Oregon Tribes History and Wine Regions
The American state of Oregon has developed a strong reputation for its winemaking traditions and excellent wine production. Currently, Oregon is the 4th largest state in terms of wine quantity, after California, New York, and Washington. The terroir, climate, and other parameters in the state are tailor-made for the cultivation of grapevines and massive vineyards. Moreover, several Oregon winemaking areas stretch beyond the state’s borders into Idaho and Washington.
The Oregon winemaking tradition originate from the golden winemaking era of the 1840s. However, the state started producing wines on a commercial basis in the 1960s.
There are two major American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the state: South Oregon AVA, including five connected AVAs, and the Willamette Valley, with nine connected AVAs.
Besides its inner AVAs, Oregon has other AVAs that straddle other states, including Snake River Valley, Walla Walla Valley, and Columbia Gorge AVAs. Two grape varieties – Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir – are grown in abundance. In 2016, these two grapes were harvested at approximately 60,000 short tons.  Consequently, more than three million cases of wine were sold in Oregon that year. 
Due to more than nine hundred wineries across the state  , Oregon has developed a vibrant tourism industry by setting up tasting facilities in various AVAs, especially the Yamhill Valley AVA in Portland. According to an estimate, tourism connected with wineries contributed more than $200 million in 2013.  This amount excludes the revenues generated through wine tasting and sales.
Dundee Hills Luke, CC BY-SA 2.0
Brief History of Wine Regions in Oregon
Confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians:
These Indian tribes are further classified into four bands: Milk & Hanis Coos, Siuslaw, and Umpqua. They strive to sustain their distinct identity to extend their lifestyle in their respective regions. Furthermore, they wish to preserve their social, religious, and ethnic traditions to promote their beliefs.
A goal of these Indian tribes is to stimulate their socioeconomic welfare in their community inside the state of Oregon, which inhabits five different counties. These counties include Lane, Lincoln, Douglas, Curry, and Coos.
Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde:
The staff of these tribes aims to enhance the life quality of their people through community-building measures and by offering various services and opportunities to its members. They expect solid socio-cultural traditions and a healthy lifestyle to improve overall quality. Furthermore, the goal of the Grand Ronde community is to create a sustainable ecosystem for the members to collaborate and make collective decisions to harness their resources for developing bright prospects for their forthcoming generations.
Confederated Tribes of Siletz:
These tribes include twenty-seven bands from South Washington to North California. In 1955, the US federal government imposed termination on Siletz tribes. However, the tribe was entirely recognized by the federation in 1977 – becoming the 1st Oregon tribe and 2nd US tribe to do so. In 1992, the Siletz tribes were allowed to contract with the American government to develop their sustainability programs and do their fundraising. The tribe occupies more than 3,500 acres of land in Oregon’s Lincoln County – allowing it to oversee its natural resources, such as timber, water, minerals, fish, etc.
Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR):
These confederated Indian tribes are a combination of Walla Walla, Cayuse, and Umatilla tribes in Oregon. The total members of CTUIR are approximately 3,000, and 50% of them are settled around Umatilla Reservation. Moreover, another three hundred Indians from other tribes also inhabit this reservation. Similarly, some 1,500 other tribal members live in Umatilla and have non-Indian origins. Around 30% of tribal members are children below 18 years of age, while 15% of members are aged above 55 years. In 1949, the constitution and legislature of CTUIR were approved. The tribe is managed by a governing board consisting of nine members – elected bi-annually by the general tribal council. The council comprises all tribal members of 18 years or more.
Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs:
The tribes of Warm Springs span from the Cascade Mountains to the Deschutes River in Oregon. Although these tribal members have lost some of their cultural values due to their settlement on the Warm Springs Reservation, they still follow many ancient customs and tenets. Their longhouses echo ancient prayer tunes coming from countless generations.
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indians:
The Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Indian Tribe is another strong community in Oregon that sustains its members’ identity, welfare, traditions, and dominion. The tribal community of Umpqua Indians serves to create economic policies for the long-lasting requirements of the tribal members. The tribal also promotes the individual identity of members by allowing various pacts with the government on different levels – i.e., federal, state, and local governments.
Coquille Indian Tribe:
This Indian tribe possesses a land of more than 7,000 acres, and its total members are more than 1000. The ancestors of these tribal people inhabited the Coos Bay regions and the bank of the Coquille River. In 1989, the US federal government recognized the sovereignty of the Coquille India Tribe. Consequently, they developed a local government program to offer various welfare rights, such as healthcare, the judicial system, police, housing, and education.
Currently, most tribe members (approximately 550 individuals) live in five county regions spanning more than 15,500 square miles, including Jackson, Douglas, Lane, Curry, and Coos. Moreover, Coos County has another 350 members.
Like other tribes, the Klamath community has also developed a sustainable program to promote its culture, traditions, and spiritual values. Primarily, the tribe includes Yahooskin, Klamath, and Modoc groups keen to sustain their heritage and cultural values. The Klamath Tribe also operates through a local government and leadership system to furnish the development of social and cultural systems.
Burns Paiute of Harney County:
The ancestors of Burns Paiute Tribe were Waditika Indian bands hailing from Oregon’s southern and central regions. The term Waditika originated from the Wada Seeds gathered by this tribe from the coasts of Malheur Lake. The Waditika band would consume these seeds as food in ancient times. Currently, the corresponding reservation of these tribal people is situated in Burns (Harney County) in Oregon. The overall territory of Burns Paiute Tribe spans around 53,000 square miles – commonly known as the Wadatika region. The region includes Payette Valley in Idaho, the Cascade Mountains in Oregon, the Powder River flowing through the Blue Mountains, and the southern deserts of Steens Mountain.
||Tribal Bands and Sub-tribes
||Regions & Territories
Grand Ronde, Confederated Tribes
|· Tualatin (Atfalati): The northernmost Kalapuyan tribe, on whose land Pacific University’s Forest Grove & Hillsboro campuses sit.
· Yamhill (Yamel)
· Ahantchuyuk (Pudding River)
· Chepenefa (Mary’s River)
· Chemapho (Muddy Creek)
· Tsankupi (Calapooia River)
· Mohawk (Mohawk River, OR; unrelated to the Mohawks of NY)
· Chafan (near Eugene)
· Chelamela (Long Tom River)
· Winefelly (Mohawk, McKenzie and Coast Forks of the Willamette River)
· Various Molalla bands, names unrecorded, from the west slopes of the Cascades bordering the Willamette Valley
· Illinois River bands (Athabaskan speakers)
· Chasta Costa (Lower Rogue River, Athabaskan-speakers; unrelated to the Irkirukatsu Shasta)
· Takelma (Upper Rogue River)
· Northern Shasta (Irkirukatsu Shasta)
· Upper Umpqua River bands
· Members of other OR & WA tribes were also relocated to the Grand Ronde Reservation in the 1800s, including:
· Clackamas and other Chinookan-speakers
· Willamette Valley and Upper Umpqua River Valley
· North & Central OR: the Cascade Mountains and neighbouring areas
· Southwestern OR: Upper Rogue & Illinois River Valleys
· Central OR-CA border
· Southwestern OR: Upper Umpqua River Valley
· Various places, including portions of the modern Portland metro area
|· E’ukskni (Upper Klamath Lake) bands
· Plaikni (Sprague River) bands
· Modoc bands
· Yahooskin Band of Northern Paiutes
|· South-Central OR: Klamath Basin
· Northeastern CA & South-Central OR: near Tule Lake
· South-Central OR: Upper Sprague River?
Siletz, Confederated Tribes
· Upper Coquille
· Chasta Costa
· Tututni, including the bands: Chemetunne, Chetleshin (Pistol River), Flores Creek, Mikonotunne, Naltunnetunne, Kaltsergheatunne (or Port Orford band of Kwatami), Sixes (Kwatami), Yukichetunne (Euchre Creek).
· Applegate & Galice
· Chetco & Tolowa
· Upper Umpqua
· Includes descendants of several Chinookan bands/tribes, e.g. Clatsops.
· Descendants of Klickitat’s from north of the Columbia River who had moved south into Oregon in the 1820s-1850s or were relocated onto Oregon reservations after the 1855 Klickitat War.
· Salmon River
· Tillamook Bay
|· Central OR Coast
· Southern OR & Northern CA Coasts
· Lower Columbia River
· South-Central OR Coast
· South-Central WA
· North & Central OR: Cascade Mountains
· Southwestern OR: Cow Creek and Upper Rogue River Valleys
· North-Central OR Coast
Umatilla, Confederated Tribes
|· Cayuse bands
· Umatilla bands
· Walla Walla bands
|Eastern WA-OR border: Snake, Umatilla, Walla Walla Rivers
Northeastern OR: Upper Columbia & Umatilla Rivers
Eastern WA-OR border: Walla Walla, Snake & Columbia Rivers
Warm Springs, Confederated Tribes
|· Wasco bands, including the Wascoes proper (a.k.a. Dalles Wasco), the Hood or Dog River Wascoes, and the Watlala (a.k.a. the Cascades).
· Wishram bands, including the Tlakluit and Echeloot
· Dalles Tenino (a.k.a. Tinainu)
· Dock-Spurs (a.k.a. John Day Band)
· Tygh (a.k.a. Upper Deschutes), including the Tayxɫáma (Tygh Valley), Tiɫxniɫáma (Sherar’s Bridge), and Mliɫáma (present Warm Spring Reservation)
· Wyam (Celilo Falls Band)
· Northern Paiutes were relocated after the Bannock War of 1878 and at other times.
|Central OR-WA border: Middle Columbia River. Wasco = South bank; Wishram = North bank
North-Central OR: Columbia River Tributaries
Southeastern OR: High deserts
Coquille Indian Tribe
|· Milk Coos. Note: there was no sharp boundary between Coquille/Coos speakers; See the tribe’s website for detail.
· Southwestern OR Coast
Cow Creek Band of Umpqua
|· Cow Creek Takelmans
· Several Upper Umpqua (Athabascan-speaking) bands, including Upper Umpqua Targunsans and the Grave Creek Milwaletas.
|· Southwestern OR: Cow Creek and Upper Umpqua River Valleys
· Northwest Great Basin: Southeast OR, Northern NV, Southwest ID
American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) of Oregon
The first modern wineries in Willamette Valley started in the 1960s when three UC Davis students. Erath, Coury, and Lett—evaluated the feasibility of growing grape varieties in the cold climate of this region. In 1965-68, they visited the northern part of Willamette Valley to seek the potential for vineyards in the state of Oregon. Their classmates continuously discouraged them believing the region to be too cold of a climate. However, they proved their friends wrong through perseverance.
Currently, Oregon’s Willamette Valley is among the most famous
American wine regions. The wine-growing areas of the Willamette Valley consist of six different appellations situated in the northern region. These areas include Ribbon Mountain, Dundee Ridge, Eola-Amity Mountains, Chehalem Hills, Yamhill-Carlton, and McMinnville. These regions grow some notable grape varieties, such as Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, etc.
The largest AVA in Oregon state includes the Willamette Valley comprising more than 5,000 sq. miles at the drainage area of the Willamette River. The western boundary of this region is marked by the Coast range, while the eastern boundary is by the Cascade Mountains. In the south, it stretches from Portland’s Columbia River to the top of the Calapooya Mountains in Eugene City in Oregon.
The Yamhill-Carlton region has a recent history of winemaking. The founders—Joe Campbell & Pat Campbell—of Elk Cove Vineyards developed their first commercial venture in 1974. Currently, it is a prosperous winemaking region that is mainly recognized for the growth of the Pinot Noir grape variety.
The location of the Yamhill-Carlton region is 40 miles toward the eastern boundary of the Pacific Ocean and 35 miles southwest of the city of Portland in Oregon. As the name suggests, this region has two major towns: Yamhill & Carlton.
Dundee Hills (2005)
The Dundee Hills region was pioneered by the most famous winemakers, collectively known as Papa Pinot. They include B. Blosser, S.S. Blosser, D. Erath, and D. Lett. These winemakers decided to visit the Dundee Hills area in the mid-1960s and assessed the potential of the cold climates to grow vineyards. In 1965, David Lett planted the first vineyard in this region on the southern slopes of Dundee Hills.
The Dundee Hills region is located in the form of an improper circular shape of approximately 6,500 acres. The region is situated about 30 miles southwest of the city of Portland and 41 miles inside the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
Since the middle of the 19th century, the McMinnville AVA region has had an history of farming berries, fruits, and farm animals, such as turkeys. However, in 1970, an experienced winemaker, David Lett, purchased a turkey plant located in McMinnville and transformed it into a winery. Subsequently, other winemakers followed suit and planted their own vineyards and wineries in McMinnville.
The McMinnville area is located in the west of the city with the same name. It is about 40 miles toward southwest of Portland and stretches another 20 miles further south.
Eola-Amity Hills (2006)
In 1933, Eola-Amity Hills AVA saw its first winery, known as Honeywood Winery. Since then, the winery has constantly been operating – making it the oldest in Oregon state. The corresponding vineyard is called Vitis Vinifera, spanning 18 acres of land. The winery owners—Marlene & Paul Gallick—are popular winemakers also famous for their berry & fruit wines.
The next vineyard was established in 1971 by Anne & Jerry Preston. Later in 1974, another winemaker M. Redford purchased the Amity Vineyards from the Prestons. In 1973, two other vineyards—Feltz Vineyard by Connie & Jim Feltz and Eola Hills Vineyards by Carolyn & Don Byard—were also planted in the same period.
The Eola-Amity Hills AVA covers about 38,000 acres towards the southern area of Portland City – with only 40 minutes of drive from the city. It spans from the southern county of Salem to northern Amity County.
Chehalem Mountains (2006)
In 1968, a well-known winemaker, D. Erath from UC Davis, acquired about 50 acres of land across the Dopp Road in Yamhill County. Later on, he termed the winegrowing land Chehalem Mountain Vineyards. Between 1975 and 1979, the region saw an overwhelming patchwork of various vineyards, such as Rex Hill Vineyard by Paul Hart and other vineyards pioneered by Ponzis and Adelsheims.
Located 20 miles from Portland and 45 miles to the east of the Pacific, Chehalem Mountains AVA spanned more than 100 square miles. This impressive AVA stretches across the Clackamas, Yamhill, and Washington Counties.
Ribbon Ridge (2005)
The first vineyards—Ridgecrest Vineyards—in the Ribbon Ridge AVA were planted by the winemaker Harry P. Nerdy in the early 1980s. In 1982, the vineyard planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes on more than 53 acres to initiate their commercial products. Three years later, the vineyards in Yamhill Valley started using these grape yields. Eventually, many other vineyards were established on Ribbon Ridge.
Ribbon Ridge AVA is situated within the vast Chehalem Mountains region. The Pacific Ocean is 40 miles west of the AVA, while it is four miles away from Dundee in the northwest direction. Moreover, Ribbon Ridge AVA is only 22 miles away from Portland City in Oregon.
Southern Oregon (2004)
The history of Southern Oregon AVA dates back to the early 1850s when a Jacksonville-based vintner and immigrant, Peter Britt, started growing grapes – making it the oldest region to grow grapes in Oregon. After the Prohibition Era in the 1920s and the early 1930s, the winemaking in this region started in 1961 when the winemaker, Richard Sommer, came from UC Davis and established Umpqua Valley’s HillCrest Vineyards. Due to the early success of this vineyard and excellent climatic conditions, many other vintners started planting grapes varieties in the 1970s. This region currently grows diverse and excellent-quality grapes in warm and cool climates. Eventually, the Southern Oregon AVA encompassed two other productive winegrowing areas – i.e., Rogue Valleys and Umpqua AVAs.
The Southern Oregon AVA contains many other smaller AVAs, including Applegate, Rogue, Umpqua valleys and Red Hill Douglas’s county region. As the name suggests, it is located in the southwest part of the state, spanning 124 miles from Eugene City’s southern part to the border of California. The width of this AVA is approximately 61 miles stretching between Coast Range and Cascade Mountain.
Umpqua Valley (1984)
The history of Umpqua Valley AVA goes back to the mid-1880s when German vintners planted the first vineyards in the region. These German immigrants had gained experience by previously working for the Beringer Brothers in Napa Valley, California. In 1961, R. Sommer developed a vineyard in Roseburg in Umpqua Valley – called the HillCrest Vineyards. He initially planted Riesling grapes in his vineyard, although he was discouraged by his UC Davis colleagues.
However, his experiments with growing cool-climate varieties proved to be successful. Later on, in 1969, the Oregon Winegrowers Association (OWA) was established in the Umpqua Valley by the owners of Bjelland Vineyards. Subsequently, many other wineries were found in the mid-1970s, such as Henry Estate Winery. The owner of Henry Estate created the popular Trellis System that significantly improves yields along with other advantages. Many vineyards across the world now adopt this system. Currently, the Umpqua Valley AVA is known for its innovative ideas in the winemaking industry.
Umpqua Valley AVA is located between the Cascade Mountains and Coast Range – with Rogue Valley in the south and Willamette Valley in the north. Umpqua Valley has been named after the famous Umpqua River that flows across the valley. The AVA spans 64 miles from south to north and 26 miles from west to east.
Elkton Oregon (2015)
The Elkton Oregon AVA started growing wines in the early 1970s when K. Thomason planted popular grape varieties like Pinot Noir and cold-climate whites. In 2000, the first commercial winery was formed. Today, the AVA contains eight vineyards and six wineries producing wines for commercial consumption. The total plantation spans 97 acres.
The Elkton AVA is named after Elkton town. It is a part of Umpqua Valley, located about 34 miles away from the Pacific, and it is situated in Douglas County. The Rogue Valley is located in the south, the Cascade Mountains are in the east, and Willamette Valley is located in the north of Elkton AVA.
Red Hill Douglas County (2005)
During the mid-1800s, the pioneering families of Southern Oregon AVA—Scott & Applegate households—decided to relocate to near the foothills of Red Hill in Douglas County. In 1876, Jesse Applegate planted the first vineyard in Douglas County in Yoncalla.
Like a few others, Red Hill AVA is part of many appellations under the Umpqua Valley AVAs. The appellation is located approximately 30 miles away from Roseburg. Interestingly, Red Hill Douglas County AVA consists of a single vineyard called Red Hill Vineyard, which has a total wine-growing area of 220 acres.
Rogue Valley (1991)
In the mid-1840s, many European settlers moved to the Rogue Valley in Oregon and started planting grapes and manufacturing wine. The first formal winery in Oregon—Valley View Winery—was established in 1873 by Peter Britt, who was also a photographer by profession with over two decades of vineyard experience. His vineyard was shut down in 1907, but its name was later adapted in 1972 by the Wisnovsky winemaking family. However, due to Prohibition and other issues, the Rogue Valley AVA disappeared until 1968, when a professor from Oregon State University revived its reputation as an excellent region for planting winegrapes.
The Rogue Valley AVA is located in the south of Oregon and consists of three river valleys, including Illinois, Applegate, and Bear Creek. The region spans from the base of the Siskiyou Mountains near the bordering area of California – north of the Rogue River. The Applegate Valley appellation is included in this AVA, with a total length of 60 miles and a width of 70 miles.
Applegate Valley (2000)
The Applegate Valley AVA has a similar history to that of Rogue Valley AVA, as it includes Valley View & Peter Britt Vineyards. During the 1970s, many new vintners started exploring the quality of climate conditions in the adjacent regions. Consequently, the Applegate Valley AVA saw a rebirth of its winemaking traditions.
As mentioned above, Applegate Valley AVA is an associated appellation of the Rogue Valley AVA. It spans about 51 miles north of California toward the Rogue River near Grants Pass in the western direction.
Columbia Gorge (2004)
The winemaking history of Columbia Gorge AVA originated in the mid-1880s when the Jewitt family planted vines taken from Illinois. The Jewitt family is also renowned for establishing White Salmon Town. Many other European families followed the Jewitts in growing their own vines. Interestingly, some of these vines still exist in this region, and they have the ability to sustain sub-zero temperatures. Four decades after the Prohibition Era, new vintners came into the region in the early 1970s to plant vineyards. They opted for the southern slopes of Washington’s Underwood Mountain. In the following two decades, many famous vintners started exploring the grapes varieties in the region.
The Columbia Gorge AVA is situated in the east of Portland near the Gorge of Columbia River. The gorge provides an excellent strip that overlaps the Columbia River for fifteen miles into the states of Washington and Oregon. This area spans over 40 miles and encompasses both Columbia Valley AVA and Columbia Gorge AVA.
Columbia Valley (1984)
The Columbia Valley AVA in Oregon originated in the 1900s with immigrants. These settlers established the AVA’s first vineyard on a hillslope next to Dalles – a small town near the south-sloping hill. During the 1980s, a famous vineyard was established in this region, which is currently called the 1852-Pines Vineyard. Some of the Zinfandel vines grown in the vineyard are more than a century old. Besides the Oregon side, the Columbia Valley AVA also has a sizeable area on the Washington side. In the 1980s, many extensive wineries were established on the Washington side. However, some experienced vintners realized the significance of the Oregon side in producing top-quality grapes for winemaking.
Most of the extensive winegrowing areas—stretching over eleven million acres—of the Columbia Valley AVA lies on the Washington side. However, the Oregon side also contains a winegrowing region with a length of 200 miles and a width of 185 miles – spanning from Milton Freewater to The Dalles town.
Walla Walla Valley (1984)
The story of Walla Walla Valley AVA began in the 1850s when Italian settlers started growing vines for winemaking purposes. The first post-Prohibition winery—Blue Mountain Vineyards—in this region was formed in 1950 by the Pesciallo Family. They focused on growing the Italian Black Prince varietal but failed to survive this experiment. Nonetheless, in the 1970s, the region saw growth in winemaking business after some winemakers revived the Walla Walla Valley AVA towards the Oregon side.
The Walla Walla Valley AVA is situated at the foothills of the Blue Mountains and spans south of Washington State through the Columbia River and reaches the northeast of Oregon. It is a sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley AVA that includes an extensive part of the wineries of the Walla Walla Valley AVA.
Rocks District of Milton-Freewater (2015)
The winegrowing tradition started in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater AVA by the Italian settlers during the 1860s. Many vineyards were established after gold miners were left with no savings after the Gold Rush period. However, many vintners could not sustain the wine-growing business due to cold winters – barring a few small farmers. Many decades later, in the mid-1990s, a French winemaker (Christophe Baron) explored the potential of this region once again after finding the resemblance of AVA’s terroir with that of Chateauneuf du Pape in France. Consequently, many vineyards were developed in the next 15-20 years. By 2013, the AVA contained 200+ acres of vineyards in the Milton-Freewater region.
The name of this AVA originated from the immensely rocky soils in the northern regions of Milton-Freewater Town. It is located in the Walla Walla Valley in the northeast regions of Oregon State – 5 miles from Washington’s Walla Walla region and 25 miles in the northeastern area of Pendleton. The Rocks District AVA is a tiny area of merely 6 square miles – the 2nd smallest in Oregon State. It is completely included within the Columbia & Walla Walla Valleys AVAs.
Snake River Valley (2007)
The Snake River Valley AVA has a history of wine growing since the 1860s during the occupation of German and French settlers in this region. However, Prohibition completely devastated the vineyards and winemaking business. In the 1970s, the valley was again rediscovered for winemaking and vineyards.
The Snake River Valley AVA is spanned across a sizeable region of more than 8,200 square miles within Oregon’s Malheur counties, Baker City region, and southwest Idaho. The AVA boundaries constitute the prehistoric Lake Idaho – stretching about 150 miles southeast to northwest. It extends to Idaho’s Twin Falls and the state boundary between Idaho and Oregon. Two major Snake River Valley AVA cities include Baker City and Ontario.
Want to read more? Try these books!
 “2015 Vineyard and Winery Production Report”. Oregon Wine & Vineyard Census. Oregon Wine Board & Southern Oregon University. 2016.
 “2015 Vineyard and Winery Production Report”. Oregon Wine & Vineyard Census. Oregon Wine Board & Southern Oregon University. 2016.
 “2015 Vineyard and Winery Production Report”. Oregon Wine & Vineyard Census. Oregon Wine Board & Southern Oregon University. 2016.
 Oregon Statesman Journal, August 18, 1859