Sandwiched between the country’s two largest wine producing states (California to the south and Washington to the north), Oregon is a patchwork fabric of densely planted forests, farmland, deep valleys and high peaks. It’s rugged coastline, Crater Lake National Park and the city of Portland with its renowned coffee houses and microbreweries, are all magnets for tourists, both domestic and international. And the state’s much heralded wine industry is also a source of interest for visitors and clued-up connoisseurs.
Oregon’s area under vine accounts for almost fourteen thousand hectares, with nearly 60% of the vineyard area given over to the cultivation of Pinot Noir. This noble variety, most synonymous with the French region of Burgundy, has (perhaps non-surprisingly given the various parallels) found its perfect terroir in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Long, warm summers with cooler night-time temperatures, and the moderating effect of the ocean’s proximity, allow the grapes to develop the distinct ripeness and acidity on which they have built their reputation. The risk of rainfall though - particularly during harvest - remains a cause of concern to producers here. As well as the emblematic Pinot Noir grape, other European varieties such as Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Chardonnay, are amongst the most widely planted varieties in Oregon.
Whilst viticultural activity is nothing new in this part of the world, with wine grapes having grown here since the mid-nineteenth-century, it is only really over the last fifty or so years that the state has produced wine with a commercial focus. Oregon now has eighteen recognised AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), one third of which fall under the geographic bounds of the much celebrated Willamette Valley sub-zone, more than seven hundred wineries (mostly small, boutique operations), and annual sales of three and a half million cases. The state’s reputation as one of the world’s premier Pinot production areas has continued to grow year on year and has been accelerated by significant interest and investment from overseas. A number of Burgundy estates have forged links with Oregon-based wineries - an initiative led by Robert Drouhin’s (of Maison Joseph Drouhin) purchase of land in the Dundee Hills AVA southwest of Portland in the late 1980s, and this has undoubtedly contributed to the region’s ‘world class’ status.
Producers here are a dedicated bunch! Innovative and forward-thinking in the cellar, whilst remaining respectful students of traditional viticultural practice, and combining both of these attributes in their produce. The result is a community of winemakers inspired by the rich history of their industry and driven to draw the very best from their terroir. Today, the wines of Oregon - in particular the Pinot Noir varietals - are revered for their superb quality, complex, multi-layered flavour profiles and relatively good value.