The New Oregon Trail
Story and Photos by Mark Stock
Ambling through Tyee Cellars' 460 acres is like strolling across the many pages of Oregon history. Set near Corvallis on a fertile plain - part riparian wilderness, part fifth-generation farm - the grounds contain a fortress of old growth oaks that gives way to a murky pond, on which countless songbirds and other waterfowl sing their praises of this rich land. From a distance - with door-opening sounds of creaking branches overhead - the pond looks like an inkwell, filled with reeds so straight and tall they might as well be quills, dabbing the water before writing their message onto the parchment sky.
Buchanan Farm, on which Tyee Cellars rests, is the Pacific Northwest in a Mason jar, with each generation's initials carved into a certain sector of the property. There's the boxy shed next to the original site of the oldest homestead in Benton County - dating back to the mid-19th century. There's the dairy milking parlor and original barn, padded with hay and framed by agricultural equipment. There's the orderly maze of hazelnuts. There are the ten acres of vines, thanks to the preceding generation, who planted in 1974 at the forefront of the state's viticultural emergence. And it's all on display through a system of footpaths and old roads-turned-trails that makes Tyee an adventurous alternative for the typical day in wine country.
Many tasting rooms and vineyards offer arresting views, but few send you off the beaten path on a quest to discover more. And while red-tailed hawks and coyotes are frequent visitors, even along the busiest sections of Highway 99W, there are many rewards waiting along the path at a place like Tyee's Century Farm. Foxes, eagles, bobcats, dusky Canada geese and all shades of flora lie a short distance away, up one more bend of the creek or beyond one more foothill.
At Tyee, the old milking parlor now houses the tasting room, where second-generation winemaker Merrilee Buchanan Benson pours her Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. Producing 1,500 cases of wine per year keeps Buchanan plenty busy, but not to the point of keeping her from other labors of love in this fully functional farm of old. The fresh stack of filberts atop the bar in the tasting room reminds visitors that the encompassing area is as generous and edible as it is enchanting, and not solely in terms of wine.
Most family operations don't have the natural wonders of a roughly 200-acre conservation easement. It's a blessing for the Buchanans, and they're eager to share this stunning patch of the South Willamette Valley, seemingly stuck in a time before human intervention.
Centuries ago , the Kalapuya Indians walked through the same woodlands and wild grasses. The family's environmentally conscious practice, expressed via clean farming and 100-percent solar power, has preserved the land in the same vein of its original inhabitants. If you were to hold a photograph taken by the original Buchanan settlers in 1880 and compare it to the lush still life of today at Tyee Cellars, the weathered edges and faded color of the original picture might be the only difference.
Along the 1.5-mile Beaver Loop Nature Trail, I find myself tiptoeing. I've overheard talk of an elk sighting, and my senses buzz like neon with excitement. Everything becomes a little louder: the percussive tapping of a Flicker on a big fir tree, the scuffling of a field mouse, even the gentle splashing of a brood of ducklings. When the trail banks gently to the right, I am back in the calm cool of the woods, enthralled to be so near civilization and its many fine inventions (wine being the main one) and yet simultaneously so distant.
The lily pads look like stepping-stones on the pond, adorned with mustard yellow flowers. The water in this pond is divvied out over a few thick streams, carved into the soft soil by industrious resident beavers. From above, it must look like a watery heart and arteries, stretching out over and giving life to much of the plain. The trail is quite muddy - a natural side effect of mid-May in the Pacific Northwest - but conditions will only improve as summer thickens.
The Buchanan family's warm hospitality allows you to stray a bit from the trail when the urge to smell a certain flower or touch the bark of a certain tree is overwhelming. They only ask that you do so with care.
From the Applegate Valley to the Dundee Hills to the Columbia Gorge - and all AVAs in between - Oregon's vineyards are found near some remarkably natural, untamed and unblemished wilderness. This summer, try a relaxed afternoon hike where the vines fade into the wetlands, valleys and mountains and see if you come away with a similar feeling. It's one of both animalistic excitement and instinctive belonging.
There's much to be said for a place that stands still in time yet can be freely navigated. Tyee Cellars and the Buchanan Century Farm have adapted to the last two generation's love for local wine without losing hold of the pastoral context that brought them to today.
For those who love the present and the past, all within a single hike, explore no further than their humble and expansive abode.
Tread lightly, but tread often.
Mark Stock, a Gonzaga grad, is a Portland-based freelance writer and photographer with a knack for all things Oregon.
At Tyee, trails are best in the summer. Bring boots if you have them. And, please, no pets.
Hours: Friday-Monday, noon-5 p.m. (through Labor Day).
26335 Greenberry Road, Corvallis
541-753-8754 • www.tyeewine.com
Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden
Even though Cowhorn has no marked trail system, the winery does encourage trekking during its Biodyamic tours of the estate, which are usually available by appointment. The estate vineyard and garden blends with the surrounding ecosystem, complete with a watershed and an organic garden, featuring asparagus, artichokes and heirloom fruit trees.
Hours: Friday-Monday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. (closed in winter).
1665 Eastside Road, Jacksonville
541-899-6876 • www.cowhornwine.com
The winery offers a number of organized summer vineyard hikes that include wines and a picnic, as well as a tour of neighboring Red Ridge Farms and Oregon Olive Mill. Hikes are three miles and require a reservation. Check website for additional information.
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
5000 Sokol Blosser Lane, Dundee
800-864-2282 • www.sokolblosser.com
Dry Hollow Vineyards
Featuring vineyard walks midday Saturdays during the summer, Dry Hollow's ¾-mile trek winds through estate Syrah and Merlot vines in the warm sunny Columbia River Gorge.
Hours: Saturday-Sunday, noon-5 p.m.
410 Dry Hollow Lane, The Dalles
541-296-2953 • www.dryhollowvineyards.com
Near The Trailhead
Located near the historic Wheatland Ferry on the Willamette Ferry, Arcane Cellars is a stone's throw from Willamette Mission State Park, where trails wind through walnut and hazelnut orchards adjacent to the river.
Hours: Saturday-Sunday, noon-4 p.m.
22350 Magness Road N.W., Salem
503-868-7076 • www.arcanecellars.com
Silver Falls Vineyards
The winery is a short drive away from the countless trails of renowned Silver Falls State Park, a hiker's paradise.
Hours: Friday-Sunday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (March through December).
4972 Cascade Highway S.E., Sublimity
503-769-5056 • www.silverfallsvineyards.com
Crater Lake Cellars
In the backyard of Oregon's only National Park of the same name, this winery is set in an old firehouse built in the 1950s.
Hours: Thursday-Monday, 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (summer hours).
21882 Highway 62, Shady Cove
541-878-4200 • www.craterlakecellars.com