Did you know the Willamette Valley is the preeminent spot for grape production in Oregon? The area is located in northwestern Oregon. It borders Portland to the north. Eugene is in the south. It spans some 150 miles. At one point it is 60 miles wide. The valley is named for the Willamette River which runs through the center of the area. Though it is valley, most of the best grape growing takes place on beautiful hillsides and slopes. Those areas possess varying soils of volcanic and sedimentary seabed. The Willamette Valley contains 12,000 acres of grape vines and just over 200 wineries. Bristol Bar & Grille Master Sommelier suggests visiting for the rich history, welcoming vineyards and Willamette Valley wineries.
Willamette Valley pinot noir
Without question pinot noir is the number one grape of Willamette Valley. You will find the highest quality version in the northern part. There are seven sub-regions in that area of the valley. They include Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton District, Dundee Hills, McMinnville and Eola-Amity Hills. In addition to pinot noir, the region also grows pinot gris grapes. These are synonymous with pinot grigio. Chardonnay and riesling are also available on a smaller scale.
Modern-day wine-making started int he region just over 40 years ago. Willamette Valley became an official American Viticulture Area (AVA) in 1984. Despite people telling them grapes couldn’t be grown in the area, several pioneers took a shot in the mid-1960s and early 1970s. They include David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards, Dick Erath of Erath Winery, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyards, Richard Ponzi of Ponzi Vineyards and Bill Sokol Blosser of Sokol Blosser. As a result of this fellowship, wineries persevered. Then, in 1979, Eyrie Vineyards pinot noir won an international wine competition in Paris. This helped to legitimize Willamette Valley pinot noir as a top option in the world.
Willamette Valley Wineries
Veronique Drouhin-Boss of famed Domaine Joseph Drouhin interned at several Willamette Valley wineries, including Adelsheim. Shortly thereafter David Adelsheim helped her father Robert Drouhin find land for a winery and vineyards. Consequently, the famous Burgundian, maker of fine Burgundy wine at Domain Joseph Drouhin, bought land. He started a winery in 1988. This action further legitimizing the fact that Willamette is a high-quality wine region capable producing world-class wine.
Willamette Valley’s similarities to Burgundy struck a chord with Robert Drouhin. As the pioneers hypothesized years before, the pinot noir grape loves the cool climate which is why it thrived in the Willamette Valley. Because of these parallels, Willamette Valley produces wines that strike a balance between California and Burgundy. This is possible because of that unique climate and vibrant New World wine-making fruit mixed with the acid structure and minerals of Old World.
The wineries of Willamette Valley further increased the integrity of their pinot noir. It got the minimum grape percentage approved to a higher 90%. That is compared with the 75% minimum in California and the rest of the United States. Additionally, green agriculture is huge in Willamette Valley and Oregon. It has well over a dozen certifications, such as certified organic and salmon safe.
You will find small charming towns like Dundee, Newburg and McMinnville in the region. These areas are home to the beautiful and welcoming vineyards. You will also find delicious local food such as salmon, Oregon dungeness crab and hazelnuts. (Did you know Oregon produces 99% of the nation’s hazelnuts?) All these attributes make Willamette Valley a great place to visit, dine and drink excellent pinot noir.