A plan to put a 50-room resort in Oregon's Dundee Hills, next door to Domaine Drouhin, isn't the only wine-country hotel on the drawing boards. On my recent visit to Willamette Valley, I talked with another developer who has an even more ambitious plan. And it might, in the end, make more sense.
Austin Industries already has approval for its 85-room luxury inn and spa, and expects to have it open in 2009. It is within the city limits of Newberg, the first town you reach upon entering Willamette Valley from Portland. On the northern edge of town, it feels like it's in the country.
It's part of a large development called Springbrook that will include residences, retail stores and offices in a villagelike setting covering 400 acres. I walked over the wooded lot where Austin plans to put the hotel. The highest spot on the property, the lot lies across the road from a vineyard. Medici winery is less than a mile away, on the main road cutting across the base of the Chehalem Mountains, past dozens of other wineries.
It would be a convenient site for wine-oriented visitors to Willamette Valley, about 40 minutes from Portland and less than 15 minutes from many of the top wineries in the Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton and Dundee Hills appellations.
And it has the support of vintners. The other high-profile project, proposed by developer David Kahn, has engendered a rising tide of objections from the winegrowers. It got the county's approval earlier this year, but a final decision probably won't come until early next year. A large group of vintners, including most of the proposed resort's immediate neighbors, have announced appeals, as have other local opponents.
As I reported in June, the owners of Eyrie, Chehalem, Adelsheim, Ponzi, Sokol Blosser and Domaine Drouhin are among those who formed the Vintner's Coalition for Economic Progress. They're not against the idea of a nice, full-service hotel in their midst. They like wine tourism. They just don't like Kahn's location, which has Domaine Drouhin on one side and Domaine Serene on the other. They think it would make a great vineyard.
Kahn responds that the land has sat unused and unsold for years, functioning mainly as a gravel pit. The hilltop location has spectacular views of Dundee Hills' rolling vineyards. But Kahn's plan for a 50-room resort still has a lot of pieces to fall into place. He needs to find water, and get electricity, telephone service and sewer service (or some other means of waste disposal) to its remote location, which in the end might be a bigger challenge than getting the approvals.
The Newberg property, being within city limits, has all of that in place. It also has another advantage. It's in town, served by existing city streets. To get up to the Kahn site from Portland, you have to drive through Dundee, where, at rush hours, traffic grinds to a halt. Then you have to drive a couple of miles up a winding two-lane road. Residents and vintners worry about the traffic impact on that road. Actually, I think that's manageable. It wouldn't be hard to shuttle employees up from a parking lot on the highway, and the road is nicely paved and graded. But I don't want to drive through Dundee at 5 o'clock if I don't have to.
Of course, WIllamette Valley need not choose between these projects. Both could happen. Or neither. By the end of this decade, visitors to Willamette Valley might actually have two full-scale luxury hotels to choose from. Might. We shall see.
John Felty — Ashaway, RI — October 10, 2006 4:11pm ET
Charles J Stanton — Eugene, OR — October 12, 2006 12:00pm ET
Kristiene Kennedy — October 12, 2006 8:34pm ET
Apj Powers — Dallas, TX — October 19, 2006 3:10am ET
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