You’ll have to forgive residents of Washington County if they can’t help but smile when they hear about the farm-to-table craze in the rest of the country. In this sliver of the Willamette Valley, just 20 minutes west of downtown Portland, farm-to-table isn’t a trend, it’s a way of life — and has been for years.
The most bustling example is undoubtedly the Beaverton Farmers Market. What began as a social gathering of 12 stalls in 1988 has blossomed to 180 vendors, making it the largest market of its kind in the state. Saturdays take on a festival vibe, with as many as 22,000 people strolling the stands for a remarkable variety of produce, take in the live music and fill up on steaming tamales, seasonal crêpes and breakfast sandwiches.
To get even closer to the source, head 10 miles southwest to Smith Berry Barn. Behind a storybook-like big red barn, the family-run U-pick farm grows 10 types of berries (the pineapple-sweet golden raspberries alone are worth a trip) and some 20 varieties of apples. Round out your harvest inside at the Garden Market and Gourmet Gift Shop, where you can sip coffee — or better yet, a milkshake — while browsing for produce, local raw honey and herb starts.
Washington County wineries offer their own twist on farm-to-table — call it farm-to-bottle. Start your sipping at Ardiri Winery & Vineyards, which farms a petite 15-acre vineyard in the Burgundian style, with vines packed tightly together. The close quarters result in grapes and wines that are bursting with flavor. (Ardiri also has vineyards in Napa Valley, so you’ll get the added bonus of doing side-by-side comparisons of Pinot noirs from Oregon and from our neighbor to the south.) An afternoon tasting here can easily stretch to the early evening, thanks to what’s arguably the valley’s best patio: Cushy chairs surround a custom-built fire pit, with the forested Chehalem foothills as a photo-shoot-worthy backdrop.
The owners at Oak Knoll Winery, about four miles to the east, source grapes from all over the state. Casting such a wide net results in a dizzying variety of wines to sample, from a 2009 Pinot Gris, touted among Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Best Buys of 2012, to Frambrosia, a dessert wine made with a full pound of Oregon-grown raspberries per bottle.
Set high in the hills above Beaverton, Cooper Mountain Vineyards naturally stands out. Cooper Mountain holds the distinction of being the first biodynamic winery in the Northwest, using organic, sustainable methods to produce wine. A trip to the tasting room is a crash course in wine-speak, as pourers detail not just the flavor notes of the vino but also the soil’s terroir. Also up for discussion: leaving with a bottle of the citrusy Old Vines Pinot gris or the red-fruit spice of the Life Pinot noir. (Answer: Buy both.)
Pairing the valley’s great wine with equally tasty produce is a specialty for Decarli Restaurant, in downtown Beaverton. The seasonally inspired menu reads like a glossary of Northwest bounty: all varieties of salmon, berry everything in the summer, foraged chanterelle mushrooms in the fall. As you sip your libation of choice and savor a Fanny Bay oyster with Prosecco mignonette, you’ll have no doubts about the lasting appeal of farm-to-table.