East of the Interstate
By Karl Klooster
With summer rapidly approaching, the prospect of weekend outings rises to the top of many people’s want-to-do lists. But the question is, where to go when it’s possible to take in only so much in a single day, or even two?
The beach, the mountains, the Gorge? All have their appeal. But those options are all too often a matter of been there, done that. Where can you go that offers something new and different, somewhere you’ve seldom or perhaps never been before?
Just such an area lies in the East Willamette Valley. It stretches from south of Oregon City to southeast of Salem, encompassing towns like Canby, Aurora, Molalla, Mt. Angel and Silverton.
It’s within easy driving distance from all three major metropolitan areas—Portland, Salem and Eugene—and affords a whole host of interesting things to see and do.
You can visit small, family-owned wineries, dine at excellent, reasonably priced restaurants, shop at awesome antique stores and attend unique events throughout the summer, many of them community sponsored.
For the outdoor oriented, one of the state’s most splendid natural settings awaits: At 8,700 acres, Silver Falls State Park, 10.5 miles east of Sublimity, is Oregon’s largest state park. It boasts not one, but two majestic waterfalls.
Those who are into gardens can stroll through 80 acres of botanical beauty just outside Silverton, listen to summer concerts and see the only house in Oregon designed by iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
When urban dwellers think wine, they usually head west. Yamhill, Washington and Polk counties offer the greatest concentration of wineries in Oregon, not to mention some of the best. But in recent years, a cluster of new East Valley contenders has come on the scene. All but one are situated east of Interstate 5, the high-speed asphalt swath that almost literally bisects the Valley from north to south.
Although most of these wineries are newer, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. The crew at Pudding River Wine Cellars east of Salem would particularly relate to that comment, as would the folks at Engelhardt Farm Winery in Gervais, where fruit-based dessert wines are a specialty.
At last count, there were 12 wineries situated throughout this eastern enclave. From the northernmost, King’s Raven, just south of Oregon City, to the southernmost, Piluso Vineyard, in Aumsville, they reflect the personal commitment that marked the wine pioneers of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Today, however, the knowledge is greater, the technology better and the appreciation of what local winemakers can accomplish is more widespread among the general public than even a decade ago.
Complementing this geographically connected group of vineyards and wineries is a bucolic landscape accessed by roads often less traveled; all the better for a laid-back day’s drive rather than a white-knuckled freeway frenzy.
Along them, you’ll come across some charming communities ranging in size from small towns populated by a few thousand to tiny hamlets occupied by no more than a few hundred.
Driving south from Portland and vicinity, the first one you reach is Aurora, a place that has become synonymous with antiques and collectibles. You’ll find no fewer than 26 stores devoted to cool old stuff in this incorporated village of 955 friendly folks.
If hunger hits you on the way, there’s an eatery in Canby called the Wild Hare Saloon & Café that comes highly recommended for both food and fun. Once in Aurora you’ll also find good restaurants such as Chez Moustache, which has offered fine dining in an antique-filled environment since 1989.
Interested in staying overnight to extend your trip another day or two? The Anna Becke House is a cozy Craftsman bungalow B&B, whose owners are especially proud of its inclusion in Oregon’s first national historic district.
Aurora, you see, isn’t just about antiques: It was founded in 1856 as a communal society and the history preserved there is intriguing enough in itself to occupy the good part of a day.
On Sunday, June 28, the Aurora Colony Historical Society will hold its 39th annual Strawberry Social in the courtyard of the society’s museum. Being halfway between Portland and Salem, this escape to another time is about as quick and easy as it gets.
Some 12 miles farther south is Mt. Angel. This gem of a community is almost literally topped by the Mt. Angel Abbey, a Benedictine retreat perched atop a 300-foot promontory that rises abruptly on the eastern edge of town.
The Benedictines are welcoming, the view is spectacular and the library, well, you just have to see it for yourself. Each year the monastic brothers host the Mount Angel Abbey Festival of Arts & Wine. Limited to 500 guests, this year’s edition will be held June 20.
To get there from Aurora, you continue south on old 99E or on State Highway 213 from Oregon City. Mt. Angel is a bit off the beaten track and, if you’ve come down 213, you’ll have already passed, or stopped at, five wineries.
They are King’s Raven, Christopher Bridge, St. Josef’s, Hanson and Alexeli. Once there, two more are nearby, Vitis Ridge and Kraemer’s Farm Fresh Market, which, though not a winery, offers a comprehensive selection of the area’s wines.
Settled by German immigrants, Mt. Angel is renowned throughout the region for its annual Oktoberfest begun in 1966. This year’s dates are Sept. 17–20. Like the original in Bavaria, it, too, is in September, not October. Um Gottes willen. Go figure.
As for food, tourists flock to the Glockenspiel Restaurant & Pub, a traditional German-style eating establishment featuring all the traditional accoutrements, including a 49-foot clock tower complete with costumed figurines that make timely appearances.
Whereas the population of Mt. Angel is 3,700, tiny Scotts Mills can count only about 300 inhabitants scattered around the immediate vicinity. Tucked away in the rolling foothills of the Cascades on 213 east of Mt. Angel, it’s a place caught in time.
Robert and Thomas Scott built a sawmill and flour mill there in the early 1860s from which the hamlet took its name. A pioneer cemetery and a little, one-room schoolhouse converted into a local museum add to the historic feel.
Time allowing, another worthwhile diversion would be the town of Molalla, just a two-mile side trip off 213. Molalla becomes a destination once a year when it hosts the Molalla Buckeroo Rodeo. Scheduled from July 2–5, it’s a major PRCA-sanctioned event and a fixture on the rodeo circuit, dating back to 1913.
If wine focused travelers from the north valley haven’t already used up their day, they can continue south on the Cascade Highway to take in the four remaining wineries: Abiqua Wind, Pudding River, Silver Falls and Piluso.
Those coming from Salem and points south will hit these wineries first, with the bonus of Oregon Garden and Silver Falls State Park along the way.
The wine-and-dine action at this end of the East Valley centers around Silverton. Longtime Oregon wine pro Howard Hinsdale has his eponymous retail cellar and wine bar there and Silver Grille Café & Wines has earned a well-deserved reputation for fine fare.
If you’d like to stay, Water Street Inn B&B is located in an elegant Victorian home located just one block from Silverton’s historic downtown district. During the annual Silverton Jazz Festival, held each May, it would make an ideal overnight accommodation.
Whether you’re coming from the north or the south, putting the pedal to the metal on Interstate 5 to get there as quickly as possible or biding your time on the backroads, once there, you’ll find the East Willamette Valley experience a rewarding one. ◊
East Willamette Valley Wineries
Please check with each winery for tasting room hours and driving directions.
Abiqua Wind Vineyard
19822 McKillop Road • Scotts Mills
503-874-9818 • www.abiquawind.com
35803 S. Highway 213 • Molalla
503-829-6677 • www.alexeli.com
Christopher Bridge Cellars
12770 S. Casto Road • Oregon City
503-263-6267 • www.christopherbridgewines.com
Engelhardt Farm Winery
10114 Mount Angel-Gervais Road N.E. • Gervais
34948 S. Barlow Road • Woodburn
503-634-2348 • www.hansonvineyards.com
King’s Raven Winery
11603 S. New Era Road • Oregon City
503-656-6439 • www.kingsravenwine.com
Oswego Hills Winery
450 S. Rosemont Road • West Linn
503-655-2599 • www.oswegohills.com
Piluso Vineyard & Winery
6654 Shaw Highway S.E. • Aumsville
503-749-4125 • www.pilusowines.com
Pudding River Wine Cellars
9374 Sunnyview Road N.E. • Salem
503-365-0391 • www.puddingriver.com
Silver Falls Vineyards
4972 Cascade Highway S.E. • Sublimity
503-769-5056 • www.silverfallsvineyards.com
St. Josef’s Winery
28836 S. Barlow Road • Canby
503-651-3190 • www.stjosefswinery.com
6685 Meridian Road N.E. • Silverton
503-873-9800 • www.vitisridge.com ◊