Winter in the Willamette Valley Wine Country
I don’t remember the last time I saw the sun.
Surely it peeked through the slate grey Oregon sky at some point in the past four weeks, but honestly, it couldn’t have been for an hour or two.
Before we moved to the Willamette Valley, we were warned of the winters. We were warned particularly good and hard by our friends who lived here and understood we were coming from Napa Valley where it rains and is grey in the winter but not for too long at a time and not with the persistence you get up North.
“You need to be prepared for the winters. You won’t recognize it and it can play a number on you.”
“Like everyone else you’ll want to take a week or so around January or February and find a beach.”
“I highly recommend an LTB (Light Therapy Box) and get a good one. It changed my life after going through a couple winters without it.”
Our friend was recommending a SAD lamp. SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder, which basically means the ongoing lack of sunshine can make one ongoingly depressed, irritable, mean, ornry and, well, sad.
We haven’t picked one up yet.
Kathy grew up in Texas with its abundance of winter sunshine. I’m from Northern California, which, while not Texas, had winter weather patterns that allowed me to keep my golf clubs at the ready all winter so long as I didn’t mind teeing off in 45-degree weather in the morning (I didn’t). My last round was late November when my son, Henry, who likes to drive the cart while sitting on my lap and whack the ball, was bundled up and complaining of the cold by the 3rd hole.
Of course, it is the winter weather here in Oregon that explains the prices of homes in Northern California—which was one of the reasons we moved to the Willamette Valley. You can still buy a 3,000 square foot home on nearly a quarter acre in a very nice section of the town for $500K. Currently, you can get a 2 bedroom, 2 bath, 1,200-foot condo in Napa for $500K. However, it does come with sunshine.
I don’t want to give the impression of buyers remorse or even that I’m complaining. Moving the family here was one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made as an adult and I’d do it again just as quickly as I’ve recommended the move to others…numerous times since our move in early 2019 as a matter of fact.
But it’s true that when you move from a place like Sunny California, after living there for so many years, to the grey Willamette Valley there is an awe that sets in when you start to consider the monumental effect that a charge of climate can have on the mind and soul. At first, the change is all fun and games for its starkness. It’s like turning the corner in a funhouse: Ah…well, that’s different. Surprise!”
What creeps up on you after you settle into the constant grey, cold wind, and neverending dampness that is a Willamette Valley winter is the regular knowledge, and the comfort that comes with it, that in not too long a time it will all end. The winter will.
This very particular kind of realization never crept up on me in Napa because when there were grey skies in the winter it all ended real quick. There was no time to settle in and turn your attention to hope.
This time of year I take regular but unwarranted walks around my soggy backyard. I look at patches of bare ground knowing beneath are a hibernating collection of bulbs or corms that will return. I think about the lushness to come when I look at the cut-back banana trees and gunnera, both of which will grow so high by July that their tops are well beyond my reach. I find the golf balls that were chipped with too much gusto into what was in August a bit of a jungle and will be again. This will all end I tell myself as I take my regular strolls.
Truth be told, I’ve come to appreciate the chilly wind and hard drizzle of a normal Willamette Valley winter evening. As I write I’m sitting outside, under a large umbrella in 48-degree weather listening to the tapping of rain on the cover above me. enjoying a drink and a cigar. The giant conifers beyond my fence line are noisy with the wind at their tips. Still, being truthful I admit it’s an appreciation that is acquired, not natural…at least not for a Northern California boy.
I wouldn’t want to give anyone the impression that winters in Willamette Valley are harsh and taxing in the way that those loopy Minnesotans, Mainers, or Bostonians experience winter. Despite a little snow and colder temperatures that we usually get here once or twice a season, it’s not a grudge match for survival with the elements. It’s just grey and damp….most of the time from November to mid to late March.
I’m told by my trusty weather app that at some point over the weekend the sun will make an appearance. But for the next 12 days after, rain is considered probable at a rate of 20% to 40% each day. The foretold appearance of sunshine this weekend, if it really does come, is just a tease; a flex by the elemental gods to demonstrate they are not one-trick ponies.
So, my advice to those who are considering a similar move from a sunnier clime to the Willamette Valley is don’t let ongoing blankets of grey deter you or scare you off. Rather, make the move knowing that while neither Maine nor Arizona, the Willamette Valley remains a remarkable location of still-affordable beauty where grapes and wine are plentiful, the ocean nearby, the skiing an hour away, the forests still dense, the culture vibrant, and the winter is well, moist and damp with a small chance of sun.