Oregon Wine History Timeline
Oregon is currently one of the most exciting wine regions in the United States. The last few decades have seen a dramatic growth in both the Oregon wine industry and its reputation.
Oregon has an extremely young wine history compared to most other regions. The modern wine industry was essentially non-existent until the mid 1960’s. Though, there were a few European immigrants who planted vineyards and founded wineries in the mid to late 1800’s. However, only a handful of these wineries survived the depression and Prohibition in the early 20th century. And it took until the 1960’s and 1970’s for the wine industry to begin to start growing again.
Although it may have had a late start, Oregon is certainly making up for it in the amount of success they have experienced since the 1960’s. As opposed to many other wine producing states, the majority of Oregon’s wine industry is focused on artisan wineries that are producing a small amount of high quality wine. In fact, 70% of Oregon’s wineries produce less than 5,000 cases of wine each year. And while Oregon only accounts for about 1% of the total wine produced in the United States, Oregon wines took up 23% of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2021.
To go along with Oregon’s focus on quality wine, as a state they have decided to enforce stricter laws on their wine industry compared to the rest of the United States. For example, in order for a winery to feature the name of the official wine region or AVA on the label, 95% of the grapes in that bottle must have come from that region, as opposed to the 85% the United States government and majority of states require. Additionally, in order to put the name of a grape variety on the bottle the wine must contain at least 90% of that grape variety in Oregon, while the rest of the United States only requires 75%.
The majority of Oregon’s reputation has rested on their ability to produce complex, balanced Pinot Noirs that are often compared to the most famous Pinot Noir region in the world, Burgundy. Pinot Noir has become so popular in Oregon it now accounts for 59% of the grapes produced in Oregon. Although the remaining 41% is made up of a wide variety of grapes, including over 70 different grape varieties.
Oregon contains four main wine regions that each contain a multitude of smaller regions. The most famous of these four main regions is Willamette Valley. This is the oldest and largest region containing two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards. It is located in the northwest of the state extending from Portland to Eugene.
The next region directly south of Willamette Valley is Southern Oregon. This region begins just below where Willamette Valley stops and extends all the way to the California border.
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The most famous smaller regions located within are Umpqua Valley and Rogue Valley.
The third main wine region is Colombia Valley, this region is actually split between Northern Oregon and Southern Washington. The climate is warmer and drier here compared to Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon and allows for the production of heavier red wines.
The last main wine region in Oregon is Snake River Valley, which is split between Eastern Oregon and Idaho. This is the least known and least popular of the main wine regions.
To help better understand how Oregon’s wine industry has grown throughout the years there is a timeline below featuring some of the main historical events that have transpired in Oregon’s wine industry.
“Oregon Wine Resource Studio.” n.d. Oregon Wine Resource Studio. Accessed December 16, 2022. https://trade.oregonwine.org.
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