Guests relax inside their own personal cocoons at Willamette Valley Vineyards. ##Photo by Andrea Johnson
The pods look magical scattered around the Willamette Valley Vineyards estate in Turner. ##Photo by Andrea Johnson

Pod People

Domes for outdoor delight

By Paul Omundson

At dusk, the grouping of geodesic wine pods glow magically at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner. Sprinkled strategically around the estate courtyard and viewing decks, the domes allow patrons a magnificent look at the sweeping southwest vineyard slopes below, all the while offering safe, socially distanced tastings outdoors. 

The bubbles measure 12 feet in diameter and 8 feet tall with a limit of four guests, adhering to Governor Kate Brown’s virus guidelines. Each includes a heater and wicker furniture. State requirements mandate leaving the pod door open, so warm clothes are recommended. Well-behaved dogs are invited, too.

As COVID still lingers, staff ensures no close physical encounters with them or other groups of customers. Team members deliver wine and pairings from the kitchen to a table outside the dome, where guests access their ordered items. After each use, the pods are thoroughly cleaned and aired. The winery also uses UVC light filtration in its HVAC systems to kill any airborne virus.

Taking all the precautions necessary, Willamette Valley Vineyards, in turn, has introduced private little cocoons of memory-making magic.

“I love walking out to my car after work and hearing all the laughter and happy talk coming from the pods,” said head winemaker Joe Ibrahim. “People are having a good time, and I really get a nice feeling from that.”

In the past, Ibrahim interacted directly with customers in the winery’s tasting room. Today, he fulfills that function mostly via Zoom meetings and virtual tastings in coordination with sales staff. “But our customers need that personal winery experience, too, and this gives them a great, safe way to do that.”

The brainchild of Willamette Valley Vineyards’ wine pods is Spence Fogarty, estate general manager. “I’ve been thinking about this for some time,” he explained. “I first came upon the idea in Europe, especially Dublin, Munich and London, all cold-weather areas. We purchased our pods in Germany, and their original intended use was as mini-greenhouses,” he added. “But they fit our purpose here really well.”

Examining new ways to incorporate the estate’s multiple guest areas, Fogarty says the outdoor spaces overlooking the vines prove the most popular. “These amazing little bubbles really answer our needs, and they provide a nice extra layer of elegance to the grounds,” he said. What impressed Fogarty was how clear the view is from inside a pod. “You can be standing outside or in the wine pod, and you get the same view. That’s the key to [the pods’] success.

Fogarty actually purchased 11 pods before the pandemic began, but it was November when the winery had its first trial run. Initial customer reaction was off the charts: “We knew immediately these were destined to be a success,” he said. But a state-mandated shutdown abruptly suspended the new attraction.

After Willamette Valley Vineyards, along with others, launched a successful lobbying effort with Governor Brown to convince her of the safety of the pods, she gave the green light for restarting the project last month. And they’ve been a rousing success since. 

“It’s a big deal for our customers that they can, once again, come out and enjoy the winery and vineyards in this fashion again,” Fogarty said.

The pod count now numbers a dozen, with more to come. “It looks like a little fairy tale village out there,” he joked.

“These will absolutely be part of our [winery] going forward to give people unique experiences,” he said. “You can be among the stars and the vines sipping great wine paired with delicious food. What’s better than that?”

Wine pods can be reserved for two hours. To book one, call 503-588-9463 or make reservations online, Note that use of the pods is free but there is a minimum purchase requirement of $150, payable in advance. That’s credited to any purchases made upon arrival.


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