Oregon is the third largest wine producing state in the US. There are 16 AVAs in Oregon with 450 wineries and 850 vineyards. Oregon and Idaho share an AVA in the Snake River Valley. Oregon and Washington share two AVAs; the Walla Walla Valley and the Columbia Valley. The wine industry contributes $2.7 billion to the state’s economy and Wine Tourism contributed $158 million to Oregon’s economy in 2012.
The first AVA’s in Oregon were: Columbia Valley, Umpqua Valley, Walla Walla Valley and the Willamette Valley. The Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) was founded in 1984. This AVA has two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards. It is home to more than 200 wineries; with initial plantings in 1966.
This designated grape growing region can be distinguished by specific geographic features. The region covers 5372 square miles of land from Portland to Eugene. Smaller AVAs have been created within the northern portion of Willamette Valley’s 3,438,000 acres.
An interesting chain of events catapulted Oregon’s fledgling Willamette Valley wine region into the stratosphere. At the 1979 “Olympics of Wine” that was held in Paris, a Yamhill County Pinot Noir from The Eyrie Vineyards placed 3rd in a blind tasting of some of the world’s finest Pinots.
“Burgundian wine producer Robert Drouhin could not believe the results, and in early 1980 staged his own tasting in Beaune. The Eyrie’s 1975 South Block Reserve Pinot Noir placed second against a Drouhin 1959 Chambolle-Musigny. It was not to be believed!” Today, Domaine Drouhin Oregon produces Pinot Noir in the Dundee Hills.
In 1983, another sensational vintage propelled Oregon’s Pinot Noir wines into the international spotlight. Vineyards continued to be planted in the valley. I am a Pinot Noir snob so I couldn’t wait to explore the Willamette Valley. Then, in 1987, Robert Parker (the famous wine critic) and his brother-in-law Michael Etzel, purchased a run down pig farm on Ribbon Ridge and began developing a small vineyard. Their Beaux Frères Winery, produced its first wines in 1991. The Winery is located at 15155 N.E. North Valley Road in Newburg. www.beauxfreres.com
The Willamette Valley AVA is the largest in the state and has most of the state’s wineries (about 200). Geographically, it stretches from the Columbia River in the North on the Oregon/Washington border; to Eugene in the South. It covers the Oregon Coast Range in the west to the Cascade mountains in the east.
The Oregon Coast Mountain Range creates a rain shadow effect east of the mountains in the Willamette Valley. There is less rain in the Willamette Valley than in the coastal region of the state. This area is recognized around the world for its luscious Pinot Noir. This grape is a cool-climate varietal and the Willamette Valley is well suited to cool climate grape growing because it is protected by the mountains and a series of lower hill chains. These grapes are grown on lower hillsides, not on the hilltops.
Small distances in the Willamette Valley yield wines of distinctly different characteristics. To acknowledge the unique characteristics of the smaller growing hillsides inside the valley, an AVA designation was requested for six areas in the northern valley. This area “contains 66% of the currently planted acreage of the Willamette Valley. These new AVAs have minimum elevations around 200 feet; some also have a maximum of 1000 feet.”
Let’s explore the 6 sub-regions of the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Wine Tourism Wonderland.
I have included some of Pinot Noirs that I enjoyed in the Willamette Valley:
The Chehalem Mountains are southwest of Portland in the northern Willamette Valley. The Chehalems are the highest mountains in the Willamette Valley. The highest peak in the Chehalem Mountain Range is Bald Peak, rising to 1,633 feet. The mountains extend 20 miles in length and 5 miles in breadth, stretching from southeast to northwest.
This is the home of many interesting Pinot Noir wines. “Within the almost 70,000 acres of this AVA are over 1600 acres of grapes, grown in over 100 vineyards, and 31 wineries.” www.chehalemmountains.org
2. DUNDEE HILLS were granted status as an AVA in 2005.
Try the Domaine Drouhin Laurene www.domainedrouhin.com. Maison Joseph Drouhin is a French wine producer based in Burgundy France, founded in 1880. Today both Maison Joseph Drouhin and Domaine Drouhin Oregon are owned and operated by the great grandchildren of Joseph Drouhin.
The first grapes in the Willamette Valley were planted in the Dundee Hills. It remains the most densely planted area in the state. There are more than 1700 acres of grapes planted in approximately 50 vineyards.
Erath is one of Oregon’s pioneering wineries. The tasting room is located in the Dundee Hills with an exceptional Vino con Vista!.www.erath.comThis area is approximately 30 miles southwest of Portland and 40 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. www.dundeehills.org
3. EOLA-AMITY HILLS were granted AVA status in 2006.
These hills are close to Salem Oregon adjacent to the Willamette River. The Eola Hills are on the southern end of the 45th parallel and the Amity Hills are on the northern spur. This region is about 40,000 acres with more than 1300 acres of grapes. www.eolaamityhills.com
The McMinnville AVA is closer to Salem than Portland. There are nearly 40,500 acres due west of Yamhill County’s seat in McMinnville. The soils are uniquely shallow for winegrowing. Approximately 600 acres are currently planted here. www.mcminnvilleava.org
Ribbon Ridge is at the northwest end of the Chehalem Mountains. Ribbon Ridge is contained within the larger Chehalem Mountains AVA. There are approximately 500 acres planted on the ridge, within 20 vineyards.
6. YAMHILL-CARLTON DISTRICT was granted status as an AVA in 2005.
Try the Lenne Estate Pinot Noir www.lenneestate.com. Lenne was started in 2000 by Steve and Karen Lutz. They have a 20.9-acre vineyard at 18760 N.E. Laughlin Road in Yamhill. The Karen’s Pommard Pinot Noir is from the vineyard’s Pommard blocks and is named after the owner, Karen.
- North of McMinnville and south of Gaston, the foothills of the Coast Range create an AVA of nearly 60,000 acres between Carlton and Yamhill. The Coast Range to the west creates a rain shadow over the entire district with additional protection from the Chehalem Mountains to the north and the Dundee Hills to the east.
- Try the 2009 Cape Lookout Pinot Noir from Carlton Cellars at 130 West Monroe Street www.carltoncellars.com
- I also enjoyed the Pinot Noir and the Pinot Noir Blanc at Anne Amie Vineyard in Carlton at 6580 N.E. Mineral Springs Road. The charming labels represent the faces of the estate owners daughters. www.anneamie.com
Try the Elk Cove Pinot Noir. The winery was founded in 1974 and winemaker Adam Campbell gets my vote of confidence. I loved the La Boheme and the Elk Cove 2009 Shea Pinot Noir! www.elkcove.com
I also loved the David Hill 2009 Estate BlackJack Pinot Noir that was released on August 12, 2012 and the 2008 Estate Reserve Pinot Noir. The David Hill Vineyards and Winery is a designated historical landmark . The farm is 140 acres with Pinot Noir grapes planted on 50% of the 45 acres of vines in Forest Grove Oregon. This estate dates back to 1965 and has the oldest Pinot Noir vines in the Valley. You will love the 1883 farmhouse. www.davidhillwinery.com
more information visit: www.yamhillcarltondistrict.com
Make plans to attend the North Willamette Harvest Trail on Saturday October 6, 2012. There will be a full-day harvest tour with wine tastings andharvest activiteis at 3 wineries. Attend the Grand Tasting with pairings from dozens of wineries. TIckets are $79 and include a wine country lunch. www.NWVitners.org
There’s also a North Willamette Thanksgiving Celebration. This is an annual weekend Open House.
When you finish touring and tasting in the Willamette Valley, head over to the scenic Columbia Valley AVA.
Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Travel Guides and Apps @ www.vino-con-vista.com