Daily Destination: Willamette Valley wine country, Oregon

·Christy Karras

For the past few weeks, winemakers have been busy crushing grapes in Oregon’s famed Willamette Valley wine region south of Portland. The area’s volcanic soils, gently sloping hills and warm, dry summers are perfect for growing prized but persnickety Pinot noir grapes.

The region also has a reputation for environmental conservation that goes back decades. Many of the valley’s 250 wineries are experimenting with organic and pesticide-free wines, environmentally friendly growing practices and “green” buildings.

Take Sokol Blosser winery’s new destination tasting room in the Dundee Hills near the valley's north end. Launched July 1, the cedar structure that rises organically from the ruddy hillside has already been hailed as an architectural masterpiece. Bonus: Sokol Blosser is stretching hard toward sustainability with solar arrays, 50-percent-biodiesel farm equipment, a songbird-shelter program and America's first LEED-certified winery building: a wildflower-covered underground barrel cellar.

A few miles to the south, Willamette Valley Vineyards outside Salem has been recycling corks and bottles for years, and the winery gives its employees free biofuel for their vehicles.

Even before grapevines came along, this was agricultural country, and local farmers take as much pride in fruits and vegetables as the vineyards do in wine. They celebrate that heritage at this time of year with harvest festivals like the French Prairie Gardens Fall Festival, with a pumpkin patch, corn maze and even pig races.