The town of Astoria, perched in the northwest corner of Oregon, has earned itself the nickname “Little San Francisco” for its Victorian hill homes. But Astoria is also home to a feature all its own. At the corner of Duane and 16th, Paul van der Veldt runs a one-man winery known for unique, all-natural dessert wines in unexpected flavors. Think Wild Evergreen Blackberry, Hawaiian Mango, and even wines made with whey, the cloudy byproduct of cheesemaking.
Now in his 90s, Van der Veldt has been opening the doors to Shallon Winery every afternoon, 365 days a year, for over 30 years. The former construction contractor named the business after Gaultheria shallon, a local berry commonly known as salal. He lives downstairs, coming up to greet guests, lead tours, pour samples, and occasionally offend visitors who “provoke a curmudgeonly philosophical response” from him. Most of the winemaking—about 400 gallons a year—takes place in one room, with a small laboratory on the side.
Shallon is no budget operation, but the consideration and ingredients that go into each product reflects the price. The wild black raspberry wine, for instance, relies on foraged wild berries (hand-picked by a friend of Van der Veldt’s) and runs $85 per half-bottle. The tasting room is a dreamy outpost, painted in soft pastels and overlooking the Columbia River. Murals on the wall pay homage Van der Veldt’s inspirations, including a childhood memory of an airship flying over Astoria in the 1930s.
Of his offerings, an orange whey wine made with six kinds of chocolate is among the most lauded. Fans drink it like a liqueur, use it to douse ice cream, cake, or fruit, or serve it akin to a sophisticated hot chocolate—served warm, topped with whipped cream. Another whey-based offering, a smooth, semi-dry cranberry wine called Cran du Lait, sells especially well around the holidays. The main attraction, however, is Van der Veldt himself.
He is a well-known character, and something of an area institution. Described as “charmingly cranky,” he doesn’t hesitate to question visitors on this and that as he escorts them through the winery. He also offers advice, including: “If you want to find the good places to eat, ask the local winemaker.” Should you visit, heed that advice.
Update as of July 2021: The winery is closed indefinitely.
Know Before You Go
Even though the winery is open every day, you'd be wise to call in advance to set up a tour. Tastings are complimentary, but be sure to bring cash for purchases.