Description 1 of 2

 

The Willlamette Valley region in Oregon has a wine-making history that dates back to the 1850s. Early immigrant settlers began dabbling in wine-making, and their enterprises eventually won some local acclaim and attracted other vintners to follow suit, with a fair amount of success into the 20th century.
 
However, the Prohibition forced most wineries to shut down and pursue other business. In the era following Repeal, wine production was mostly from “Farmer’s Wineries,” who were government-licensed to produce fruit-based (berries, Concord grapes, etc.) wines. Though others attempted wines from Vitis vinifera grapes, they did so with little success.
 
But in the 1960s, a group of California oenologists from University of California at Davis became interested in Oregon as a potential up and coming region. They were particularly intrigued by the Willamette Valley for its climate and terroir, even though temperature studies at UC Davis found the region too cool temperature-wise for quality viticulture. David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards), Charles Coury (David Hill Vineyard) and Dick Erath (Erath Winery) all researched independently to determine the most suitable varietals for growth in Willamette Valley. All three planted small amounts of their chosen varietals, in particular, Pinot Noir. David Lett also planted Pinot Gris and is credited with being the first to plant the varietal in the United States. 
 
By the 1970s, their vineyards were starting to flourish and other wine-makers followed in their footsteps. David Lett began entering his Pinot Noir in the French “Wine Olympics” blind tastings, scoring well against notable French competitors. In 1980, his 1975 vintage scored second place against Robert Drouhin’s 1959 Chambolle-Musigny. From there, Oregon and Willamette Valley in particular were officially on the wine map. 
 
In 1984, Willamette Valley earned AVA status. Today, the highly-regarded region is at the forefront of modern viticulture, with many of its family-run wineries practicing organic and sustainable wine-making. 
 
The valley is sheltered by three mountain ranges: the Cascade Mountains to the east, the Calapooya Mountains in the south and the Coast Range Mountains in the west. The Willamette River runs through it with the Columbia River cutting through the north end. The region has a mostly mild climate, with summers that tend to be warm and dry. Though some vintages experience high rainfall during the autumn months which harms the grapes and causes rot. The star grape of the region is Pinot Noir, with Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling the leading white grapes.
 
The subregions of the Willamette Valley are:
  • Dundee Hills
  • Eola-Amity Hills
  • McMinnville
  • Ribbon Ridge
  • Yamhill-Carlton District
  • Chehalem Mountains 

~Amanda Schuster

 

– Description from Amanda Schuster

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Description 2 of 2

The Willamette Valley has set an impressive standard for North American Pinot Noir, on par with the world’s best. If local winery owners have their way, consumers will soon crave not only Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, but also wines labeled from one of its many distinct sub-regions.

Within the last two years the BATF has approved five new AVAs within the valley, with a sixth (the Chehalem Mountains) waiting in the wings. The approval of these AVAs helps consumers make more educated and stimulating purchasing decisions as the valley’s best growing regions are now clearly defined.

The 100-mile-long Willamette Valley is currently Oregon’s largest appellation. It encompasses 5,200 square miles and the bulk of the state’s wineries, which now number over 200. Flanked by the Coastal and Cascade mountains, this appellation has built its reputation on small, quality-oriented producers who are fervently devoted to Pinot Noir. The grape benefits from growing on a variety of hillside slopes and on a range of soils, created by volcanic activity and weathered sedimentary rocks. Increasingly, Pinot Gris is also grown, mostly in the foothills of the Coastal Range.

Willamette’s climate is generally considered cool and wet. This can be a misnomer, as most precipitation occurs outside the growing season. Winters are moderate and summers can be pleasantly warm. To learn more about the Willamette's distinct growing regions see our 'maps and more' section.

– Description from Appellation America (view original content)

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