Historic downtown McMinnville, Oregon, is the heart of Oregon Wine Country and where buzz for Oregon’s Pinot Noirs began at 3rd Street treasure Nick’s Italian Cafe, famed for serving Oregon wine enthusiasts and winemakers for over 30 years.
It’s mid-morning and the streets of historic downtown McMinnville are quiet, but for coffee seekers like myself and storekeepers opening shop. I sip my Community Plate latte, nibble on the homemade bacon and cheddar scone, and peruse the Connections insert of the News-Register, the community newspaper for McMinnville and Yamhill Valley. The front page of section B, ‘Connections’, is devoted to poetry, it is April and National Poetry Month after all, with a profile piece on local poet Bethany Lee, followed by a story on Oregon Poet Laureate Kim Robert Stafford leading a poetry workshop for middle and high school students. Next to me, two patrons discuss local artists… What a refreshing change from the daily assault we call news.
Afterward, I stroll 3rd Street peering into the nostalgic storefronts as the town begins to stir. It’s like stepping back in time, in a good way. There’s an art supply store, a family-owned jewelry store, music store, an independent book store, fabric store, antique shops, and clothing boutiques. No corporate coffee, chain restaurants, or retail clothier in sight. I felt like Marty McFly in search of the clock tower.
Nick’s Italian Cafe opens for dinner only, but there are a plethora of cafes and restaurants to choose from. Just know that you are in the right place to dine as few towns in the Willamette Valley can rival the restaurant options in McMinnville. Named one of the best small towns for food lovers, options range from American comfort food to award-winning fine dining, and farm-to-table is not a new concept here, but a way of life that thrives in McMinnville.
I savored a farm fresh lunch (and a refreshing cocktail) at the newly opened Red Hills Kitchen at the hip Atticus Hotel. The live-fire based menu includes the best elements of popular Red Hills Market with an extended menu and continued focus on being local, fresh, and seasonal without attitude. Hand-crafted cocktails embellish your meal and a variety of options for gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, seafood and meat lovers are featured. A menu highlight is the wood-fired shellfish, which shines in the Shrimp and Smoked Scallop Louie salad preceded by crisp vibrant radishes sourced from Even Pull Farm, simply dressed with butter, Jacobsen flake salt, and chives. YUM! I adore radishes, and they’re good for the body, too.
There’s plenty of places to quench your thirst with wine, craft beers, cider, spirits, and craft cocktails in historic downtown McMinnville as well.
I had a wonderful time sipping and chatting with the friendly staff at the Willamette Valley Vineyards Tasting Room on 3rd Street. The welcoming ambiance replete with high tables, communal tables, comfortable club chairs and leather sofas surrounded by artwork gives visitors the opportunity to experience the award-winning Pinot Noirs and other varietals from their certified sustainable estate vineyards.
A little history from one of the pioneer wineries in the valley: the “budwood” of Willamette Valley Vineyards began long before its founding in 1983 by vintner Jim Bernau. His father was hired by a California winemaker to secure the first winery license in Oregon since Prohibition and allowed young Jim small tastes of wine at dinner, lighting a path that led Jim from home winemaking to studies at UC Davis and Beaune, France. In 1983, encouraged by winemakers making their move from California, Jim cleared away an old plum orchard in the Salem Hills and watered the vines by hand because he couldn’t afford drip irrigation.
As you can see, McMinnville has plenty to tempt your taste buds. The dining scene rivals that of many larger cities and has garnered rave reviews. Bon Appetit magazine recognized McMinnville as one of the country’s best small towns for food lovers. Nods from Sunset, the Wine Spectator and The New York Times add further to their food and wine cred. When you visit, download the McMinnville Wine Walk app on IOS or Android and sip your way through 15 downtown tasting rooms.
Thank you to Willamette Valley Visitors Association for facilitating my visit to McMinnville. As always, words and opinions, unless otherwise noted, are my own.