Oregon's Great Oaks Food Trail offers a picturesque route through the Willamette Valley for the best food, wine, art, and views.
Oregon's Great Oaks Food Trail guides travelers on a picturesque route through the Willamette Valley to some of the region's well-established businesses, ambitious artisans, and outdoor adventures. Whether you are interested in local farming, thirsty for delicious wine and cider, or hungry for some tasty eats, you will find plenty of each along this trail. Book a room at The Independence hotel. Centrally located in Independence, Oregon, it makes the perfect base camp to enjoy glorious exploration throughout the area.
Keeler Estate Vineyard
I stopped at Keeler Estate Vineyard in Amity, OR, during my recent escapade to the valley. This pristine, biodynamic vineyard is stunning. I met with the owner, Gabrielle Keeler, and we toured the vineyard in her ATV. Gabrielle specializes in Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes but also plants Chardonnay, Riesling, and other exciting varietals. Herbs, flowers, and other plants surround the vineyard to keep out predators—the rosemary deters deer, and the clover provides nutrients to feed the vines. It is a balanced system that makes everything work without pesticides.
Visitors can purchase featured white or red wine flights—I chose both. The 2020 Blanc De Blanc, made with Chardonnay grapes, finished with light Bosc pear notes, and the scent and taste of peaches were subtle in the 2011 Pinot Gris from the archival library. I noticed the raspberry flavors in the 2019 Pinot Noir, and I loved the medium body texture in the 2018 Craig's Reserve Pinot Noir. After finishing, I headed over to meet Sage Baller, the current owner of Bare Farms.
Bare Farms on the Great Oaks Food Trail
Sterl H. Bare, a veteran of WWI, and Lucille Beals established Bare Farms in Willamina, OR, in 1936. The couple arrived in Oregon with their three children and vast knowledge of raising cattle and growing crops after the Dust Bowl forced them to move from their homestead in Blunt, SD. Four generations of the family have worked breeding quarter horses and Hereford cattle, and today the fourth generation is striving to improve this 396-acre farm.
Sage is rebuilding the cattle herd, bringing in passive income by leasing out part of the farmland and growing delicious produce using traditional methods and his hydroponic greenhouse. He currently has approximately ten cattle and fifty chickens. Sage raised sheep, horses, rabbits, and pigs in the past. He plans to do this again in the future, but for now, he is restructuring segments of the farm to increase production and profitability.
Koi is his current hydroponic fish of choice. The lettuce, beets, and cucumbers growing amidst the rocks inside his hydroponic greenhouse are phenomenal. Sage is working with numerous other partners to create a collaborative store at a bustling new location. In the meantime, visitors can come to the onsite farmstand to buy honey, jams, jellies, meat, and other products. After a fun and informative visit with Sage, I was ready to head to Monmouth, OR, and try some tasty pizza.
Along the Great Oaks Food Trail, you'll discover Yeasty Beasty, a local joint renowned for its incredible pizza and 26 craft brews on tap. The pizza dough is made daily from Bob's Red Mill stone-ground flours. I ordered a non-alcoholic root beer and a Drunken Goat Beasty pizza with artichokes, wine-marinated mushrooms, fresh basil, goat cheese, and house-made pesto sauce.
The pizza was savory and delicious, and the room was lively and loud. I folded the thin-crusted pizza in half and devoured three pieces. I brought the remainder with me in case I wanted a late-night snack. The pizza was delightful, but I fancied a few bites of something sweet before bed.
Jubilee Champagne and Dessert Bar
I drove toward Independence, OR, and stopped at Jubilee Champagne and Dessert Bar for a quick snack. Owner Dana Neuberger has done a fantastic job of creating an inviting space. She offers a variety of bubbles and a remarkable selection of decadent pastries designed to foil the determination of even the most self-disciplined individuals.
Whether your longing is for a fruit-topped tart, a cream-filled pastry, or a scrumptious cupcake, Jubilee has something to tempt your taste buds. I ordered the dark chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream frosting. Dana packaged it up for me to enjoy in my room.
I quickly arrived at the hotel as it was just around the corner. It was a good thing because I could barely keep from opening the clear box that contained the irresistible chocolate indulgence.
The Independence Hotel
Rooms at The Independence boutique hotel are spacious and comfortable. River rooms feature luxurious touches to spoil visitors and large windows to soak up the views. The artwork and furnishings capture the area's natural beauty and the community's adventurous and unique character.
My corner suite boasted a large king-sized bed, full-sized refrigerator, wet bar sink, separate desk/workstation, and a wrap-around balcony with a view of the river and the park. My favorite part of the day was waking up each morning, wrapping up in a blanket, and taking my coffee out onto the terrace where I could sit and quietly watch the river rush by.
After a restful night's sleep, I enjoyed my coffee outside and later walked around the corner to pick up a sandwich for my travels.
Ovenbird Bakery is another local favorite on the Great Oaks Food Trail. They employ local products and cater numerous events. The shop is hopping in the morning as people select pastries and bread for the day, and many order sandwiches to take to work. I ordered a half sandwich on a sourdough roll with turkey and Swiss cheese. I realized I had some adult beverages lined up for the day, so I wanted to have something in my stomach before imbibing.
Discover Illahe on the Great Oaks Food Trail
Illahe is a family-owned vineyard and winery in Dallas, OR. I met up with Bethany Ford, the national sales manager for Illahe, who treated me to an extensive tour of the business. The family makes most of their wines with modern technology, but each year their 1899 Pinot Noir is produced without any modern equipment or electricity. The goal at Illahe is to make wine as naturally as possible, from the soil to the bottle, using low-intervention techniques.
The grapes for the 1899 Pinot Noir are picked by hand and brought up to the winery in a cart driven by horses. A mix of 50% whole-cluster and 50% destemmed grapes are combined and left to ferment in a wood barrel for 24 days. Afterward, a bicycle-powered pump transfers the wine into a barrel.
This job takes some stamina. Bethany told me, “The staff helping with this process rides hard for about ten minutes each, and then the next person takes over.”
The wine is fermented without inoculation, then hand bottled and corked. Later, the Illahe team transports the wine by bicycle to the river, paddles it downstream via canoe, and then it is brought to the distributor in Portland, OR, by bicycle. Winemaker Brad Ford and his staff take great pride in this labor-intensive process each year.
Salt Creek Cider House
Salt Creek Cider House is another fabulous stop along the Great Oaks Food Trail. Also located in Dallas, OR, Salt Creek is a fun place for the entire family. The owners offer light snack options for purchase while you try a flight of ciders, or you can bring a picnic lunch and lounge by the pond all day.
I savored a great cider and snack pairing during my visit with owner Lindy Rickert. She did an excellent job matching and complementing the flavors in the cider with a variety of nuts, chocolates, cheese, and salami. Lindy shared that they host lively outdoor concerts on most weekends in the summer. I had a fun-filled day, and it was time to return and get ready for dinner at the hotel's restaurant.
Territory Restaurant, The Independence
Inside The Independence, check out Territory restaurant that spotlights fresh local ingredients from the Pacific Northwest. I began my evening with one of the restaurant's signature cocktails, a Sadie's Serrano Lemon Drop. This serrano-chili-infused citrus vodka gave a kick to the sweet and tangy lemon drop. I sipped the beverage while gazing out at the Willamette River.
Earlier in the evening, I'd met a few ladies on the rooftop lounge, and they recommended I try the Territory sprouts on the menu. These roasted Brussels sprouts arrived warm and tossed in Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses, bacon, capers, and a creamy lemon vinaigrette. They were exceptional.
Next, I ordered the Triple Pig Burger with ground pork tenderloin, pork belly, and sweet-and-spicy bacon. The burger arrived topped with sharp white cheddar cheese and chipotle slaw, all served on a bun smothered with bacon jam. Yummy! The service at Territory was delightful, and the server persuaded me to try the cheesecake and take any leftovers back to my room to eat later.
Each morning Territory offers an extensive breakfast with coffee, eggs, potatoes, sausages, bacon, and pastries. I tried a few items, then checked out of the hotel and walked over to the Taphouse, where I picked up a coffee and some lunch for later.
Brew Coffee and Taphouse
Another noteworthy stop along the Great Oaks Food Trail, Brew Coffee and Taphouse, had quite a selection of chips, cookies, and sandwiches. While waiting for my mocha, I ordered their cranberry wrap with fresh spinach, baked chicken breast, dried cranberries, and cream cheese. Now I was ready for my drive to visit the cows and chickens in Monmouth, OR.
Double J Jerseys, Inc., and Feather Root Farms
Owner Jon Bansen at Double J Jerseys, Inc., and Feather Root Farms is teaching his kids and others about farming. Today, Jon's oldest son Ross and his wife Brenna are running the show. Ross and Brenna collaborate with farmers to bring goods to market through Organic Valley, a cooperative owned and run by farmers.
Ross and Brenna raise Jersey dairy cows and a variety of chickens. Their philosophy is to keep the cows as healthy as possible and out in the pasture. Ross said, “The chickens are here so they can be rotated behind the cows. They can scratch at the cow patties and distribute nutrients. The chickens eat the fly larvae, and their fecal matter fertilizes the grounds even more. We are looking at nature for its examples of how systems should operate. Years ago, when bison roamed the earth, birds followed the bison, and that was a natural cycle; we are trying to mimic that.”
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The Great Oaks Food Trail has Something for Everyone
A visit to the Willamette Valley never disappoints. Visit the farms, spend a day at one of the farmers' markets, sample the wines and ciders, and dine on tasty Pacific Northwest eats. Stop and meander the Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge if you have time. There is something for everyone along the Great Oaks Food Trail.