In just over a half century, the Willamette Valley has become the New World stronghold for Pinot Noir. As Oregon’s leading wine region with more than two thirds of the state’s wineries and nearly 85% of its Pinot Noir, the Willamette Valley has the distinction of being one of very few regions in the world founded with the specific intention of cultivating this grape. It’s a place where winemakers and owners have worked together since the early pioneers arrived in the ’60s and ’70s, sharing everything from secrets to equipment. This unique combination of pioneering spirit and camaraderie has created a tight-knit community along with top-quality wines.
Protected from both the cool rains of the Pacific Ocean and the desert heat of Eastern Oregon between Oregon’s Cascade Mountains and the Coast Range, Willamette Valley’s terrain is varied and huge: nearly 3.5 million acres, more than 100 miles long and spanning 60 miles at its widest point. The climate boasts a long and gentle growing season with warm summer days but cool evenings, mild winters and long, often rainy springs—the perfect conditions for growing the cool-climate grape varieties for which Oregon is best known.
The majority of wineries are family-owned establishments dedicated to a hands-on, artisanal winemaking style. These small producers, along with larger, established wineries, together contribute to the world-class reputation of the region’s wine. Seven nested AVAs speak to the diversity of site, soil and geography within the Valley. There’s Chehalem Mountains AVA, one of the northernmost AVAs and home to the 40-year-old Ruby Vineyard, and Ribbon Ridge AVA contained within the Chehalem Mountains’ borders, where you can find the famed Chehalem Winery. The Valley continues south to the site of its very first Pinot plantings, Dundee Hills AVA, where Domaine Roy et fils calls home; Yamhill-Carlton AVA hugs the Coast Range to the west and boasts some of the oldest soils in the Valley. Farther south and in the path of the cool winds of the Van Duzer Corridor AVA lies the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, where Cristom Vineyards has built a stellar reputation on whole-cluster single-vineyard Pinot, and McMinnville AVA, home to the idyllic wine country town of McMinnville and one of its iconic spots, Elizabeth Chambers Cellar. And our numbers are growing every year, with winemakers discovering exciting new sites, particularly throughout the South Valley between Salem and Eugene.
The Willamette Valley is also a place where wineries are dedicated to sustainable winegrowing and winemaking practices based on their respect for the land and desire to see future generations continue the winemaking tradition. Approximately 48% of Oregon’s vineyards are certified sustainable by independent third party certification programs, and wineries like Brooks, Stoller, Rex Hill, Montinore and Patton Valley are known for their leadership in sustainability through biodynamics and B-Corp certification. It’s all part of the spirit of collaboration and respect for the land that has brought so many aspiring winemakers to the Valley from California, Burgundy and even New Zealand.
The Willamette Valley Wineries Association will be pouring at the Friday and Saturday Grand Tastings. Additionally, eighteen wineries from Oregon will be pouring at events throughout the WOPN 2020 weekend.