After growing up on the East Coast, Emily Grosvenor, the voice behind the indie perfuming blog Pioneer Perfume, moved to the charming and ever-fragrant state of Oregon. Four years ago, she and her husband settled in McMinnville, a town with rolling topography and a humble population of just over 30,000, which is also the capital of Oregon’s wine country within the Willamette Valley.
A self-confessed “super-sniffer” and professional magazine writer for Sunset, The Atlantic and Salon, Emily loves McMinnville’s balance of charming, small-town community and urban amenities, which boasts everything from gourmet chocolatiers, to wineries, to an aviation museum and plenty of tourist attractions and restaurants that are a feast for the eyes, ears and stomach. Today, she’s joining us to share all of her most coveted places in her tiny town. –Sabrina
Photography by Charles A. Hillestad
If you’re from out-of-state, your introduction to Oregon pinot noir might be in the form of R. Stuart & Co. Winery’s Big Fire pinot noir. Visit the charming R. Stuart & Co. Wine Bar on 3rd Street for a lesson in terroir, and try its other standout wines, including the stunning Autograph. R. Stuart. It’s also a winery that hosts amazing food events, so be sure to check their event schedule.
Thistle, a tiny farm-to-table restaurant with big clout, lures diners from as far away as Texas for its innovative take on early 20th-century cookery. The chefs source all of their ingredients from within 35 miles and list a new menu every night on the restaurant’s chalkboard.
With a menu offering modern, gentle but miraculous tweaks on traditional French cuisine, and a hostess and owner who used to run New York’s Tavern on the Green, Bistro Maison might have the most gracious hospitality you’ll receive in wine country. Sip, enjoy, and crack some hazelnuts at the end of your meal.
For years, Nick’s Italian Café was the only place to grab a bite between Portland and the Oregon Coast. Now, it’s a James Beard Award winner. Eric Ferguson and Carmen Peirano (Nick’s daughter) are the second generation to run Nick’s, and they have enlivened its menu with seasonal, wood-fired pizza, a hopping back-room bar, and delicate old-world Italian cuisine. No time for a sit-down meal? Stop for munchies at their next-door deli, Peirano & Daughters.
You might think that a town of 33,000 people isn’t the best place to pick up some authentic Thai food, but you’d be wrong. Thai Country Restaurant puts most big-city Thai to shame.
The Bitter Monk, a new craft beer and tap room, resides at the corner where McMinnville’s Thursday afternoon summer farmers’ market gets going. Grab one of their 16 domestic and imported brews on tap and catch a seat outside to watch the action.
Get your Stumptown coffee fix at Community Plate, a breakfast and lunch spot which is a favorite of the locals. Don’t be surprised if a farmer comes in with milk from his own cow for the barista to draw up his morning latte.
La Rambla brings a taste of Spain to Oregon with inventive tapas made from local ingredients and fun cocktails. If you have time, wait the 45 minutes and get the paella.
The unassuming decor of Pura Vida Cocina belies the genius truth: Fresh ingredients in Latin-American fusion. Think fried avocado, sauteed plantains, pork belly tacos and your newest obsession.
Rag & Bone/Mid Mod is a tiny vintage store that specializes in all American-made vintage such as old Pendleton sweaters, mid-century modern furniture, 1950s house dresses and wool jackets. Go to try on a floor-length corduroy jacket, but don’t be surprised if you come home with a vintage Boy Scout uniform instead.
Third Street Books has an excellent cookbook and DIY section, as well as a very good YA shelf and kids’ area. It has the best selection of handmade and letterpress cards in town and often has cards from the local letterpress studio, Type A Press, in stock.
Boersma’s is a must for all crafters and people who like eye candy. It stocks the latest fabrics, holds classes, and displays a seasonal array of stunning quilts, both modern and traditional.
Take some pinot-filled truffles home from Honest Chocolates, which stocks a variety of chocolates created specifically for pairing with wine.
La Bella Casa is a great stop if you crave local artisan products like handmade children’s clothing, wheel-thrown pottery, jewelry, floral arrangements and unique women’s clothing. Through the back and to the right you’ll find Cupcake Couture, which stocks trendy clothes in bright colors.
Come in May to experience something truly out-of-this-world – the McMinnville UFO Festival, hosted by the Hotel Oregon. The hotel is a McMenamin property – it has been lovingly restored and artfully adorned by regional hospitality mavens the McMenamin brothers, who know how to bring out the best historic features of old buildings. Head to the rooftop lounge for a view of the city’s historic 3rd Street and a glimpse of the Coastal Range to the West.
To experience the downtown in all its glory, head to Third Street Flats, which rents apartments right on 3rd Street: Independent living in stylish accommodations.
Lots of small towns have a main drag, but McMinnville’s Historic 3rd Street wins awards. As many as 25 restaurants, 12 wineries, tree-lined streets and cute boutiques galore make it the best possible strolling haven in autumn.
Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum has a striking array of aircraft, including the enormous Spruce Goose, a wooden airplane prototype produced by Howard Hughes’ aircraft company. Along with the space museum next door, it’s the kind of celebration of American innovation in engineering and flight that might actually make you shed a few.
While not an official place, the so-called Pinot Quarter, or the area between Alpine Street and 5th Street, is a neighborhood where all good things go to ferment. You’ll find The Grain Station Brew Works, Oregon’s first community-supported brewery, which holds court in a renovated barn. If beer’s not your thing – and how can it not be so close to Beervana? – head next door for a pour-over at Flag & Wire Coffee, which will ruin you for all other lattes, forever. Try some small-batch pinot at Dominio IV Wines, partake of Italian-style reds at nearby Remy Wines, or go to the source of the pinot revolution at The Eyrie Vineyards, whose founder, David Lett, planted the first pinot noir grapes in Oregon.