When you think of Oregon, the immediate thought that comes to mind is Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir may be Oregon’s claim to fame, but it is only a part of Oregon’s wine story. Oregon is synonymous with high-quality wines from unique and distinct terroirs. Many of the wineries are small boutique family-run estates, where quality versus volume is the defining philosophy. With a wide range of soils and microclimates, Oregon is home to a diverse range of grape varieties that garner worldwide acclaim.
Oregon – Diverse Terroir That Delivers Exceptional Wines
Oregon is an exciting wine region that is a construct of floods, earthquakes, volcanos, and ocean influences; resulting in unique, soils, microclimates, and terroir. The soils are diverse and complex with volcanic basalt, marine sediments, and wind-blown loess. The diversity of the terroir has given Oregon the flexibility to plant up to 82 different grape varieties.
With its increasing popularity, the state of Oregon is in a growth mode. There were only a handful of wineries in the 1960s. Today Oregon has 1300 vineyards with 793 wineries across 21 AVAs. Distinctive AVAs, give Oregon a range of wines and grape varieties, ranging from the high deserts of the Rogue Valley to the Maritime influences of Willamette Valley, to the heavy river influences of the Columbia Gorge. Oregon’s cool climate delivers wines that are aromatic, fresh, and light with bright fruit and vibrant acidity as its signature trademark.
Sipping Through Six Wines From Six AVA’s Of Oregon
The rise of Willamette Valley Chardonnay has been impressive and exciting. Chardonnay has always been planted in the Willamette Valley. When Oregon first planted Chardonnay, the American palette favored bombastic, buttery, and oaky Chardonnays. This was not the style of wine that Oregon was producing, they were producing restrained, citrus-driven, high acid wines with minimal oak influence. It took nearly 50 years for Oregon’s style of Chardonnay to become popular. Today, there are huge accolades being shined on Oregon’s Chardonnays.
Winemaker Ken Pahlow at Walter Scott Wines is making exceptional Chardonnays in Eola-Amity Hills. The Seven Springs Vineyards is a highly sought-after, iconic vineyards planted in 1983. With its volcanic soils, it is an ideal cool-climate site for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. This Chardonnay is outstanding. It is energetic yet elegant with its racy acidity. There are prominent notes of stone fruit, pineapple, peach, and tangerine. Ken has produced a quintessential Willamette Valley Chardonnay. Only 390 cases produced.
Pinot Noir is certainly not undiscovered in Oregon, but no conversation on Oregon wine is complete without a chat about Pinot Noir. This David Hill Pinot Noir comes from one of Oregon’s newest AVA, Tualatin Hills in the northwest. Nestled in the Coast Range at a higher elevation, the Tualatin Hills AVA is heavily influenced by rainfall and the winds of the Pacific Ocean. They received the highest rainfall in all of Oregon. With its cool climate, winemaker Chad Stock stresses that the acidity in the wines comes from the huge diurnal shift in this area, where temperatures can drop 35 degrees in one evening.
David Hill Vineyards have a historic place in Oregon with vineyards that were planted in the mid-1960s. On the nose, the wine has elegant floral notes. There are dark blue fruit notes along with pronounced notes of graphite on the mid-palate. This graphite note is very characteristic of this block. This is a serious Pinot that is medium-bodied with nice spicy notes, supple tannins, and vibrant freshness.
Columbia Gorge AVA is relatively young at 17 years old, yet it is home to some of the most iconic vineyards of the Pacific northwest. Proximity to the Columbia River has an effect on the climate. How high a vineyard is located will have a major impact on the grapes. It is a small AVA that is big in diversity, due to elevation, exposure, and soil type.
Analemma was founded by Steven Thompson in 2010. As a grower and wine producer, his primary goal is to produce fruit of individuality that reflects the place in which it is grown. Grenache may not be widely planted in Oregon, but this grape has found the perfect home in Mosier Hill. It is uniquely located at a convergence of cool, wet, maritime, warm, dry, continental climate. This Grenache is perfumed with freshness, energy, lightness, and bright acidity. This is a very elegant style of Grenache.
HillCrest Vineyard is Oregon’s oldest winery, founded by Richard Sommer in 1961. Richard was a modern-day pioneer and was told by colleagues that Oregon was too cold and too wet to grow vines. Nonetheless, he ended in Umpqua Valley and was the first to plant Pinot Noir. Dyson DeMara took over the estate in 2003, he was a fan of Cahors wines and was impressed with how well Malbec took in Umpqua Valley.
This Malbec is made in an old-world fashion. Fermented in concrete tanks, the wine has aromas of elderberry, sweet mint, and smoky tobacco. On the palate, it has bright fruit, sage, and soft spice with chewy tannins. This is a light and elegant Malbec that reflects its terroir.
The Rogue Valley is one of the southernmost areas of Oregon. It is made up of three different valleys. So you have a variety of soils and microclimates. The west side is cooler, so you have higher natural acidity in the wines, and the more eastward you go, it gets warmer. The many microclimates of the Rogue Valley allow for a great diversity of grape varieties.
This is a single vineyard Syrah produced by JP Valot, who is from Argentina. The Vineyards were planted in 2008. This wine is 100% Syrah with aromas of blackberries, black pepper, and spice that exude from the glass. A full-bodied mouthfeel hits the palette with roundness, brightness, and acidity. This is a bold Syrah with firm tannins. Each sip invites another sip.
Walla Walla is a unique AVA as it straddles two states. Most of the vineyard plantings are on the Oregon side, while the wine production is on the Washington side. The Rocks District is a small AVA in the northeastern corner of Oregon. It is the only AVA in the entire world that is defined by one soil type; singular free water series of basalt cobble. This makes the area extremely unique.
Billo Navarane is the winemaker for this incredible Syrah. Making a wine that has an undeniable expression of terroir. There is a perfumed aromatic bouquet of blackberry, black pepper, and tobacco. Smooth on the palate, there are notes of ripe fruit, savory herbs, and a bit of umami. There is an elegant structure and fine balance. An exceptional Syrah.