Introduction

By Lisa Rowlands

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.

Sub-zones of Oregon

Walla Walla Valley

Walla Walla Valley AVA - its name meaning many waters - is a Pacific Northwest wine appellation that straddles the border between the states of Washington and Oregon. Not surprisingly given their similar latitudes, the conditions here favour the production of wines from typical Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

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Willamette Valley

Willamette Valley is a wine sub-zone and designated American Viticultural Area in the state of Oregon. Stretching almost two-hundred kilometres south from the city of Portland and following the course of the river after which it is named, Willamette Valley is famous for producing some of America’s best wines from the Pinot Noir grape.

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