The Willamette Valley Wine Region

The Willamette Valley wine region, in the northwest corner of Oregon, encompasses four counties with[1] 28 different AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). With more than 2,600 acres of vineyards, it’s the second-largest grape-growing region in the state, after the Walla Walla Valley in southeast Washington.

The earliest wineries have been making wines in the Willamette Valley since 1851, and today the region produces more than six million cases per year. Here’s everything you need to know about one of Oregon’s best-known wine regions, the Willamette Valley!

The scene in Willamette Valley

The Willamette Valley in Oregon is famous for Pinot Noir, and the 100-mile stretch running from Portland to Eugene is also home to several other varietals. Named the “Burgundy of the New World,” the Willamette Valley shares the popular French wine district features, including similar climates and seasons. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which grow well in Burgundy, also prosper in the Willamette Valley.

 

The Willamette Valley, Oregon’s leading wine region, has two-thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards and is home to more than 700 wineries.

The valley’s fluctuated geography, exceptional soils, and moderate environment provide an ideal atmosphere for grapes. The wine merchants are putting the valley on the map with exquisite wines that aren’t found elsewhere.

The area is fundamentally a cooperative and down-to-earth industry, as though you are interacting with your neighbors rather than larger corporations.

History of Willamette Valley Wineries

Before wine, the Willamette Valley was known for its wood. Farmers grew berries, Christmas trees, hazelnuts, and other products.

The wine scene started to take off economically during the 1960s. David Lett (called “Daddy Pinot”) spent his wedding trip in 1965 in the valley’s core, building grape columns for what turned into The Eyrie Vineyards.

The early days were reminiscent of the Wild West. While many winemakers were educated at UC Davis, they rejected scientific advice and moved crops north.

The wine was aged[2] in whiskey barrels, and the pioneers wondered why it tasted like whisky. They had to deal with grape pests and Oregon’s notorious rain, which may cause mildew in the vineyard, but eventually, they finessed their strategies and approach.

A progression of significant occasions cleared the way for what has developed into a multibillion-dollar business with more than 600 makers. In 1976, Eyrie Pinot Noir was tested against probably the most notable Old World brands in an incredibly popular tasting known as the Wine Olympics.

Joseph Drouhin, a lauded Burgundian, bought what the valley was offering, investing in a legendary property in the Dundee Hills, just a short distance from Eyrie’s first vineyards. In the 1980s and 1990s, manufacturers such as Ken Wright, Archery Summit, Domaine Serene, and Beaux Frères found their stride.

In the Willamette Valley winery, a growing wine culture had discovered the ideal location for the finicky Pinot Noir fruit. The area’s exceptional vintages have received critical acclaim, bringing in a new generation that began to shake things up.

Old Guard Wineries

Many of the region’s original producers are still in business, having handed their grapes and knowledge to the next generation. Eyrie continues to generate elegance and subtlety in its wines. Ponzi, despite its size, continues to astonish, particularly with lesser-known Italian types such as Arneis and Dolcetto.

The oldest vineyard in McMinnville, Yamhill Valley Vineyards, produces beautiful Pinot Noir and notable Pinot Blanc and Riesling. Wines from historic vineyards such as Knudsen, David Hill, and Seven Springs are always worth seeking.

Mid Guard Wineries

Streams close to Salem, established in 1998, is a Riesling fantasy. In 1987, Argyle appeared, exhibiting the valley’s massive sparkling potential. St. Honest flaunts a gifted winemaker, while Shea has become inseparable from A-list grapes.

New Guard Wineries

Statera, Walter Scott, and 00 Wines are among the newcomers to the Chardonnay scene. Antiquum Farm, in the valley’s often-overlooked southern area, is producing remarkable wines.

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On This Day

  • 1960: Farmers recognized possibilities in hazelnuts, Christmas trees, berries, and other crops and began planting multiple products.
  • 1987: Argyle debuted, demonstrating the valley’s immense sparkling wine potential.

Want to read more? Try out these books!

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References

[1]“Welcome to the Willamette Valley: Oregon Wine Country.” n.d. Willamette Valley. Accessed August 26, 2022. https://willamettevalley.org.

2“A Wine Guide to Oregon’s Willamette Valley.” 2022. The Manual. May 11, 2022. https://www.themanual.com/food-and-drink/willamette-valley-wine-guide/.

3“What You Need to Know about the Willamette Valley AVA | Youngberg Hill Vineyard & Inn.” 2019. January 26, 2019. https://youngberghill.com/blog/willamette-valley-ava/.

4“What You Need to Know about Willamette Valley Weather and Planning Your Trip | Youngberg Hill Vineyard & Inn.” 2019. October 10, 2019. https://youngberghill.com/blog/willamette-valley-weather/.

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