OREGON

Oregon has around 400 wineries and 900 vineyards. The Willamette Valley (pronunciation as in “It’s Willamette, Dammit!”) has two thirds of the state’s wineries and vineyards and is divided into six sub-appellations: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and Yamhill Carlton. In principle, Eola-Amity shows the most structure and body, McMinnville higher tannin and acidity, Ribbon Ridge black fruit with fine tannins, Yamhill-Carlton silky tannins and minerality (quick-draining soils).
The valley follows the Willamette river north to south for 120 miles from the Columbia River near Portland to just south of Eugene. To the East the Cascade Ranges draw the boundary between the misty, cool climate and the drier, more extreme climate of eastern Oregon, about 60 miles from the Pacific ocean. At its widest point the valley spans 60 miles.
The climate carries a maritime influence from the west, with potentially excessively wet weather moderated by the Coastal Range which casts a rain shadow of sorts. It is nevertheless not unusual for 1-3in of rain to fall in September and October. Temperatures are moderate, rarely rising above 32°C in July and August thanks to cloud cover from the Pacific. Temperatures fall significantly in the evening hours. It is a Region 1 in the Amerine & Winkler heat summation system of degree days.
Most vineyards are planted on south-facing slopes to the west of the Willamette Valley where the soils are primarily basaltic or sedimentary, alluvial, or volcanic in origin. They result from three main factors: first, an intense period of volcanic activity 20 million years ago with massive lava flows. Secondly, from the continuing buckling of the Willamette Valley under the pressure of the Pacific and North American Plates forming the interior hill chains that are typically volcanic on top with sedimentary sandstone below. And thirdly from the Missoula floods around 14,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age which deposited deep alluvial soils.
The Willamette Valley is not the only wine region of Oregon. To its south-west is the Umpqua Valley, a little drier and a little warmer than the Willamette. The remote Rogue Valley lies south of Umpqua with a wide range of mesoclimates and in its middle third contains the Applegate Valley. Finally the Columbia Valley and Walla Walla regions share their AVA designations with neighbouring Washington State in the north-east.
The dominant white grape of Oregon is Pinot Gris vinified in a broadly Alsatian style. Also Pinot Blanc and Riesling amongst others. Chardonnay can be variable due to the original planting of California clones which cannot always ripen before the autumn rains, but there are some good wines to be found.
Pinot Noir is the Willamette Valley’s signature grape. In 1966 David Lette of the Eyrie Vineyard planted Pinot Noir cuttings in the Dundee Hills, convinced that Burgundian varietals could be grown better in Oregon than in California. His academic peers thought him delusional, but his moment came in 1979 when his South Block Pinot Noir 1975 came in the top ten in a Gault-Millau sponsored Pinot Noir competition in Paris, and then again in 1980 when it came second. This helped to put Oregon on the map. The region has continued to finesse its production of Pinot Noir: of vineyard sites, of AVA regional characters, of clonal selections (e.g. Dijon clones 113, 114, 115, 667, 777, Wädenswill, and Pommard), of viticulture and vinification techniques. Oregon’s love of Pinot Noir is celebrated every June at the trade only Oregon Pinot Camp.