Wine connoisseurs know it as “Pinot Paradise” or the “Capital of Wine Country” in the Willamette Valley. Others know it simply as the quaint, historic town of Carlton. The little town that has reinvented itself with losing its Normal Rockwell-like charm.
Located 45 minutes southwest of Portland and 15 miles north of McMinnville In Yamhill County, the town of Carlton is tucked into the rolling agricultural landscape.
Ginny Rake holds down the fort at the Carlton Coffee Company on Main Street. She spent her childhood years right here. Back then, Carlton was a rough and tumble logging town. But like most Pacific Northwest timber towns, that economic base faded away.
Winemaker Ken Wright had his eye on Carlton long before bringing his winery here in 1994. He liked what he calls the town’s “good bones.”
Wright bought the dilapidated old Carlton train depot and turned into the town’s first wine tasting room.
As the town transitioned from timber to tannins, Wright started a movement in Carlton to maintain the character of the old buildings in the downtown core as new businesses arose. It is that charm that defines the tidy, three-block Main Street. This could be called the Carlton Hospitality district.
Since Wright set up shop in 1994, dozens of wineries have popped up in and around Carlton. That’s a lot of tasting rooms in a town of 2,000.
The truth is you cannot rush through Carlton. Highway 47 is Main Street and you simply have to apply the brakes as you enter town. So the traffic and the pace of life slows down, which makes it that much easier to check out the various tasting rooms and restaurants.
Not into wine? You may still enjoy a leisurely weekend in Carlton. It still has the feel of a quiet, rural agricultural community, which it still is. Longtime family farms still operate in the rolling landscape, with dozens of wineries as their new neighbors.