This Day in Oregon Wine History
Early Oregon wine pioneers are a mix of dreamers and tenacious trailblazers, unconcerned with what the experts say is impossible. The history of the Oregon wine business has been marked by a frequently insane ambition to disprove the doubters and accomplish the “impossible.” In this post, you will experience some facts about the important dates in Oregon wine history, including the major developments, and pioneers in the industry among other insights.
1847: Grape plantings were introduced into Oregon by a Trail pioneer Henderson Luelling. The first grape plants in Oregon are brought by Henderson Luelling and his family from Iowa, along with a number of other fruit varieties. An early resident in Oakland, California, Henderson William Luelling was an American horticulture, Quaker, and abolitionist. He gave the Fruitvale neighborhood its name and brought varietal fruits to the Pacific coast, first to Oregon and then to California. After leading a utopian community from California to Honduras in his later years, he was forced to return to California by insurmountable hardship. They transported 700 fruit trees in a wagon, and half of them made it. He coordinated with another nurseryman from Iowa named William Meek. They chose a variety of fruits that will ripen throughout the year, from summer to winter. Meek also took trees to Oregon, where the two met again and started a nursery that would eventually become Milwaukie. The following year, Luelling’s brother Seth also joined them; but, despite having established himself in the fruit tree industry, Seth did not become a partner with them. Seth most likely acquired the nursery around 1859.
1852: Valley View, the first winery in the Northwest, was founded in Jacksonville by Peter Britt, a Swiss immigrant who came to be known as the “father of the Southern Oregon fruit business.” Peter Britt was an American portrait painter, pioneer photographer, gardener, meteorologist, and early settler in the Rogue Valley of the Oregon Territory. In addition to being regarded as the “father of the grape industry” in Southern Oregon, Britt is one of t
1889: In the Melrose region of the Umpqua Valley, Adam Doerner, a German immigrant with winemaking experience, planted grapes on his farm. He produced wine and liquor from the Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Riesling varieties he grew up to prohibition. He also farmed livestock, sowed hay, and maintained a fruit orchard. The productive vineyard is still owned by the family today, and Christina Doerner, a fifth generation farmer, looks after it.
April 30th, 1904: The first prize presented to an Oregon winemaker was a silver medal for his Riesling from Forest Grove winemaker Ernest Reuter at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The St. Louis World’s Fair, also known as the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, was an international exposition that took place in St. Louis, Missouri, in the United States, from April 30 to December 1, 1904. The event was funded with a combined $15 million from local, state, and federal sources. Nearly 19.7 million people visited the fair, which was attended by more than 60 nations and 43 of the then-45 American states.
November 7th, 1916: Three years before the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, which outlawed alcohol nationwide, Oregonians had to live with prohibition thanks to a state legislation that went into effect at that time. However, business-minded people and organized crime quickly filled the gap with illegal stills, bootlegging, rum-running, and speakeasies. Oregon law enforcement prepared a response but fell short of the task. Voters eventually admitted that the “great experiment” had failed as Oregon and the rest of the country grew weary of the endeavor. Both the state law and the corresponding national constitutional amendment were repealed in 1933.
Dec. 8th, 1933: A group of early Oregon businesspeople, including John Wood and Ron Honeyman of Salem, were granted bonded winery status soon after the 18th Amendment was repealed. The oldest continually running winery in Oregon was founded by them, Honeywood Winery. Later, the contemporary era of Oregon winemaking was inaugurated by Hillcrest Vineyard. As the first estate winery in Oregon, they planted the first vinifera grapes close to Roseburg.
1961: Richard Sommer grew Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir, Malbec, and Zinfandel at his HillCrest Vineyard in the Umpqua Valley after a protracted period of no wine production following Prohibition. The current era of winemaking in Oregon officially began with this. HillCrest, which holds Bonded Winery Certificate Number 42, is the oldest estate winery in the state of Oregon.
February 1965: The age of Pinot noir began in February 1965. While looking for a location for the first Willamette Valley vineyard plantings, David Lett first established Pinot noir cuttings close to Corvallis. Fresh from U.C. Davis and a year in Alsace, Charles and Shirley Coury arrived in March, planted their first grapes in the nursery Lett had built, and then left the vines in Lett’s care while returning to California. Moving the young vines from the nursery to The Eyrie Vineyards in the Dundee Hills took up most of David and Diana’s honeymoon. He was certain Oregon would be a better place to cultivate the Burgundian types than California.
Later in the year, the Courys returned and eventually bought a property in Forest Grove that had been used as a vineyard and winery from the middle of the 1800s until Prohibition. They started replanting it with Riesling and Pinot noir. David Hill is now the name by which that property is known historically.
1968: Dick Erath, a fellow U.C. Davis alumnus, came in the Willamette Valley and produced business cards before he planted his first vineyard of wine grapes in 1969.
1969: After arriving in Oregon, Dick and Nancy Ponzi started the first 20 acres of their vineyard. (In the future, Nancy will co-found Salud! and other organizations, and the couple will open the Dundee Bistro and BridgePort Brewing Company.) On their now-famous Maresh Red Hills Vineyard, Jim and Loie Maresh started planting grape vines in the same year.
December 1970: Two weeks prior to the birth of their first child, Bill and Susan Sokol Blosser purchased an abandoned prune orchard in Dundee and started preparing the site for grapevine planting.
1971: Purchasers David and Ginny Adelsheim made plans to plant Riesling, Pinot noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot gris on their original property at Quarter Mile Lane in Newberg. In the Dundee Hills, Cal and Julia Lee Knudsen bought 200 acres and cultivate Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. The Girardets started landscaping their Umpqua Valley estate in the same year.
1973: The prime vineyard zones of the northern Willamette Valley were marked on maps created after the establishment of the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development by a group led by David Adelsheim and David Lett. This group then advocated for the protection of this land, resulting in Oregon Senate Bill 100. Farmers have up to now battled land developers on an individual basis.
One of the oldest and most prestigious vineyard sites in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is Tualatin Estate Vineyard, which was founded in 1973 by wine industry pioneers Bill Fuller and Bill Malkmus. The only winery in Oregon to win the Governor’s Trophy, the state’s most prestigious wine honor, twice in a row is Tualatin. It is also the only vineyard to have received Best of Show for both red and white wines at the London International Wine Competition in the same year (1994-1995).
May 29th, 1973: Passage of Oregon Senate Bill 100, the Land Conservation and Development Act, guards against residential sprawl on agricultural land. Hillsides that are ideal for growing wine grapes were included in the protection as a result of the foresight of Oregon’s burgeoning wine industry.
1977: The winemakers of Oregon came together to advocate for the implementation of the nation’s tightest guidelines for wine labeling. These ground-breaking rules safeguard the purity of Oregon wine’s variety and origin.
1980: Robert Drouhin, a Burgundian vintner, supports a blind tasting rematch of the 1979 Olympiad, which confirms the assessment of The Eyrie Vineyards 1975 Pinot noir.
Winemakers gather for the first Steamboat Conference to exchange knowledge, best practices, and constructive criticism in an effort to “better the breed” of Pinot noir. This celebration of Oregon’s collaborative spirit, held in the Umpqua Valley, has become a yearly tradition.
1982: H. Scott Henry, a winemaker in the Umpqua Valley, takes action after noticing a sharp fall in fruit quality in his vineyard. He creates a novel vine-trellising method to provide grapes more sun exposure. Vineyards all around the world quickly adopted the Scott Henry Trellis System.
Sep. 30th, 1983: The Yamhill County Wineries Association is founded by nine Willamette Valley winemakers, who open their wineries for the first Thanksgiving Weekend in Wine Country, which has since become a cherished tradition. The Willamette Valley is now recognized as Oregon’s first American Viticultural Area, putting it “on the map.”
1984: Oregon experienced the worst wine harvest in history. By many accounts, this has been the wettest, coldest, muddiest, and most delayed harvest in the history of Oregon Wine. The establishment of Cameron Winery that year and the funding of enology research at Oregon State University by the Oregon Wine Board, now known as the Oregon Wine Advisory Board, were other hopeful developments. The Oregon Wine Board (OWB) is a state government agency in the American state of Oregon that coordinates efforts to promote the development of the state’s wine industry and to sell both locally and abroad. The nine-member board was chosen by the governor of Oregon. It is financed by a tax on locally produced wine grapes and by sales of Oregon wines within the state. Tax collection on its behalf is handled by the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC), and administrative support is given by the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. Despite having no regulatory authority, it suggests to the OLCC labeling standards for wines produced and bottled within the state.
Sep 12th, 1985: At the International Wine Center in New York’s blind tasting, Oregon wine received high marks. 25 judges with expertise in Burgundy were chosen by the IWC from the New York and New Jersey region, including sommeliers, distributors, retailers, and writers. Two assignments were provided to the judges: 1) name the country of origin of each of the 17 wine glasses; and 2) select the top three. Given that the average price for a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir was less than half that of the Burgundies, Cary hoped that Oregon would finish in the middle and be recognized as an excellent bargain. He recalled thinking, “If we finish 10th, we’ll be fine.”
Instead, the outcomes were substantially superior to what even the most upbeat Oregon winemaker could have imagined. Five of the top seven wines were from Oregon, and the top three were. The most popular wine was identified as coming from Yamhill Valley Vineyards, followed by Adelsheim Vineyards and Sokol Blosser Winery. Knudsen-Erath Vineyards and The Eyrie Vineyards both tied for fifth place. It was difficult to determine the wine’s country of origin; in 50% of the glasses, no judge could tell Oregon Pinot Noir from Burgundy.
1997: Winemakers from Oregon get together to develop LIVE (Low Impact Viticulture and Enology), an eco-certification program. Nearly 300 vineyards and wineries in Oregon have made a commitment to follow the guidelines for obtaining third-party certification of their sustainable practices.
August 2001: Renee Neely and Laurie Lewis establish Hip Chicks Do Wine in a former warehouse, launching the urban winemaking movement in Portland in the inner southeast industrial area. Nearly 20 wineries are now in operation in Portland.
2002: Opening as the first co-op winery facility in Oregon, the eco-friendly Carlton Winemakers Studio embraces the state’s collaborative ethos. 13 winemakers are now employed by the Studio. The studio was the first of its kind and served as a model for subsequent, similar ventures. It was the idea of Oregon winemakers and husband and wife partnership Eric Hamacher of Hamacher Wines and Luisa Ponzi of Ponzi Vineyards.
April 13, 2007: A series of “Dueling Sommelier” dinners held in Portland, Oregon, in 2007 raised awareness of the escalating significance of sommes. The “Oregon Pinot Noir Glass,” Riedel’s first ever region-specific design, was also unveiled. Local tasting rooms began charging $15 for the glass version, which was imprinted with the logos of the vineyards, while charging $30 per stem for the crystal version. On April 13, 2007, these wine experts watched as a private dining room hummed with expectation. A few days before, these gifted matchmakers had finished their work. This “Dueling Sommelier Dinner” was the first in a planned series that was put together with the assistance of some of the top culinary adventurers in the Portland food scene.
The Dueling Sommelier Dinner Series asks four of the leading oenophiles in the city to submit recommendations for the wines they think go best with each course of a four-course meal. The dinner guests must taste the wines blindly and choose the wine match that complements each course in addition to being given a limited $70 (wholesale) per meal budget. The same four sommeliers compete in the series over the course of four meals throughout the summer in an effort to move on to the championship round, when the top two finishers face off vino a vino. For the first supper, which included quail, monkfish, and wild boar, the sommeliers were tasked with selecting wines to pair with each course.
2016: On Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines list, a Chardonnay and a Pinot noir from the Willamette Valley take the coveted second and third slots.
Explore: Willamette Valley Wine Tours
Oregon Wine: A Deep Rooted History Tapa dura – 20 Mayo 2019 by Scott Stursa (Author). Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Oregon-Wine-Deep-Rooted-History/dp/154023889X
The Wines and Wineries of Oregon’s Willamette Valley: From Pinot Noir to Chardonnay Tapa flexible – 25 Julio 2017 by