, beautiful church with its high steeple, which is the focal point of the campus. The church is located at one end of a sizeable verdant square, ringed by the other buildings making up the Abbey, including the Seminary buildings, a beautiful library, a guest house, and a retreat center. The church and the library are open to the public, with prayers occurring six times a day. There were several monks strolling the grounds along with what looked like some fellow tourists. It was one of the most peaceful places we've been.
It was time to head for our lodging for the night. The Oregon Garden Resort is a 103-room hotel with beautiful rustic architecture and views of the rolling hills of the Willamette Valley. Along with the main Lodge, which also houses the two restaurants, the Garden View Restaurant and the Fireside Lounge, there are many smaller buildings with additional guest rooms. Our room was very cozy, with an outside patio. Unfortunately, we did not get a chance to enjoy the heated swimming pool and hot tub.
We were still satisfied from our late lunch, so we checked their Fireside Lounge's warm and comfortable setting for some light appetizers. It was like sitting in our living room with a fireplace and quiet music in the background. Elizabeth wanted something light and went with the Insalata Di Caprese with fresh mozzarella, tomato slices, and basil and topped with fresh pesto and balsamic reduction. I debated between the Sirloin Tacos and the Coconut Prawns. I decided on the tacos and was not disappointed with the steak combined with the cilantro lime slaw and a nice light sauce of queso fresco. I could not help but enjoy the coconut and sweet chili aroma of the Coconut Prawns at the neighboring table. I might return tomorrow! After our light dinner, we returned to our room to plan for tomorrow.
The plan was to hike to 10 waterfalls, then enjoy some wine tasting before beer and lunch. We took the scenic drive to Silver Falls State Park, also known as the Trail of Ten Falls. We parked at the North Falls trailhead with parking for about 25 cars. You have access to many trails here, and we hiked the short distance to view the Upper North Falls and the North Falls. We had stunning views and waterfalls even on this early fall day. The waterfalls are extensive in the middle of the wet season from the late fall through spring. We did not have time for all 10 of the waterfalls since we had an appointment with a winemaker.
We continued to drive on Oregon 214 past the South Falls day-use area (with more trail access) and, in less than 30 minutes, arrived at Pudding River Wine Cellars. This former poultry farm sits along the banks of the Pudding River, which drains via another tributary into the Willamette River. The Native Americans originally named the river "Hons-u-cha-chac."
Pudding River Wine Cellars is part of the Cascade Foothills Winegrowers group. The wineries here are all located in the large Willamette Valley AVA. This AVA (American Viticulture Area) extends some 150 miles, so it is certainly a vast area. Most winegrowers in the Cascade Foothills are boutique wineries off the beaten path. However, Pudding River Wine Cellars is just 25 minutes from the core of Salem and has a Salem mailing address.
We had a sit-down chat and tasting with winemaker Sean Allen. Sean keeps busy making his own wine and doing custom wine crush for some other local winegrowers like the aforementioned Wooden Shoe Vineyards.
In 2004 Sean left his mechanical engineering career and took his physics degree, science background, and interest in winemaking to start the winery. Sean also just finished the Wine Studies at Chemeketa Community College in Salem. And 18 years later, we get to enjoy his award-winning wines.
The first tasting was the Willamette Valley Cuvee Blanc which was pleasantly dry and is a blend of veltliner, muller thurgau, and viognier with some delightful light fruit notes. The next wine was the equally enjoyable chardonnay (100%) with light lemon highlights.
When you're in the Willamette Valley, you can't miss the pinot noir, and Sean's Willamette Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, with its smooth flavors, is one that does not disappoint. The last tasting was undoubtedly the best, Syrah Dessert Wine (port style) which won gold in the San Francisco International Wine Competition. This 100% syrah has some light mocha flavors which paired very nicely with some dark chocolates. It was a special treat, and we thanked Sean for taking time for us during his busy harvest season. Our next stop was for some food in Silverton.
Silverton was historically a mill and lumber town and is now known as the Gateway to Silver Falls State Park. Many restaurants are located in this quaint town, along with a year-round farmers market. Since we were at the park earlier, we thought we would check out the recommended Silver Falls Brewery in town. This smaller-scale brewery has been providing its beer to the local community for over seven years, and I have noticed their Happy Camper Hefeweizen in several other restaurants around the area. This German-style beer was perfect with the Ruben sandwich I had. The lean corned beef lightly covered with the alehouse sauce was excellent, and I have tried many Ruben sandwiches in my travels. Instead of the side of fries, I went with the delicious and hearty chickpea soup with kale, carrots, tomatoes, and lightly spiced.
This was our last stop in this small community. Our next stop is a short ride to Salem for our next food adventure. Stay tuned!
Editorial disclosure: lodging, beverages, and food were generously provided.