The Land: Willamette Valley

If you’ve been hearing “Willamette Valley Wines” all over the world-wine-web lately, then you’re not to blame. Critics and Wine Connoisseurs all over the globe have a guilty pleasure when it comes to Pinot noirs and Chardonnays outside Burgundy. Their hearts are divided, with the other half being in the Willamette Valley in Oregon.

Willamette Valley

Willamette Valley | Source

Cradled between the Coastal Range to the west and the Cascades Mountains to the east, the Willamette Valley spans an enchanting 60-mile-long expanse, gently kissed by the Pacific’s temperate influence, making this the perfect setting for a premium Pinot Noir.

Saving you a google search🔎

It’s pronounced  “Will-AM-it”  like  “Will-AM-it DAMMIT.”

The valley wasn’t always this fertile. The valley’s fertile farmlands owe their abundance in part to the Missoula Floods. These catastrophic events swamped the valley around 40 times between 15,000 and 13,000 years ago, right at the tail end of the most recent ice age.

Some catastrophes do lead to good wine, eh?

The land’s fertility was still not explored much from a Viticulture standpoint. Judging by the growth in popularity that the Willamette Valley has acquired over the years as a pioneer in Pinot Noir, it is natural to assume that Winemaking and Viticulture have been there long enough in Oregon. But it’s not.

In fact, wine production in the valley started pretty late. From the late 60s and early 70s, thanks to the OG David Lett, “Papa Pinot,” as we would call him. There is no talking about Willamette Valley Wines without paying homage to this legendary winemaker from Oregon.

Diana and David Lett

Diana and David Lett | Source

He finished up at UC-Davis with a degree in Winemaking and Viticulture. All along, he had this obsession to find a spot somewhere other than Burgundy to grow Pinot Noir. So, in early ’65, shrugging off his UC-Davis professors’ warnings, he packed his bags and headed straight for Oregon with “3000 grape cuttings and a dream”. And that’s where he put down the first Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and other wine grape types in the Willamette Valley.

The wine valley in Willamette has grown all the way from its humble beginnings to stand neck-to-neck (or even an inch taller) compared to its French counterparts in Burgundy.

Nestled between the With over 700+ wineries and counting, the valley is a must visit for every wine enthusiast from across the country.

The Legend: Oregon Pinot Noir

If we were to pinpoint one single factor that put the Willamette Valley on the world wine map, it would be its Pinot Noir. This isn’t an exaggeration.

Almost 70% of the plantings in the Willamette Valley are Pinot Noir. And it isn’t easy to cultivate Pinot Noir as it is characteristically thin-skinned, making it prone to sunburn, rot, and mildew, and inherently giving low annual yields. This makes its cultivation a pure art form, owing to its high prices. You might be tempted to compare it to its Californian cousin, which is much more affordable and has fruitier flavors. But that is nowhere near the radius of the restraint and elegance that the Oregon Pinot Noir offers.

The Oregon options are lighter, more delicate, and more finely boned than California Pinot, with a wide, aromatic range of flavors including strawberry, raspberry, delicate floral notes, and earthier notes like mushroom and truffle.

An experience for every season: When can you visit?

If you are planning to make your visit soon. Go through the seasons of the valley below to get an idea of what you can expect out of each season.

#1 THE GATHERING SEASON: (September and October)

If you wish to experience the harvest and would like to get your hands dirty and partake in an ancient custom of transforming the season’s  lovingly-tended fruit into a tantalizing tale of wine, then this is the time for you to visit.

#2 THE GIVING SEASON: (November and December)

After the chaos of harvest and before the calm of Cellar Solitude starts, we celebrate the holidays. It’s a time to relax, value our community and surroundings, and support local charities. During this season, which includes Wine Country Thanksgiving, Willamette Cares Food Share, and other holiday events, the wineries and local businesses donate to the Oregon Food Bank Network as a significant way to give back to the community.

#3 THE LAZY CELLAR SEASON: (January-March)

Sit back on the porch, sip the newest wine releases, and be cozy near that crackling fireplace, having conversations with the expert makers from the valley in an intimate Q&A style setting. What more do you need?

#4 THE REBIRTH: (April-June)

Spring, along with the famous Memorial Weekend in Wine Country celebrations, makes it worthwhile to visit. It also marks the beginning of the summer tourism season. Everything shines and smiles.

#5 SUN-KISSED SIPPING: (July and August)

There is never a dull moment in the summer in the valley.

Beautiful sunny weather – Check ✅

Lush Vines for your Instagram – Check ✅

Special Events – Check ✅

No wonder it is the favorite season to visit among tourists.

Why Private Wine Tours?

Imagine that you’re cruising through the picturesque Willamette Valley, with the sun gleaming on rows of meticulously nurtured grape vines. You’ve got a glass of Oregon’s finest Pinot Noir in your hand, and the only sound is the soft murmur of your friends or family sharing this beautiful moment with you.

Now, isn’t that the dream?

Choosing a private wine tour can give you exactly this and save you the headache of making less-than-stellar choices that could potentially dampen your Willamette Valley experience. Imagine sitting in the hot sun trying to research and Google-search locations on the go and missing the whole experience. You don’t want to do that.

In our opinion, the best way to experience a wine valley and tasting as expansive and rich as the Willamette is through a private tour, which is, well, just that – private. You and your party will have a vehicle dedicated exclusively to you. No sharing rides with strangers; no altering routes to cater to unfamiliar preferences. The vehicle, which could range from a comfortable car to a spacious shuttle bus, depends entirely on the size of your group.

But what truly sets the private tour apart is your friendly and personable tour driver. Your driver will be an award-winning author, a graduate school professor, or a Pinot historian. More than just a driver, they’re a well-informed wine tour guide, ready to enhance your experience with fascinating insights and stories about the wineries you’ll be visiting. In a place as deep and magical as the Willamette Valley, there are a lot of hidden gold mines to be found, and you don’t want to miss any of that because of travel burnout.

Choosing a Private Wine Tour can offer:

A. Personalized Experience: Private tours are tailor-made to suit your preferences. Whether you’re an avid wine connoisseur or a beginner with a budding interest in wines, the day’s itinerary can be adjusted to cater to your liking. This is especially important when you’re on a short visit. Our Wine History Tours are customized based on the unique needs of our customers. We understand that each customer is as unique as each bottle of wine, so our customized day tours are designed to meet your needs while also exposing you to the rich winemaking culture that Willamette Valley has to offer.

B. The Best Wineries: With our private tour, you have the power to handpick the wineries you wish to visit. Or, if you’re not sure where to start, our knowledgeable guide can suggest a list that you can approve. If you prefer the classics, we have a Willamette Valley Early History package that takes you to the Valley’s oldest vineyards. The ones that are passed on from generations ahead and hide deep traditions and secret wine making expertise that you can’t find anywhere else.

C. Privacy Matters: If you’re looking forward to a day of tranquility in the vineyards with your loved ones without the company of strangers, a private tour is your answer.

So, when planning your next trip to the Willamette Valley, why not opt for a private wine tour? It takes the stress out of planning and leaves you with the pure joy of immersing yourself in the unique vineyard experience, without any potential hiccups along the way. After all, the true essence of wine tasting is to relax, savor, and enjoy – and a private tour ensures you do just that.

Let’s drink to that! 🍷

References

  1. https://www.willamettewines.com/about-the-valley/oregon-pinot-noir/ (Tour Guide)
  2. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/29/travel/oregon-wine-country-by-bus.html?auth=register-google
  3. https://winefolly.com/deep-dive/guide-to-oregon-pinot-noir/
  4. Ebook – Oregon Wine: A Deep-Rooted History by Scott Stursa (Chapter 13)
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/14/dining/14lett1.html
  6. https://eyrievineyards.com/winemaking.shtml
  7. https://www.oregonwinepress.com/
  8. https://www.willamettevalley.org/wine-tours
  9. https://www.rd.com/list/oregon-wineries/

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Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesBy Published On: February 29, 2024Last Updated: February 29, 2024

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