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Heart of the Valley
Beth Weitzman | Photo: Andrea Johnson Photography | July 31, 2014
With luxury leanings and a passion for the land, The Allison Inn & Spa honors a rich family heritage—and roots that run deep in Oregon’s coveted wine country.
Having vision is a very powerful thing—especially when possessed by a driving force like the late Joan Austin. Having passed away last year at age 81, her legacy lives on through the eco-luxe The Allison Inn & Spa.
Oregon as a travel destination has long been on my radar. I recall The Allison’s 2009 opening, as well as its status at the time as the state’s sole luxury offering, which further piqued my interest. Its location in Willamette Valley, in the heart of the Oregon wine country, was also an alluring prospect. The area is a haven for oenophiles, naturally, popular for its pinot noir, pinot gris and chardonnay. (Think Napa, 25 years ago.)
It’s hard to say if the story behind the inn, or the inn itself, is more incredible. In 1969, Ken and Joan Austin started their family business in Newberg, Ore., a small town known for fruits and farming, and soon found themselves assisting local growers in caring for their farms—and fielding requests to purchase the operations, many of which they did. Only decades later, when Ken was in a rehabilitation center with no stay-over accommodations for patients’ families, did the idea for The Allison come to Joan.
But what started out as a mere inkling (to build a small hotel) grew into a passion project that would essentially save the area from the effects of the economic downturn. Construction of the inn introduced jobs and opportunities to both the local community and the state of Oregon during a time when most of the nation was experiencing financial woes. And because the sustainability-minded property was built within the urban limits of the town of Newberg, and its development did not encroach upon the environmentally sensitive agricultural lands of Willamette Valley, the community eagerly received the undertaking.
Working with architects from Seattle and local contractors and craftsmen, along with utilizing community resources, were all focal points for the Austin family, as was the ongoing commitment to environmental responsibility. To wit: The Allison was awarded LEED Gold certification, one of only a handful of hotel properties in the world committed to achieving green status with regard to building practices and sustainable ongoing operations. Its notable green features include solar hot water, photovoltaic cells (generating 7 percent of the resort’s electricity) and no plastic bottles on the property.
One could, of course, prattle on about these attributes and many other extraordinary tales. The inn is, after all, the culmination of a dream imagined by a beloved wife, mother and philanthropist whose memory is cherished daily by both her family and the community she touched. Today, the family, while very much involved as the property’s sole owner, relies on an esteemed dream team of talent—among them Managing Director Pierre Zreik, restaurant manager and sommelier Ken Bolick, Executive Chef Sunny Jin and spa director Tara Calton—to handle day-to-day operations. “The family is always willing to go above and beyond to maintain the high standards at the property,” Zreik relays. “From the beginning, the family spared no expense when it came to the inn, and that remains true to this day.” It’s something not often heard in an age when cutting costs is all too frequent. “Our No. 1 priority is to ensure our guests have the very best experience possible, whether they are checking in for a week, weekend or a dinner reservation,” adds Zreik.
In addition to the Austin family’s influence is nature’s—a sway that shows itself in The Allison’s modern yet lodge-like design, an amalgam of polished wood, floor-to-ceiling glass complemented by steel and stone, with decor in ochre, pumpkin, eggplant and leaf-green hues incorporating the Willamette Valley’s color palette. Just off the lobby, a grand, glass-enclosed circular staircase connects the guest wing’s four levels; adjacent to this is the Living Room gathering spot, with stone fireplace and outdoor terrace with fire pit (it’s here that local vintners interact with guests during weekly wine tastings). Curated by the Austins’ daughter, local artist and gallery owner Loni Parrish, the inn’s private art collection includes six commissioned works and a total of more than 500 original pieces from 100 Oregonian artists. These are peppered throughout the property, including its guest rooms and exterior grounds amid 35 hillside acres. Also found in each guest room is The Art of the Allison Collection, a 107-page tome showcasing both artists and artwork, while also providing an informative tour.
But that’s just one amenity of guest accommodations, which include 77 deluxe guest rooms (starting at 490 square feet) and eight suites (starting at 650 square feet), including a 1,575-square-foot, two-bedroom Grand Penthouse Suite. All options feature a private terrace or balcony, custom-crafted closets, cabinets and furnishings. Fully upholstered window seats fronting gas fireplaces are ideal spots for cozying up, while luxurious baths beckon with soaking tubs and customized sliding panels filtering in hillside or vineyard views, plus built-in satellite televisions. All these features are in addition to state-of-the-art technology—automated window shades, climate controls and Bose sound systems. There’s also custom Oregon walnut tables upon which to perch a laptop, along with wet bars with filtered water, small refrigerators and complimentary accoutrements like a welcome snack basket and Wi-Fi (available everywhere on property).
As awe-inspiring as all this is, The Allison Spa is also a standout. Spanning nearly 15,000 square feet and boasting 12 treatment rooms, the serene environment also includes a private suite for small gatherings, a mani/pedi area, a hair salon, plush relaxation rooms, two saunas and steam rooms, a whirlpool and an indoor “vanishing-edge” swimming pool with folding floor-to-ceiling glass doors that open to the sun terrace and gardens. And just as the rest of the inn integrates nature, so does the spa, through treatments and design, adding to the marvel of immediately sensed serenity.
Complementing the spa menu’s seemingly endless array of therapies for both face and body, light fare from on-site eatery JORY is available to order, as is wine and Champagne. These indulgences join spa signatures like Pinotherapy and the ultrarelaxing Grape Seed Cure—90 minutes of pure Zen, including a decadent scrub comprised of crushed grape seed, harvested from the inn’s own vineyard, with organic honey and a wine wrap to help purify and exfoliate the skin. While wrapped, the scalp receives a rubdown, followed by a hydrating shea butter body massage. Providing therapy of its own is the well-curated spa boutique, featuring local and national brands in luxe leisurewear, artisan jewelry, candles, beauty products and a bevy of wine accessories. Indoor and outdoor fitness options also abound. Breathe in fresh air while enjoying the walking path, or go hard-core in the state-of-the-art fitness center with a Technogym TM Kinesis Omega system. And taking your oms in the garden is possible with complimentary seasonal Sunday morning yoga.
The inn’s wow-appeal culminates at the aforementioned JORY, its signature 100-seat resto helmed by award-winning Jin. Having honed his culinary prowess at Portland’s Western Culinary Institute, Jin went on to work at Napa Valley’s famed French Laundry for three years under renowned chefs Thomas Keller and Corey Lee. From there he moved into a position at the top-rated restaurant in the Southern Hemisphere, Tetsuya’s, in Sydney, Australia, where he worked alongside chef-owner Tetsuya Wakuda and took culinary journeys throughout Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Thailand to learn firsthand about the diverse cuisines of these countries. Yearning to return to the calmer Portland area to raise a family, Jin clinched the role of The Allison’s executive chef a little more than four years ago—and, he says, couldn’t be happier.
While Jin’s menu showcases Oregon’s agricultural bounty from a bevy of local purveyors, one of his first matters of business was to cultivate his own chef’s garden and greenhouse. Also at his disposal is the day’s fresh, locally fished catch, which might include various types of salmon, sole, sea bass, trout, halibut, Dungeness crabs and sturgeon (harvested for its roe, which is made into caviar).
With a garden-to-table philosophy, Jin’s Oregon Wine Country Cuisine locavore menu impresses even the most discerning palates. Far too often breakfast menus at hotels fall flat; here, it’s the opposite. Not only is the selection varied, but also wonderfully prepared and presented. Pastrami hash prepared with house-cured Painted Hills beef pastrami, crispy Yukon potatoes, sweet peppers, onions and two local farm eggs prepared to one’s liking is a standout, as is the Dungeness crab Benedict with perfectly poached local farm eggs on griddled crabcakes, whole grain mustard hollandaise, house potatoes and petite salad (simply decadent). Equally satiating is the lunch menu, with a locally caught grilled wild salmon salad featuring butter lettuce, heirloom beets, spring radish and guanciale topped with dill-buttermilk dressing; Pacific paella with rock shrimp, Manila clams, halibut, Penn Cove mussels, Valencia rice, saffron, chorizo and piquillo peppers; plus sandwiches such as the much-raved-about wood-grilled pinot burger with Rogue Creamery blue cheese, charred onions, house-smoked bacon and aioli with hand-cut fries.
Dinner, meanwhile, is nothing less than a culinary spectacle, especially if opting for the tasting menu (everything is perfectly prepared and never overdone with sauces and salt). For starters, while both the Pacific oyster tasting and selection of house-cured charcuterie are ideal, the midcourse option—either the rabbit involtini with wood sorrel risotto, pickled ramps, morels, chicory salad and rabbit demi-glace; or the pinot-braised pork cheek with polenta, arugula, Oregon strawberries, chevre and 20-year balsamic—is simply to die for. For the final entree course, all possibilities are spectacular and feature a variety of local seafood such as halibut and salmon as well as meats like pork loin, lamb and Waygu strip loin, all perfectly dressed and accompanied. With each course, do consult Bolick for a recommended wine pairing. Not only is he extremely knowledgeable about local vintages, including The Allison’s signature wines, Austin Knoll Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, cultivated on-property, but all of the worldly wines gracing his extensive menu of 800 labels, plus 40 wines by the glass.
The dessert menu produces an unimaginably sweet finish (several, actually). From the fromage blanc cheesecake to the warm dark chocolate pinot cake, also paired perfectly with wine, expect fine-dining du jour at JORY. From $350-$1,200 based on single/double occupancy, with complimentary valet and overnight parking; The Allison is dog-friendly, $50 per dog/per stay (terrace rooms only).
SEE, SIP AND SAVOR
Named after ancient Lake Allison, which once covered the entire Willamette Valley, this agriculturally rich part of Oregon—best known for its acclaimed pinot noir but picking up popularity for its pinot gris, chardonnay and pinot noir rosé—boasts topography akin to Burgundy, France, hence the region’s excellent specialty varietals. Offering plenty of tantalizing preoccupations for the palate, The Allison is near more than 200 wineries—approximately 100 with intimate tasting rooms, where meeting bona fide vintners is common. Maintaining a strong relationship with the local wine industry, The Allison’s in-tune staff can arrange personal tastings at wineries (even at some without an official tasting room) and one-on-one experiences with vintners for a bespoke wine exploration based on personal preference. Come along as we set out on a journey of our own, just in time for harvest, which begins in late September…
Taste prime wines in the breathtaking Eola Hills of the Willamette Valley at Bethel Heights Vineyard. Established in 1977, Bethel Heights is a Valley pioneer. A visit here will likely produce an encounter with co-founder Pat Dudley, the vineyard’s president and marketing director, while sipping on one of the winery’s acclaimed pinot noirs and taking in the scenery. Open Tue.-Sun., 11am-5pm, tastings $10, 6060 Bethel Heights Road NW, Salem, 503.581.2262
To taste Willamette Valley’s first pinot noir—and America’s first pinot gris—along with an array of other wines at Yamhill County’s The Eyrie Vineyards is to sip a bit of vintage history. Tastings avail an assortment of naturally crafted wines so that samplers experience the purest flavor of the grape. Look for winemaker and vineyard manager Jason Lett, who is often on hand to greet and share his family’s winemaking story with guests. Open daily, noon-5pm, tastings from $10, 935 NE 10th Ave., McMinnville, 503.472.6315
The new, luxuriously modern tasting room at Ponzi Vineyards (founded in 1970) is a sight to see. Sip a variety of wines, from pinot noirs to chardonnays, fireside, in full thrall of the view. There’s bocce ball too. And don’t be surprised to see vintner Luisa Ponzi and president and director of sales and marketing Maria Ponzi—but do say hello. Open daily, 11am-5:30pm, tastings from $15, 19500 SW Mountain Home Road, Sherwood, 503.628.1227
Enjoy modern surrounds, the velvety smoothness of pinot noir and the oakiness of chardonnay at winemaking duo Bill Sweat and Donna Morris’ Winderlea Vineyard and Winery. Take the short 1-mile stroll through Oregon wine country to Crabtree Park—where wine tasters prefer to picnic—and make a day of it. Open daily, 11am-4pm, tastings $20, 8905 NE Worden Hill Road, Dundee, 503.554.5900
Savor wine crafted from some of the world’s best pinot noir and chardonnay grapes on the tasting-room terrace of Domaine Drouhin. Véronique Drouhin-Boss’ expert winemaking abilities paired with brother Philippe’s vine-savvy shines through this winetasting experience. Open daily, 11am-4pm, tastings $10, 6750 NE Breyman Orchards Road, Dayton, 503.864.2700
Break from imbibing delectable blends and gazing at stunning wine-country landscapes to visit Art Elements Gallery. Owned by The Allison’s own Loni Parrish, the gallery features a diverse collection of artwork from Oregon artists, from paintings to ceramics to jewelry. Open Tue.-Sat., 10am-5pm, 604 E. First St., Newberg, 503.487.6141
Red Hills Market is a midday must. The quaint eatery—equal parts market and resto—takes farm-to-table seriously, serving up faves like the superfresh market salad with roasted hazelnuts and chevre ($7); cured meat and cheese plate ($12); wood-fired pizza with chorizo, blue cheese and arugula ($13); and perfectly crafted sandwiches on fresh bread, such as wood-fired roasted Hill Farms smoked ham with spiced honey butter and Gruyere cheese ($8.50). There’s also an array of sinfully delicious desserts on offer. Open daily, 7am-8pm, 155 SW Seventh St., Dundee, 971.832.8414
In addition to fine wines and amazing seafood, the area is also known for truffle hunting! And where better to experience it than at the annual Oregon Truffle Festival? Because fest aficionados can’t get enough, the 2015 event will span two weekends, in two different cities—Jan. 15-18 in Portland and Jan. 23-25 in Eugene, respectively—and roll out a plethora of events, including tastings, lectures and luncheons, all in celebration of decadent Oregon truffles. Ticket prices not yet determined, locations vary, 503.296.5929