Animal lovers, and fans of dogs in particular, can appreciate the serendipitous manner in which Black Walnut Inn came to exist. In early 2002, a family local to the area was out for an evening walk with their golden retriever. The dog in question, Bailey, caught the scent of an animal and darted off through the overgrown brush. His owners followed an adjacent deer trail in pursuit. The trail rambled through an old plum orchard, up to the top of a hillock overlooking the Willamette Valley. As they pushed through the briars at the top, they could hardly believe their eyes. Endless rolling hills, forested parcels, and verdant vineyards unfurled before them. They were immediately smitten.
That spectacular vista, and the serene beauty they felt perched upon that hill, spurred them to follow another path — the lifelong dream of owning a bed and breakfast. It was a family endeavor for Karen and Neil Utz, one that took shape with the help of their adult children and a tightly knit community of friends. The building you see today, a Tuscan-inspired villa with dramatic archways, balconies, and a central fountain, was built from the ground up on the very parcel to which Bailey had led them.
In 2003, as they were putting the finishing touches on the nine guest suites and adjacent common areas, work in the vineyard began. Local vineyard consultant Andy Humphreys, a bit of a legend in the valley, planted the surrounding property to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It was a prescient move, given the shift in temperatures in our valley over the past two decades. At 900 feet in elevation, the parcel benefits from the cool evenings and late afternoon winds that seem to have evaporated at lower levels. Long, slow ripening begets an intensity of flavors and finely tuned acidity on the palate. Elegant on all fronts, successive vintages indicate a vineyard of great future potential.
After more than a decade of welcoming guests to the property, in 2017 the Utz family handed the reins to a seventh-generation Oregonian family, Rick and Erika Miller. Local entrepreneurs with deep ties to the Willamette Valley, the Millers have turned their gaze toward promoting and preserving these beautiful hills. Serendipitously, that original plum orchard was most likely planted with trees from Rick's fourth-great grandfather, an orchardist and Oregon Trail pioneer who introduced the varietal to Oregon. After purchasing the Black Walnut estate and an adjacent property to the east, now our Fairview Vineyard, they dedicated substantial time and resources to elevating the property, its amenities, and the surrounding vineyards to next-level luxury.
As you relax on the terrace, glass of wine in hand, we hope you can imagine all that our proprietors envisioned for guests of the inn. Cheers to you for following the winding path to our happy place, the Black Walnut Inn.