By Lisa Rowlands

Lush, green countryside, picturesque towns and rolling hills punctuated by impeccably planted vine rows, make this portion of Western Oregon a must for anyone interested in beautiful scenery and delicious wines. Agriculture has a proud history here and grapes are by no means an only child. Oats, wheat, all manor of tree fruits and nuts as well as a seasonal specialism of Christmas trees all thrive in this abundantly rich area for both vegetation and livestock.

Bound to the west by the Oregon Coastal Range and to the east by the Cascade Mountains, the valley escapes the major influences of the ocean given to more exposed coastal sites, although the cooling Pacific breeze still has a subtle impact on its climate. The conditions here make for an extended growing season and significant diurnal temperature variation yielding grapes that are balanced in fruit flavours and acidity.

The vast majority of Willamette Valley vineyards occupy elevated sites on hillsides formed by tectonic shift. The area’s thin, iron-rich soils drain easily and conditions have proven ideal for the state’s emblematic Pinot Noir grape. However, to suggest that terroir is uniform throughout this vast sub-zone of more than one-million hectares would be some distance from the truth. In fact, the diversity of Willamette Valley’s microclimates led, in 2002, to the designation of six smaller sub-appellations, including the prestigious Dundee Hills AVA whose international success first put Oregon Pinot on the map.

AVAs of Willamette Valley