Wine Country Thanksgiving highlights Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region with more than 150 wineries opening their doors, bringing families together to explore the pastoral beauty of the valley and taste a wide range of wines.

“Wine Country Thanksgiving is a 26-year tradition and a wonderful way to start the holiday season,” said Sue Horstmann, executive director of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. “It is a great opportunity to taste new vintages and some older vintages to decide what you like before you buy. And it is a very festive occasion with people visiting from all over the country.”

Willamette Valley Vineyards has participated in the Winery Association’s Thanksgiving weekend for many years, according to Aaron Lisle.

“This time around we are offering barrel tastings, talks with our winemakers, tastings of library wines, sampling of decadent chocolates from Extreme Chocolates and gourmet hors d’oeuvres,” Lisle said.

Willamette Valley Vineyards wines are a testimony to founder Jim Bernau’s mission to grow “cool-climate varietals to create elegant, classic Oregon wines from the Willamette Valley Appellation. As native Oregonians, we treasure our environment and use sustainable practices in growing and vinifying our winegrapes.”

The Estate Vineyard, located just south of Salem, rises from 500 to 750 feet from the valley floor, offering visitors a magnificent view of the area.

The winery is home to an annual grape stomp, won this year by Ben and Robyn Hillebrand, who beat the competition by producing more than 11 pounds of juice from their stomped grapes.

Lisle encourages families to bring the kids and enjoy the fun. The winery has a huge patio and terrace for families to relax and enjoy the scenery and activities.

“Children are welcome here,” he said.

A cost of $5 includes tasting and a free Riedel wine glass. The tasting room is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The winery is atop Illahee Hill at 8800 Enchanted Way SE, off exit 248 on Interstate 5.

Many smaller, family-owned wineries are only open to the public during Thanksgiving and Memorial Day weekends, allowing opportunities to meet the winemaker and sample new releases.

Jason Silva with Arcane Cellars at 22350 Magness Road NW,  Wheatland (Salem) invites people to “come try our award-winning wines and stunning new releases: pinot noir, pinot gris, riesling, syrah, cabernet sauvignon and viognier.”

“As everyone knows, we also put on the best food spread in the valley,” Silva said. “Our tasting room manager is an excellent cook and puts on a magnificent spread of small plates.”

Arcane Cellars has participated in Wine Country Thanksgiving for three years now, offering visitors music, activities, and more. Although the event is not necessarily kid friendly, the winery is, Silva said.

A tasting fee of $10 includes six-plus wines and food, including tapas and other appetizers.

“Our pinot gris reserve won a gold medal at the 2008 SF International Wine Competition, and also the Gold Medal Best in Show for pinot gris at the 2008 Bite of Oregon,” he said. “Our pinot noir won a gold medal at the West Coast Wine Competition.”

Laurie Lewis, the “wine goddess,” at Hip Chicks Do Wine has come a long way since she first sipped Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill and “thunderock coolers” in her home state of Texas.

She learned how to make wine locally at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, and considers herself to have been tutored by some of Oregon’s “sagest wine gurus.” She and wine maven Renee Neely invite the Valley’s wine connoisseurs to their Newberg tasting room for wine, appetizers, chocolates and a logo glass to keep. The tasting room is at 602B E. First Street.

“We took out a second mortgage on our house and crushed our first grapes in 1999,” Lewis said.

“Unfortunately we weren’t able to open up for business until the summer of 2001, but once we did, that initial 500 cases was sold out in about a year. We’ve grown production every year since, and now we produce approximately 5,000 cases and still sell out of most of the wines in about a year from the release date.”

Thanksgiving weekend is one of the few times that the Hip Chicks have every one of their handcrafted wines open for tasting. Cost is $15 and includes some 12-15 wines to taste, appetizers, chocolates and a logo glass to keep.

Hours are noon to 7 p.m. November 28 – 30.

“Got kids in tow?” she poses. “Bring them on in. We will have a fun kid’s craft corner to occupy them while you try some tasting wines.”

The winery, known for its blends and fun labels, also is open to tasting at the Portland winery off SE Colgate at 4510 26th Ave.

“Join us for a weekend of festivity, fine music, tasty wine and fabulous snackage,” Lewis said.

Live music is scheduled for 6 – 9 p.m. November 28 with Carlyle; 2 – 5 p.m. November 29 with Chris Kokesh and 6 – 9 p.m. with Lincoln Crockett; and 2:30 – 5:30 p.m. November 30 with Johanna.

“Our wines are mostly sold at our tasting rooms, but you can find them at Guentners Gardens in the Salem area,” Lewis added.

Horstmann credits the national popularity of wine touring together with the increase in demand for pinot noir for bringing favorable attention to Oregon and the Willamette Valley.

With 177 member wineries and tasting rooms, the WVWA is a nonprofit industry association dedicated to achieving recognition for the Willamette Valley as a premier pinot noir producing region. For more information or to request a wine touring map, visit www.willamettewines.com.