In the Northwest of the United States, Oregon has emerged as an up-and-coming wine region, offering a diverse and distinctive range of wines. In this blog post, we will explore its history, understand the unique terroir, and explore the delightful varietals that make this state a true gem for wine enthusiasts.
Discovering Oregon’s Wine Regions
Oregon’s wine regions are spread across the state, each contributing to its viticultural scene. There are 5 major sub-regions that add their uniqueness to the mix.
Willamette Valley – Known for its Pinot Noir, it is the heart of Oregon’s wine country.
Walla Walla Valley – Located in northeast Oregon, the warm growing season and complex soils often result in layered and full-bodied wines.
Umpqua Valley – Known as the “hundred valleys of the Umpqua” enjoys a warmer climate, favouring varieties like Tempranillo, Syrah, and Merlot to thrive here.
Columbia Gorge – With the extreme variance of climate, the wines from this region tend to have racy acidity, bolder structure and riper fruit notes.
Image credit to vineyards.com
A Sip Through History
The roots of Oregon’s winemaking journey trace back to the 19th century. In 1852, Swiss immigrant Peter Britt planted the seeds of Oregon’s winemaking legacy with Valley View, the Northwest’s inaugural winery in Jacksonville. Fast forward to 1961, and the modern era begins as Richard Sommer plants a diverse array of grape varieties at HillCrest Vineyard, initiating a renaissance in Oregon’s winemaking. David Lett’s pioneering spirit in the 1960s founded The Eyrie Vineyards with the first Pinot Noir plantings in the Willamette Valley, marks a pivotal moment.
The establishment of the Willamette Valley AVA in 1983 further solidified Oregon’s place on the world wine map. Today, the state boasts 995 wineries and 1,370 vineyards across 40,000 acres, with Mount Pisgah in Polk County becoming the 23rd and the newest AVA in 2022.
Unveiling Oregon’s Terroir
Oregon’s wineries are mostly located in the Willamette Valley, where the cool and cloudy conditions help in producing delicate wines. If you move north towards coastal vineyards, the effect of the ocean becomes more prominent, leading to cooler vineyards and more nuanced wines. The autumn rains are a challenge since this is the critical period for grape ripening. Warmer summers are becoming more common, leading to the risk of heat stress and drought.
Despite the variation in vintages, Oregon’s winemakers are dedicated to sustainability. Compared to regions of similar size, Oregon has a higher percentage of organic and biodynamic viticulture. The revered Jory soil, characterised by silty clay loam and rich organic matter, is partially making the terroir of Oregon distinct!
A Symphony of Varietals
With over 100 grape varieties, the experimentation is endless. Pinot Noir takes centre stage as the flagship variety, followed by Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling. The winemakers’ willingness to explore and innovate is what makes Oregon’s wine scene so dynamic.
If you are new to Oregon’s Pinot Noir,
Try Big Table Farm House Oregon Pinot Noir ,this is a great introduction to their overall style. Soft texture with fine-grained tannins, it is pleasingly balanced, spicy and fruit-forward.
To experience the Oregon Pinot Noir pioneer,
Try The Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Noir 2018, surely one to try for Pinot Noir lovers. This wine is truly exceptional, it showcases the delicate yet intense flavours that Oregon Pinot Noir is known for.
The Essence of Oregon Wine Style
Despite its modest size, Oregon’s wine industry only produces 1% of the country’s wine production volume. Yet, it creates a lot of buzz and gaining an increase in popularity. The emphasis on small-batch winemaking and a familial approach sets Oregon apart.
Winemakers often follow the Burgundian model by growing their grapes and crafting wines with a personal touch. It is not about the quantity but quality and the unique expression of the land.
5 Facts about Oregon Wine
1. Willamette Valley Dominance
Two-thirds of Oregon’s wine production thrives in the Willamette Valley, the state’s largest wine-growing region.
2. Pinot Noir Paradise
Pinot Noir blankets 59% of Oregon’s vine-covered land, showcasing its prominence in the region. The Drouhin family of Beaune set the precedent in 1988 when they made a significant investment in the Willamette Valley, s
howcasing the undeniable allure and global recognition of Oregon’s Pinot Noir.
3. Pinot Gris Prestige
Following Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris takes the spotlight, representing 13% of the state’s wine production.
Try James Rahn’s Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley! Opens with aromas of rhubarb, quince, raspberries and orange peel, with a splash of sea spray and sprinkle of baking spice at the end. A juicy, tangy and complex skin-contact Pinot Gris that you can rarely find from this region!
Image credit to James Rahn Wine Co.
4. Tasting Room Haven
With over 500 tasting rooms scattered across the region, Oregon attract many wine lovers to visit every year.
5. May is for Oregon Wine
Every May, Oregon celebrates its Oregon Wine Month, where you can find special offers and events hosted at the restaurant’s patio, tasting room, or dining room to share a glass of Oregon’s finest.
Planning for your next wine trip? Check out Oregon’s wine region travel guide for more inspiration!
From the historic vineyards of the 19th century to the modern winemaking renaissance, Oregon continues to captivate wine enthusiasts with its unique terroir, diverse varietals, and a commitment to quality over quantity.
This Blog post is written by Sharon Wong
Consumer Sales and Marketing Manager of Wanderlust Wine
Sharon is the the driving force behind our website, wine club, marketing activities, and Wanderlust Wine events.