Thursday, September 24, 2009

Watch Out, Willamette Valley

There's a new gal in town and she's a knockout. Sleek and ultracool, she's not only a dream but an eco-minded natural to boot. She oozes class with drop-dead looks that are built for punishment and pleasure. What's more, she's femmy without being girly and just butch enough to keep the guys at attention and poised for more. And, since this is a wine blog, did we mention she turns out phat food and knows her wine?

Her name is The Allison Inn & Spa and she's the Willamette Valley's first luxury resort. Built along the foothills of Newberg's Chehalem Mountains, the clean, green and lean Allison occupies 35 hillside acres surrounded by Yamhill County's bounty of vineyards, orchards and rich farmland.

We were lucky to catch The Allison's mid-September grand opening celebration, and what a party it was. Before we toured the 85-room resort, we sampled sips from Oregon winemakers in outdoor tents that featured local artists and winemakers. David Adelsheim, who had a hand in planting The Allison's on-premises vineyards, poured his excellent wines. We gave high fives to lesser-knowns such as Natalie's Estate Winery, which seeks to also master the un-Pinot, Syrah. Inside, it was a feast of artisan cheeses, charcuterie and more Oregon wines, including the highly decorated Domaine Serene.

Here's what you need to know: First of all, she's not a cheap date. Is she worth the splurge? Answer, yes, no hesitation. The grounds cover winding footpaths, remarkable vistas, stonewalled herb and vegetable gardens and an infinity-style indoor pool. The spacious deluxe rooms seduce you into serenity with gas fireplaces, beds comfy enough to loll around in all morning (at least) and special touches such as retractable shades for your bath and lighting to bring out your inner supermodel or stud-monkey.

Wander outside your room to visit the glorious spa with copper touches (we liked the ultracool copper-toned chain mesh curtain), stone fireplaces and mingle areas, a glass-enclosed spiral staircase, blond-highlighted wood flooring and more textures than you can touch or take in during a single visit.

Hungry? The Allison's Jory Restaurant, named in honor of Willamette Valley's fertile soils, dishes out seasonal produce from Oregon farms and gardens in a 6,000 square-foot setting with open kitchen and additional outdoor terrace dining. Wine and spirits feature the Pacific Northwest's microbrews and Oregon's outstanding wines with special touches such as "Women Winemakers We Love."

The Allison's 45-minute-drive from Portland and easy access to more than 200 Oregon wineries makes the resort ideally situated for wine travel and exploration. Its 12,000 square-foot meeting facilities can accommodate groups from ten to 400 lucky guests. Gotta golf? Pull out your irons to tackle the 18-hole Chehalem Glenn course. History your bag? Head to nearby McMinnville's Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum to visit the Spruce Goose and other heritage planes. Need cold, er, cool ocean breezes? Grab your fleece to take in the Oregon Coast, only 63 miles away. Our opinion: Stay put and enjoy the ride.

We see The Allison as Willamette Valley's transformational property, much as Auberge du Soleil ushered in a new era in Napa and California's wine tourism when the now-famed resort opened its doors in 1985, four years after its inaugural restaurant introduced visitors to wine country cuisine.

If Oregon Pinot Noir and luxury travel floats your boat, there's only one thing to do: Go. Now. For a homier Willamette Valley experience, we're still partial to the Carlton Inn. Either way, there's plenty of great wine to taste, soul-satisfying food to eat and plenty of peace to experience among nature's greatest gifts. She's a beauty.

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