From Napa Valley to Willamette Valley — An Update and Assessment

It’s been seven months since Kathy, Henry and I carried ourselves out of Napa and up to The-Great-State-of-Oregon (I’m told that’s the correct pronunciation). I am still regularly questioned in emails and otherwise as to how we like it up here and how it’s going. Here’s my impression.

The Wine Industry
There’s very serious winemaking going on in these parts and there have been for some time. One interesting thing is that despite the centrality of Oregon winemaking being here in the Willamette Valley, it pales in intensity to what goes on in Napa. This is more a commentary on my former home. I used to tell people that “Napa is a company town”. It’s not. Napa is a conglomerate town

Still, I get the distinct impression that there are growing pains here in Oregon due largely to the relatively recent spotlight that has been shown on the state’s wines and due to the highly successful efforts of the industry here. The recent political fight over AVAs, label integrity, etc is the best example of this. Additionally, there is North/South divide that is in evidence among the winegrowers, but I don’t think it’s anything that is going to hamper growth in any substantial way. These folks up here are pretty deep thinkers and they are radically cooperative.

The wines are really remarkable. Having easy access to so many of them is a boon for me. Yes, it’s all about Pinot, but that’s fine with me. They are among the finest Pinots in the world and you can understand perfectly why the French and the Californians pick up and decide to come up here to set down Pinot roots.

The Culture
There is a rural, middle-class cosmopolitan quality to the Willamette Vallely and particularly with regard to my new hometown, Salem. Salem is a government town. MIddle-class government salaries bear middle-class concerns and middle-class living. It means more fast food and diners, fewer gourmet food options, and slightly more pedestrian choices than I was used to living in the North Bay all my life. But boy are people nice. There are no airs put on here. There are lots of boots, lots of appreciation for the vistas and tree-covered trails, and a distinct joy about being able to live in the right place on the globe. Sports-wise, this is a College Ball state, not a professional state. Yet, when the Trailblazers got the playoffs, there was absolutely join in Mudville, but it was a poor substitute for the passion that is dedicated to the Ducks and the Beavers.

The Weather
I only have seen half a winter so far. This makes it difficult to speak to what so many warned me about. Upon arriving we immediately have four days of pretty good snow here on the valley floor. This no one warned about since it’s pretty unusual apparently. However, the summer here in the Willamette Valley is better than anything I remember of my 55 years in the North Bay. It’s warm but temperate with an occasional sprinkle. In the summer I can easily golf until 9pm. The next six months will reveal my stamina.

The Golf
Not bad. The Salem Golf Club is roughly 100 years old and truly a stunning loop. I’m learning the value of hitting the ball straighter, rather than longer. Creekside is a more modern course and enjoyable. There are a few other courses within the Willamette Valley that are very nice also. A golfer can be her and be satisfied.

The Welcome
It takes some time to make more than acquaintances here, but like anywhere it takes an effort. Having Henry in school helps. However, there has not been a single instance of anyone suggesting that my origins in California are a bad thing. Nor have I been encouraged to discourage other potential transplants. The fact is that the welcome has been lovely.

The Home
I adore it. I think I live today in the town’s nicest development. My own home’s back yard is a real retreat, green, fertile, fun and calming. It’s a home that is wonderful for entertaining and a perfect place to raise our boy. In our neighborhood on Independence Day, there was a Kids Parade. Probably 60-70 kids dressed up themselves and their bikes in patriotic garb and set out on a parade—two loops around the Independence/Webster/Cambridge Streets circle. Fire engines and a number of fancy cars led and followed.

What We Like
The Price of Housing
Proximity to Portland (Awesome City)
Willamette Valley’s Beauty
The Wine and Wine People
Henry’s School
Our New Home and Neighborhood
Salem Golf Club
April Through September

What We Miss
The food. Those of you who still live in Napa and Sonoma are blessed to live in what is probably among the top food regions in the world. I readily admit I took it for granted. McMinnville, Newberg, Dayton, and Dundee have some lovely restaurants. But here in Salem, I’ve found two restaurants that really make the grade and where I look forward to eating. Additionally, in Salem, it is difficult to find a really good cheese selection and I still wake up in the middle of the night smiling for having dreamt about The Fatted Calf. I’m told the food scene is getting better here in Salem. I hope so.

We also miss the industry opportunities. So many gatherings, both serious and casual, among industry folk are available in Napa and Sonoma. Fewer here.

And we miss those of you we left back in Napa and Sonoma.

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3 Responses

  1. Rob McMillan - September 11, 2019

    Tom – I can testify to the voracity of your comments. Oregon people, wine – just the place is wonderful. The part where I’ll differ is the food. Salem I’m certain is lacking versus Napa, but Portland is my favorite food town in wine country. Eclectic, avant-garde and a comparative bargain.

    And if comparing Napa, we also have to consider service. As you know, it’s become so difficult to find staff in Napa, many established Napa restaurants have closed in the past 18 months. Hard to have a food culture without servers and open restaurants.

  2. Tom - September 11, 2019


    Thanks for chiming in. As for Portland…YES!!! However, I don’t get up there enough. Although, I did find a great Jewish Deli there and I recently had one of the best Manhattans I’ve ever put in my mouth at the Heathman Hotel in Portland. I’ll buy you one if we ever meet in Portland.

  3. Tony Correia - September 12, 2019

    Tom and Rob, I heartily concur with your views. Willamette Valley is one of the best wine regions in the country, and Portland remains one of our most favorite food cities. with the added bonus of one of the best bookstores in the world.
    But will be eager to hear Tom’s thoughts on the winter…..

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