Six Surprising Sips in Pendleton & Umatilla Co.'s Wine Scene

Six Surprising Sips in Pendleton & Umatilla Co.'s Wine Scene


Pendleton might be known today as a beer and whisky town, but more than 100 years ago, it sat in the heart of one of Oregon’s most fertile wine regions.

According to the Oregon Wine Board, settlers planted the region’s first vineyard near the town of The Dalles, to the west, in the early 1900s. Just 25 miles northeast of Pendleton, more than 300 acres of grapes grow today in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA. And, naturally, Walla Walla and its world-famous wine is just an hour away.

Given Pendleton’s close proximity to so much great wine, it’s no surprise the city hosts a growing number of tasting rooms and wine bars that offer merlot, cabernet, and other popular varietals.

Interested in seeing–and sipping–for yourself? Here’s a taste of what to expect from Pendleton and Umatilla County’s wider wine scene.

Scarlet Oak Barrels

Rick Sewell had been in love with the Pacific Northwest’s thriving wine scene for years when he lost his job in the Great Recession in 2009. With the chance for a fresh start, he saw an opportunity to follow his dreams and start a winery.

Nine years later, the owner and winemaker at Scarlet Oak Barrels opened his first tasting room in downtown Pendleton.

It’s been a long time coming. Sewell enrolled at Walla Walla Community College in 2010, graduated in 2012, and crafted his first wines under the Scarlet Oaks label in 2014. Soon, Sewell was taking his unconventional varietals to wine festivals and tastings throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Visitors quickly discovered Sewell’s malbec, petit verdot, sangiovese, terzetto, and other unique styles. “There’s a certain mystique about those varietals,” Sewell says.

More and more wine aficionados asked about a tasting room, so in Spring 2018, Sewell started selling six wines and offering tastings at his new location in downtown Pendleton.

Great Pacific Wine and Coffee Company

Great Pacific Wine and Coffee Company is so much more than another eatery in downtown Pendleton. The cozy restaurant and pub routinely hosts live music; serves a selection of sandwiches, soups, salads, and pizza; and, yes, promises one of the city’s best wine selections.

You’ll find plenty of wine from the nearby Walla Walla, Columbia, and Willamette Valleys, as well as other regions throughout Oregon and Washington. Looking for some international flavor? Find bottles from France, Italy, Spain, Australia, and other countries around the world.

Alexander’s Chocolate Classics and Vino Bistro

Chocolate and wine go together like … well, chocolate and wine. And there may be no better place to enjoy the perfect pairing than Alexander’s Chocolate Classics and Vino Bistro.

Alexander’s serves a rotating selection of handmade truffles in downtown Pendleton alongside a selection of local and regional wines to pair with their decadent offerings.

Wine lovers looking for something more worldly are fond of Alexander’s occasional dinner, dessert, and wine pairings; recent dinners have paired international cuisines and desserts with wines from Greece, Spain, and Italy.

Virgil’s at Cimmiyotti’s

A Pendleton institution since 1959, Virgil’s at Cimmiyotti’s has long been known for its perfectly-cooked steaks. But the restaurant’s wine selection promises an ideal complement for every cut of meat.

Virgil’s pours a curated mix of reds, whites, sparkling wines, and more from regional wineries (including Sno Road and Echo West) and international vineyards (France, Spain, and Argentina are routinely represented).

Wineries in Echo

With a growing, robust wine scene, it’s easy to make a day trip to nearby wineries. And Echo, just 20 miles west of Pendleton, is a natural place to start.

Sno Road Winery, whose vineyards sit atop a bluff overlooking the Umatilla River, hosts a tasting room roughly 20 miles west of Pendleton in Echo. Owners Lloyd and Lois Piercy–whose worldly approach to winemaking was informed by trips to the likes of Costa Rica, Mexico, and South Africa–started Sno Road Winery in 2004. Today, Sno Road’s tasting room in downtown Echo offers cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, pinot noir, and more.

Nearby, Echo Ridge Cellars grows grapes on 60 estate acres high above the Umatilla River. Kim and Jay Bales pride themselves on using cutting-edge farming techniques to craft their high-quality wines, and the duo repurposed an old concrete storage warehouse as their tasting room. There, visitors can try several popular varietals, including merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, syrah, and more.

And the 39-acre Echo West Vineyard sits on the windswept slopes near Echo, its terrain shaped by volcanic ash. Visitors get to enjoy pinot noir, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and other popular varietals–not to mention views of the rolling farms and fields that surround the vineyard.

Wineries in Milton-Freewater

Further north, the town of Milton-Freewater offers several tasting rooms in the southern edge of the Walla Walla Valley.

Watermill Winery was founded in 2005 and, today, produces wines from estate fruit from four regions throughout the Pacific Northwest.

TERO Estates was formed at the edge of the Blue Mountains in 2007; today, the winery hosts tasting rooms in Seattle and Walla Walla.

Don Carlo Vineyard, using grapes grown in Milton-Freewater, produces chardonnay, merlot, and other varietals that showcase the cobblestone terroir the region is known for.

Share This: