OREGON WINE FACTS
All wines come from someplace, but the best wines can only come from an extraordinary place. Oregon is a world-class wine region with 16 approved winegrowing regions and more than 450 wineries producing 72 varieties of grapes. However, 75% of all grapes grown in Oregon are Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.
When Oregon’s wine pioneers looked out across the state’s varied landscape, they saw what others couldn’t: a perfect place for cool climate wines.
They understood that Oregon’s northerly latitude meant grapes would get extra growing season sunlight for long, even ripening and that crisp, cool nights would help grapes retain their freshening acidity. Such a combination meant Oregon grapes would naturally achieve mature, balanced flavors, varietal character and great complexity. The resulting wines, they surmised, could be sustainably grown and made without dramatic manipulation to be naturally fresh, lively and have true-to-the-fruit flavors.
They were right. Today, the suitability of Oregon for great wine is unquestioned. In the marine-influenced Willamette Valley, cool-adapted grapes such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris ripen to perfection, producing elegant wines with a global reputation. If you were a cool climate wine grape, you’d want to be planted in Oregon.
Oregon wines taste of the land. The French call it terroir; we call it delicious. From sprightly sparklers and jaunty Rosés, to minerally Rieslings and peachy Viogniers, from elegant Pinot Noirs and sumptuous Syrahs, to classy Cabernets and dulcet dessert wines, Oregon’s wine variety will satisfy anyone’s palate.
Oregon winemakers also know that to get the best from the grape, they must get out of Nature’s way. The majority of Oregon’s vineyards are organic, many are biodynamic and the prevailing winemaking philosophy is “non-intervention,” meaning do as little as possible to manipulate the wine — let nature do it naturally.
The result is wines that have a genuine freshness, balanced fruit and true varietal flavor: wines that taste of the place they were grown. And in a place as pristine, natural and diverse as Oregon, you might expect our wines would show the same qualities. You’d be right.
Oregon is a place where winemakers are stewards of the land; where quality reigns, sustainability is a lifestyle and where artisan producers believe that careful attention to detail and delicate nurturing produce incredible wines.
It’s a place where pioneers and a new generation of winemakers, together, rhapsodize about the fruits of the Oregon land. A land whose rich geological legacy and varied climates nurture a wine country where cool-climate and warm-climate varieties grow mere miles from one another.
Oregon is a magical place whose borders encompass 362 miles of rugged coastline, white-peaked mountains, deep river canyons and endless amounts of green, right alongside high-desert prairies and volcanic rock formations.
Oregon is a place that makes exquisite wine without any pretense. A place where visitors are always welcome and where the winemaker is never far away.
Not long ago, when Europe dominated the wine market and California vines were still quite young, no one believed it was possible to successfully grow wine grapes in Oregon. Then a few pioneers came along and changed the world’s mind forever.
In 1961, winemaker Richard Sommer ignored whispers of discouragement from his University of California at Davis cohorts and trudged north to the Umpqua Valley to plant his roots — more specifically, to plant Riesling and small amounts of other varieties. Soon after his successful establishment of Hillcrest Vineyards near the Southern Oregon town of Roseburg, other winemakers migrated to this warm, dry growing region and in 1969, the Oregon Winegrowers Association was founded nearby.
Farther North in the Willamette Valley, three other UC Davis refugees also ignored the grumblings of their naysaying colleagues and trekked to the Willamette Valley. Here they believed they could successfully grow high-quality, cool-climate varieties.
Between 1965 and 1968, David Lett, Charles Coury and Dick Erath and their families ventured north and established vineyards in the North Willamette Valley. They were the first in the Willamette Valley to plant Pinot Noir. They also planted small amounts of related varieties, including Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling.
These modern wine pioneers truly believed that Oregon would one day become an important wine-growing region. Other believers were not far behind. Within the next decade, David and Ginny Adelsheim, Ronald and Marjorie Vuylsteke, Richard and Nancy Ponzi, Joe and Pat Campbell, and Susan and Bill Sokol Blosser all planted roots in the North Willamette Valley.
These families were hard workers. Each held additional jobs — teacher, doctor, salesperson — to support their winemaking endeavors. And they toiled in a collaborative spirit, sharing advice, humor and encouragement, as they began writing history by producing superior wines in Oregon. It wasn’t until David Lett entered his Oregon Pinot Noir in the 1979 Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades and won top Pinot Noir honors against France’s best labels, that the world started to take notice of Oregon as a serious winemaking region.
In just 40 years, Oregon has evolved into a world-class wine growing state with 16 approved winegrowing regions and more than 300 wineries producing wine from 72 grape varieties. As a wine region we’ll, no doubt, continue to grow and evolve, but Oregon will always be a place where small, handcrafted wines reign, where collaboration and community are key and where the growers and winemakers are never far away from the tasting room.
1. Willamette Valley – is 150 miles long and up to 60 miles wide making it Oregon’s largest AVA. It runs from the Columbia River in Portland south through Salem to the Calapooya Mountains outside Eugene. Named for the river that flows through it, the Willamette Valley has the largest concentration of wineries and vineyards in Oregon and includes six sub-appellations: Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton and the recently approved Chehalem Mountains.
The Numbers: 200 wineries, over 12,000 acres of wine grapes.
Modern winemaking in the Willamette Valley dates back 40 years with the genius of three UC Davis refugees who believed that Oregon was an ideal place to grow cool-climate varieties. Between 1965 and 1968, David Lett, Charles Coury and Dick Erath separately forged their way to the north Willamette Valley despite negative rumblings from their Davis cohorts who told them it was impossible to grow wine grapes in Oregon. They were the first in Oregon to plant Pinot Noir. They also planted small amounts of related varieties, including Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling
These wine pioneers whole-heartedly believed that Oregon would one day become an important wine-growing region. Other believers were not far behind. Within the next decade, David and Ginny Adelsheim, Ronald and Marjorie Vuylsteke, Richard and Nancy Ponzi, Joe and Pat Campbell, Susan and Bill Sokol Blosser and Myron Redford all planted vineyards in the Willamette Valley. These families worked in a collaborative spirit, sharing advice, humor and encouragement, as they began writing history by producing superior wines in Oregon. Though it wasn’t until David Lett entered his Oregon Pinot Noir in the 1979 Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades and won top Pinot Noir honors against France’s best labels that the world started to take notice of Oregon as a serious winemaking region. The Willamette Valley became an official AVA in 1984. Today, it is recognized as one of the premier wine producing areas in the world. It is most widely known for its award winning Pinot Noir, but consistently earns top honors for other such cool-climate varieties as Pinot Gris, Dijon Clone Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc.
The Willamette Valley is relatively mild throughout the year, with cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. While moisture is abundant, most of the rainfall occurs in the winter, not during growing season. This temperate climate, combined with coastal marine influences, make the gentle growing conditions within the Valley ideal for cool climate grapes, including Pinot Noir. The Valley enjoys more daylight hours during the growing season than in any other area of the state. During this longer growing season, the Willamette Valley enjoys warm days and cool nights, a diurnal temperature swing that allows the wine grapes to develop their flavor and complexity while retaining their natural acidity.
The Willamette Valley is an old volcanic and sedimentary seabed that has been overlaid with gravel, silt, rock and boulders brought by the Missoula Floods from Montana and Washington between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago. The most common of the volcanic type is red Jory soil, which is found above 300 feet elevation (as it had escaped the Missoula Floods deposits) and is between four and six feet deep. It provides excellent drainage for superior quality wine grapes. Anything below 300 feet elevation is primarily sedimentary-based soil.
The Willamette Valley is protected by the Coast Range to the west, the Cascades to the east and a series of hill chains to the north. Its namesake, the Willamette River, runs through its heart. The largest concentration of vineyards are located to the west of this river, on the leeward slopes of the Coast Range, or among the valleys created by the river’s tributaries. While most of the region’s vineyards reside a few hundred feet above sea level, parts of the Willamette Valley do reach much higher. The Chehalem Mountains are the highest mountains in the Valley with their tallest point, Bald Peak, rising 1,633 feet above sea level.
Predominant Varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling
2. Chehalem Mountains – is one of Oregon’s newest AVAs and a sub-appellation of the existing Willamette Valley region. This viticultural area is 19 miles southwest of Portland and 45 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. It is 20 miles in length and 5 miles wide.
The Numbers: 100 vineyards, 31 wineries, 1,500 vineyard acres.
Chehalem Mountains’ winegrowing history dates back to 1968 when UC Davis refugee Dick Erath purchased 49 acres on Dopp Road in Yamhill County. He aptly called the property Chehalem Mountain Vineyards. By the mid to late 1970s, there was a patchwork of vineyards in the area, including those owned by such modern wine pioneers as the Adelsheims and the Ponzis. Over the next three decades other reputable winegrowers planted roots in the area and today there are nearly three-dozen wineries and 100 vineyards. The appellation was approved in the late fall of 2006.
Chehalem Mountains’ elevation goes from 200 feet to 1,633 feet, resulting in varied annual precipitation (37 inches at the lowest point and 60 inches at the highest) as well as the greatest variation in temperature within the Willamette Valley. These variations can result in three-week differences in the ripening of Pinot Noir grapes.
Chehalem Mountains have a combination of Columbia River basalt, ocean sedimentation and wind-blown loess derivation soil types.
Chehalem Mountains is a single landmass made up of several hilltops, ridges and spurs that is uplifted from the Willamette Valley floor. The appellation includes all land in the area above the 200-foot elevation. They are the highest mountains in the Willamette Valley with their tallest point, Bald Peak, at 1,633 feet above sea level.
Predominant Varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay.
3. Yamhill – Carlton is a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA. It’s located 35 miles southwest of Portland and 40 miles east of the Pacific Ocean and includes the hamlets of Carlton and Yamhill.
The Numbers: 60 vineyards, 30 wineries, 1,500 acres of grapes.
Once primarily known for tree-fruit orchards, nurseries, livestock, wheat and logging, the area now known as Yamhill-Carlton has a relatively recent wine history. In 1974, pioneers Pat and Joe Campbell started Elk Cove Vineyards, which produced the first commercial wine in the Yamhill-Carlton area at a time when other areas of the North Willamette Valley were just starting to be planted. Other pioneers quickly followed suit and today it is known as one of the country’s finest producers of cool-climate varietals. Yamhill-Carlton was officially established in 2005.
Yamhill-Carlton is protected by high elevation areas to the west (Coast Range), north (Chehalem Mountains) and east (Dundee Hills), which results in less rain than surrounding areas and moderate growing conditions perfectly suited for cool-climate grapes, including the area’s signature variety: Pinot Noir. Yamhill-Carlton is comprised of coarse-grained, ancient marine sedimentary soils over sandstone and siltstone that drain quickly, making them ideal for viticulture. Grapes grown in such soil often result in wines lower in acid than those made from grapes grown in basaltic or wind-blown soils. Yamhill-Carlton vineyards grow on sites with elevations between 200 feet and 1,000 feet, avoiding low valley frost and high elevation temperatures unsuitable for effective ripening. Geographically, this area is protected by the Coast Range to the west, the Chehalem Mountains to the north and the Dundee Hills to the east.
Predominant Varieties: Pinot Noir (78%), Pinot Gris (8%) and Chardonnay (6%) account for 92% of the planted acreage in Yamhill-Carlton.
4. Ribbon Ridge – is a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA that sits 22 miles southwest of Portland, 4 miles northwest of Dundee and 40 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. Ribbon Ridge is contained within the larger Chehalem Mountains AVA – which is contained with the Willamette Valley AVA.
The Numbers: 20 vineyards, 5 wineries, 350 planted acres.
In 1980, Harry Peterson-Nedry was the first to plant wine grapes on Ribbon Ridge at his Ridgecrest Vineyards. Two years later, the first commercial vineyard was established with the planting of 54 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It was nearby Yamhill Valley Vineyards who first used these grapes to make wine in 1985. Other vineyards were soon planted in this relatively small ridge which today is home to five wineries. The appellation became official in 2005.
Protected by geographical features to the north, south and west, Ribbon Ridge’s grape-growing hillsides are slightly warmer and drier when compared to the adjacent valley floors. Ribbon Ridge’s moderate climate is well suited for early grape growth in the spring, consistent and even ripening over the summer and a long, full maturing season in the fall.
The Ribbon Ridge region contains primarily sedimentary soils that are younger, finer and more uniform than the alluvial sedimentary and volcanic soils of neighboring regions. These moderately deep, well-drained, silty-clay loam soils are part of the Willakenzie soil series and are of low fertility and ideal for growing high-quality wine grapes.
Geographically, Ribbon Ridge is a 3.5-mile long by 1.75-mile wide ridge that extends from the Chehalem Mountains. The ridge rises 683 feet from the Chehalem Valley floor, giving it an island-like appearance. Predominant Varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay.
5. Dundee Hills – is a sub-appellation within the Willamette Valley located 28 miles southwest of Portland and 40 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. Rising above the low, flat floors of the surrounding Willamette and Chehalem Valleys, the Dundee Hills offer spectacular views, including Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson’s majestic snowy peaks.
The Numbers: 50 vineyards, 25 wineries, 1,200 vineyard acres.
Winemaker David Lett planted the first Pinot Noir in the Dundee Hills in 1965, naming it The Eyrie Vineyard. Soon after, Dick Erath of Erath Vineyards arrived, followed by the Sokol Blosser family and other winemakers who cleared south-facing slopes to plant many of Oregon’s first vineyards. They whole-heartedly believed this area would one day be an important cool-climate wine-growing region. It didn’t take long for the world to discover Dundee Hills and Oregon – after the relatively unknown Eyrie Pinot Noir placed among the top three wines in the 1979 Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades, beating out more famous French labels. Today, the area remains home to many of Oregon’s modern pioneer winemakers who continue to successfully grow and make premium wine. The appellation won approval in November 2005.
Dundee Hills’ area is effectively an island protected from great climatic variations by surrounding geographic features. The Coast Range to the west lessens the effects of the Pacific Ocean’s heavy rains and windstorms, and causes a rain shadow over the Dundee Hills area resulting in just 30 to 45 inches of annual precipitation, most of which falls in the winter months outside of the growing season. Because of their slope and elevation, Dundee Hills’ vineyards benefit from warmer nights and less frost and fog than the adjacent valley floors.
Dundee Hills is known for its rich, red volcanic Jory soils, which were formed from ancient volcanic basalt and consist of silt, clay and loam soils. They typically reach a depth of 4 to 6 feet and provide excellent drainage for superior quality wine grapes.
The Dundee Hills viticultural region consists of a single, continuous landmass that rises above the surrounding Willamette Valley floor and is defined by the 200-ft contour line to the AVA’s highest peak of 1,067 feet. The area comprises a north-south spine with ridges, as well as small valleys on its east, south and west sides. Dundee Hills is part of a North Willamette Valley hill chain that developed as a result of intense volcanic activity and the collision of the Pacific and North American plates. Dundee Hills is typically volcanic over sedimentary sandstone.
Predominant Varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay.
6. McMinnville – is a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA that sits just west of the city of McMinnville, approximately 40 miles southwest of Portland and extends 20 miles south-southwest.
The Numbers: 750 vineyard acres, 14 wineries.
McMinnville has a long farming history that dates back to the mid-1800s when berry fields, tree fruits and livestock were the norm. All that began to change when in 1970, one of Oregon’s winemaking pioneers, David Lett, bought an old turkey processing plant in McMinnville to house his winery. Soon after, winegrowers began planting vineyards and establishing wineries in the area and in 1987, McMinnville held the very first International Pinot Noir Conference. Held every July since, it’s a wildly popular three-day event where winemakers and enthusiasts from all over the world congregate for Pinot Noir tastings, winery tours and seminars. The McMinnville AVA was established in 2005. Today, the area continues to sprout more wineries and tasting rooms. In fact, in the city of McMinnville near historic Main Street, 14 wineries converted old graineries and nut processing plants into what is now known as the Urban Pinot Quarter.
McMinnville sits in a protective weather shadow of the Coast Range. As a result, the primarily east and south-facing vineyards receive less rainfall (just 33 inches annually, as compared to 40 inches in Eola-Amity Hills) than sites just 12 miles to the east.
Those vineyards situated on the more southerly facing sites take advantage of the cooling winds from the Van Duzer Corridor, a break in the coast range that allows cool Pacific Ocean air to flow through, thus dropping evening temperatures in the region which helps to keep grape acids firm. Compared to surrounding areas, McMinnville is, on average, warmer and drier, consisting of higher elevation vineyards (up to 1,000 feet) that are resistant to frost. The soils are typically uplifted marine sedimentary loams and silts, with alluvial overlays. As compared to other appellations in the Willamette Valley, these soils are uniquely shallow for winegrowing with low total available moisture.
McMinnville’s elevation levels range from 200 to 1,000 feet and the area encompasses the east and southeast slopes of the Coast Range foothills. Geologically, the most distinctive feature in this area is the Nestucca Formation, a 2,000-foot-thick bedrock formation that extends west of the city of McMinnville to the slopes of the Coast Range. This formation contains intrusions of marine basalts which affect the region’s ground water composition, resulting in grapes with unique flavor and development characteristics.
Predominant Varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc.
7. Eola-Amity Hills – is a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley AVA located just west-northwest of Salem, Oregon’s state capitol. It’s comprised of 37,900 acres.
The Numbers: 30 wineries, 2,000 vineyard acres.
The agricultural history of this area near Salem dates back to the mid-1850s, though it wasn’t until the 1970s when winemakers started to discover the area as having ideal growing conditions for high-quality wine grapes. It was around this time that a few modern pioneers, including Don Byard of Hidden Springs, planted a patchwork of vineyards in Eola-Amity Hills. Soon after, other pioneers followed suit and today this area produces world-class, handcrafted cool-climate varietals. The appellation became official in 2006.
The Eola-Amity Hills region enjoys a temperate climate of warm summers and mild winters and 40 inches of annual rain, most of which falls outside of the growing season. Average maximum temperatures are 62 degrees F in April and 83 degrees F in July, which contributes to the ideal conditions for the cool-climate grape varieties that dominate the Eola-Amity Hills. The climate in this region is greatly influenced by its position due east of the Van Duzer Corridor, which provides a break in the coast range that allows cool Pacific Ocean air to flow through. This drops temperatures in the region dramatically, especially during late summer afternoons, helping to keep grape acids firm.
The soils in the Eola-Amity Hills predominantly contain volcanic basalt from ancient lava flows, as well as marine sedimentary rocks and alluvial deposits at the lower elevations of the ridge. This combination results in a relatively shallow, rocky set of well-drained soils, which typically produce small grapes with great concentration.
Eola Hills and its northern extension, Amity Hills, is part of a North Willamette Valley hill chain that developed out of intense volcanic activity and the collision of the Pacific and North American plates. The main ridge of the Eola Hills runs north-south and has numerous lateral ridges on both sides that run east-west. The majority of the region’s vineyard sites exist at elevations between 250 to 700 feet.
Predominant Varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris.
8. Umpqua Valley – AVA sits between the Coast Range to the west and the Cascade Range to the east, with the Willamette Valley AVA to the north and the Rogue Valley AVA to the south. Named for the legendary fishing river that runs nearby, the appellation stretches 65 miles from north to south and is 25 miles from east to west.
The Numbers: 60 vineyards, 12 wineries, 1,100 vineyard acres.
The Umpqua Valley’s winegrowing history dates back to the 1880s when German immigrants who had worked for the Beringer Bros., the oldest continuously operating vineyard in Napa, planted the first wine grape vineyard in the Valley. Post-prohibition, Richard Sommer established Hillcrest Vineyards near Roseburg in 1961. He planted Riesling and small amounts of other varieties despite being told by his California (Davis) cohorts that it was impossible to successfully grow wine grapes in Oregon. Obviously, they were wrong. Just eight years later, in 1969, Paul Bjelland of Bjelland Vineyards founded the Oregon Winegrowers Association in the Umpqua Valley. During the 1970s new wineries opened, including Henry Estate Winery, whose winemaker Scott Henry developed a now world-famous trellis system, which increases grape yield, among other benefits. The Umpqua Valley appellation continues to evolve as new winemakers discover the area, bringing with them a passion for innovation and world-class wine. The Umpqua Valley appellation became official in 1984.
One of Oregon’s more diverse climates, the Umpqua Valley can successfully grow both cool and warm varieties. It’s comprised of three distinct climatic sub-zones: 1) The Northern area around the town of Elkton enjoys a cool, marine-influenced climate. It receives around 50 inches of annual rainfall, making irrigation unnecessary. Pinot Noir and other cool-climate varieties thrive here. 2) The Central area to the northwest of Roseburg has a transitional or intermediate climate, where both cool and warm varieties do quite well. 3) The area south of Roseburg is warmer and more arid, similar to Rogue and Applegate Valleys to the south, making irrigation necessary. Warm-climate varieties, including Tempranillo, Syrah and Merlot thrive here.
Umpqua Valley soils are as varied as the climate. Generally, they are derived from a mix of metamorphic, sedimentary and volcanic rock; though more than 150 soil types have been identified in the region. The valley floor levels have mostly deep alluvial or heavy clay materials, while the hillsides and bench locations have mixed alluvial, silt or clay structures, all typically excellent for winegrowing. In a word: diverse.
The complex topography of the Umpqua Valley is a result of the collision of three mountain ranges of varying age and structure: the Klamath Mountains, the Coast Range and the Cascades. Many say the area should not be thought of as a single valley but rather, more accurately, “The Hundred Valleys of the Umpqua” because it is made up of a series of interconnecting small mountain ranges and valleys.
Predominant Varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Syrah, Tempranillo.
9. Red Hill Douglas County – is a sub-appellation of the Umpqua Valley AVA near the small town of Yoncalla, which lies about 30 miles north of Roseburg and parallels Interstate 5. It encompasses 5,500 acres and is a single vineyard AVA, one of just a few in the country.
The Numbers: single vineyard AVA (Red Hill Vineyard) with 220 acres planted.
The Applegate and Scott families, pioneers of Southern Oregon, settled at the foot of Red Hill in the mid-1800s. Jesse Applegate planted Douglas County’s first established vineyard in Yoncalla in 1876. Red Hill Douglas County appellation was approved in 2005.
Red Hill Douglas County has a relatively mild climate, with daytime averages of 75 degrees F during growing season (as opposed to regions farther south that can experience highs of 105 degrees F). The marine influence reaching this area also provides a wetter climate than the surrounding Umpqua Valley area. Thanks to its higher elevation, the area generally enjoys a frost-free growing season.
Red Hill Douglas County is dominated by iron-rich, red volcanic Jory soils, which were formed from ancient volcanic basalt and consist of silt, clay and loam soils. They are mostly deep, well-drained to the 15-foot depth and considered premier wine grape growing soils.
Elevation in this area ranges from the 800-foot contour line to 1,200 feet, the maximum elevation for quality grape production in the Red Hill Douglas County region. Geologically, Red Hill is part of the Umpqua Formation, which is composed of basalts similar to the volcanic rocks on the Pacific Ocean floor. It has many rising domes that give it an undulating appearance.
Predominant Varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling.
10. The Rogue Valley AVA – is the southernmost winegrowing region in Oregon. It’s made up of three adjacent river valleys (Bear Creek, Applegate and Illinois Valleys) that extend from the foothills of the Siskiyou Mountains along the California border north to the Rogue River. It is 70 miles wide by 60 miles long and encompasses the Applegate Valley sub-appellation.
The Numbers: 16 wineries, 130 vineyards, 1,400 vineyard acres.
Rogue Valley’s wine history dates back to the 1840s when European immigrants began planting grapes and eventually bottling wines. In 1852, an early settler named Peter Britt joined in on the grape growing adventure, though it wasn’t until 1873 that he opened Valley View Winery, Oregon’s first official winery. Valley View closed in 1907 (though its name was resurrected by the Wisnovsky family in 1972), then Prohibition hit. It wasn’t until after an Oregon State University professor planted an experimental vineyard here in 1968 that winemakers rediscovered Rogue Valley as a superb winegrowing region. Rogue Valley became an official appellation in 2001.
Rogue Valley is made up of three distinct valleys with progressively warmer microclimates, which enables the region to successfully grow both cool and warm-climate grape varieties. To the west, the region is affected by mountain and ocean influences, making it suitable for some cool-weather varieties, including Pinot Noir. Farther east, Rogue Valley has the highest elevations (nearly 2,000 feet) of Oregon’s winegrowing regions, but it is also the warmest and the driest, making it well suited for warm-weather varieties including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.
Rogue Valley soil types are many and varied, including mixes of metamorphic, sedimentary and volcanic derived soils ranging from sandy loam to hard clay.
Vineyards here are typically at elevations of 1,200 to 2,000 feet and are planted on hillsides rather than valley floor. Rogue Valley’s diverse landscape is derived from the convergence of three mountain ranges of varying ages and structure: the Klamath Mountains, the Coastal Range and the Cascades. This region includes the Rogue River and its tributaries: the Applegate, Illinois and Bear Creek Rivers.
Predominant Varieties: Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay.
11. Applegate Valley – is a sub-appellation of the larger Rogue Valley AVA in Southern Oregon. It stretches 50 miles north from the California border to the Rogue River just west of Grants Pass.
The Numbers: 23 vineyards, six wineries and 400 vineyard acres.
Applegate Valley’s wine history began in 1852 when an early area settler named Peter Britt planted wine grapes. In 1873, he opened Valley View Winery, Oregon’s first official winery. Valley View closed in 1907, then Prohibition hit. It wasn’t until the 1970s, after modern pioneers began discovering the neighboring areas’ quality wine growing conditions, that Applegate Valley experienced a resurgence of winemaking. It began with a few family-run wineries that planted their roots and opened their doors. Today, this area is an important winegrowing region turning out a diversity of high-quality wines. The appellation became official in 2001.
Applegate Valley has a moderate climate that generally enjoys a warm, dry (just 25.2 inches of annual rain) growing season with hot days and cool nights perfect for warm-climate varieties.
Applegate Valley’s soil types are typically granite in origin and most of the area’s vineyards are planted on stream terraces or alluvial fans, providing deep, well-drained soils that are ideal for high-quality wine grapes.
Applegate Valley is surrounded by the Siskiyou Mountains, which were created by up-thrusts of the ocean floor as a plate forced its way under the continental shelf. The Siskiyou National Forest borders the Applegate Valley to the west and the Rogue River National Forest to the east. Vineyards are typically grown at higher elevations up to 2,000 feet.
Predominant Varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Chardonnay.
12. The Southern Oregon AVA – exists in the southwest portion of the state, stretching 125 miles from south of Eugene to the California border, and 60 miles at its widest between the Cascade Mountain Range to the east and the Coast Range to the west. It encompasses Umpqua Valley, Rogue Valley, Red Hill Douglas County and Applegate Valley appellations.
The Numbers: 120 vineyards, 17 wineries, 3,000 acres of wine grapes.
Southern Oregon has the oldest history of grape growing in the state. It dates back to 1852 with an early area settler named Peter Britt, who operated a winery in Jacksonville. Post-prohibition winemaking started in 1961 when vintner Richard Sommer migrated from University of California at Davis and founded Hillcrest Vineyards in the Umpqua Valley. Impressed with the diversity of growing conditions in this area, other winemakers began planting roots in the 1970s, resulting in a patchwork of vineyards growing both cool and warm climate varieties. Today, this winegrowing region continues to grow and turn out a great variety of high-quality wines. The appellation became official in 2004.
While this region provides the warmest growing conditions in Oregon, there exist cool microclimates within its varied hillsides and valleys that enable Southern Oregon to successfully grow both cool and warm climate varietals. This area receives significantly less rainfall than other viticultural areas in Oregon (40 percent less than in the Willamette Valley) and is generally a warm, sunny, arid climate.
Southern Oregon’s soils are varied and complex, though generally derived from bedrock, specifically from the 200 million year old Klamath Mountains, which are comprised of sedimentary rocks to the west. The Southern Oregon appellation contains a varied, mountainous topography with vineyards typically situated in high mountain valleys at elevations between 1,000 to 2,000 feet. The lofty southern coastal mountains provide a barrier to the west, blocking marine air and casting a rain shadow to the area’s south and east.
Predominant Varieties: Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris, Syrah, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, White Riesling, Tempranillo, Gewurztraminer, Viognier.
13. Columbia Gorge – Just 60 miles east of Portland, the Columbia Gorge Wine region lies in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge, a dramatic river corridor that straddles the Columbia River for 15 miles into both Oregon and Washington. This region, which encompasses 40 miles, includes both the Columbia Gorge AVA & part of the Columbia Valley AVA. Lewis and Clark first made the Columbia Gorge famous when they passed through on their way to the Pacific Ocean in 1805.
The Numbers: 26 Oregon vineyards, 24 Washington vineyards, 13 Oregon wineries, 18 Washington wineries, 350 Oregon vineyard acres.
Grape growing in the Columbia Gorge area dates back to the 1880s when the Jewitt family, who founded the town of White Salmon, Washington, planted American vines they had brought with them from Illinois. Other pioneer families followed suit and today some of their original vines are still alive and have withstood sub-zero temperatures. It wasn’t until the 1970s that post-prohibition pioneers started experimenting with wine grape vineyards on the south facing slopes of the Underwood Mountain in Washington. Over the next two decades, well-known winemakers started to discover the incredible grapes of this region, and the rest is history. The Columbia Gorge appellation became official in 2004.
Within the winegrowing region, the climate in the Columbia Gorge appellation changes drastically. To the west is a cooler, marine-influenced climate where it rains 36 inches per year; to the east it’s a continental high desert climate with just 10 inches of annual rainfall. This extreme variance of climate means this area can successfully grow a wide range of classical varieties. The Columbia Gorge wine region soils are generally silty loams collected over time from floods, volcanic activity and landslides.
The Columbia River Gorge is a narrow, winding river valley whose walls range from steep volcanic rock faces to more gentle-sloped, terraced bench lands that are typically well suited for grape growing. The Gorge is the only sea-level passage through the Cascade Mountain Range. From north to south there are two iconic geographical features: Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood, both part of the central Cascade Mountain Range.
Predominant Varieties: Pinot Noir, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Riesling.
14. Eastern Oregon – The Columbia Valley AVA is a very large growing region with 11 million acres of land in total. Most of Columbia Valley and its six sub-appellations lie in Washington State, with a small section in Oregon stretching from The Dalles to Milton-Freewater. The region is 185 miles wide and 200 miles long.
The Numbers: 50 wineries, 29,000 vineyard acres.
On the Oregon side, the Columbia Valley wine history dates back to the early 1900s, when settlers planted the area’s first vineyard on a steep, southward-sloping hill near the small town of The Dalles. These Zinfandel vines, which are now more than 100 years old, still produce wine grapes at what is today known as The Pines 1852 Vineyard, whose vintner revitalized the land in the early 1980s. Around the same time, as the Washington side of the Columbia Valley appellation began to flourish with large-scale wineries, reputable winemakers started tagging the small Oregon side as an excellent location for high-quality wine grapes. The appellation became official in 1984.
The Columbia Valley has a largely Continental High Desert Climate. The hot days promote slow, even ripening, while the cool nights ensure that grapes retain their natural acidity. The area receives just 6 to 8 inches of annual rainfall, making supplemental irrigation a necessity throughout the region.
About 15,000 years ago a series of tremendous ice age floods (dubbed the Missoula Floods) deposited silt and sand over the area. These deposited sediments, along with wind-blown loess sediment, make up the area’s present-day soils which are well-drained and ideal for grapevines.
This is a huge area covering 11 million acres. Mostly, the Columbia Valley lies on the Columbia River Plateau and encompasses the valleys formed by the Columbia River and its tributaries, including the Walla Walla, Snake and Yakima Rivers. Mountain ranges border the Columbia Valley region on the west and north, while the Columbia River acts roughly as a boundary to the south and the Snake River near Idaho acts as the border to the east.
Predominant Varieties: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Semillon, Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Syrah.
15. The Walla Walla Valley AVA – a sub-appellation of the larger Columbia Valley AVA, sits at the base of the Blue Mountains and stretches from the southeast corner of Washington, across the Columbia River and into the northeast corner of Oregon. Although a vast majority of this AVA’s wineries currently reside in Washington, almost half of the winegrowing acreage lies on the Oregon side.
The Numbers: In total, there are 70 wineries, 52 vineyards, 1,200 vineyard acres. Within Oregon: one winery, 750 vineyard acres and 31 vineyards.
Grape growing in this area dates back to the 1850s when Italian immigrants began planting vines and making wine. In 1950, the Pesciallo family established Blue Mountain Vineyards, the first post-Prohibition winery. They grew Italian varietals including Black Prince but ultimately closed their doors. It was in the 1970s that the region’s pioneer winemakers of today began producing wine commercially, with a more concerted effort on the Oregon side within the last 20 years. The appellation became official in 1984.
Washington and Northern Oregon’s northern latitude position means long sunshine-filled days balanced by cool evening temperatures of the higher elevation. This temperature variation allows the grapes to develop their flavor and complexity while retaining their natural acidity. The appellation lies east of the Cascade Mountain Range, which limits the amount of rainfall to an annual 12.5 inches, allowing vintners to perfectly manage the plants through irrigation.
Walla Walla Valley soils come in varying combinations of well-drained loam, silt, loess and cobbles brought by a series of massive floods (dubbed the Missoula floods) some 15,000 years ago.
East of the Cascade Mountain Range, this area sits at the foot of the Blue Mountains, with vineyard elevations typically ranging from 650 feet to 1,500 feet.
Predominant Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot.
16. The Snake River Valley AVA – spans southwest Idaho and significant parts of Baker and Malheur counties in eastern Oregon. Collectively, the area is a massive 8,263 square miles or 5.27 million acres (that’s nearly as large as New Jersey). Its boundaries make up the now dry, 4 million-year-old Lake Idaho, which extends 149 miles northwest to southeast, from the Oregon-Idaho state line to just west of Twin Falls, Idaho. The major Oregon cities include Ontario and Baker City.
The Numbers: 46 Vineyards, 22 Wineries, 1,107 Vineyard Acres.
There is one planted vineyard on the Oregon side of the Snake River Valley AVA. There is heightened interest in this area and Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Oregon is developing a viticulture and winemaking curriculum to be offered in the near future.
Pre-Prohibition wine history of the Snake River Valley dates back to the late 1860s when French and German immigrants grew and produced fine wine. It was during this time that Idaho enjoyed a nationally renowned reputation for its wine industry, winning awards as far away as Buffalo, New York. In 1919 however, Prohibition shut down the wineries. It wasn’t until 1970 that wine grapes were planted again in Snake River Valley. Today, just 1,107 of the appellation’s 5.27 million acres are planted with vinifera vineyards, which mean there is a tremendous amount of growth potential. The Snake River Valley became Idaho’s first (and only to date) and Oregon’s sixteenth official winegrowing region on April 9, 2007.
Located inland and in the rain shadows of the Cascade, Sierra Nevada and Owyhee Mountain ranges, the Snake River Valley receives just 10 to 12 inches of annual rainfall, most of which occurs in winter. This allows vintners to perfectly manage the plants through irrigation during the region’s relatively short (142 days on average) growing season. This area is also characterized by hot days and cool nights in summer. This drastic diurnal temperature variation helps balance natural acids and sugars, making the grapes ideal for premium winemaking.
There are a great variety of soil types in the Snake River Valley, predominantly sand, mud silts, loess and volcanic detritus on top of sedimentary rock. The soil types of the Snake River Valley are so diverse that soil is not a distinguishing factor in this appellation.
The Snake River Valley AVA encompasses the now dry, 4 million-year-old Lake Idaho. With relatively low elevation (between 2,165 feet and 3,412 feet), this basin area appears sunken compared to the surrounding high-elevation mountains, which exceed 7,000 feet. Multiple mountain ranges provide a barrier from Pacific Northwest marine influences, which limits the amount of rainfall the Snake River Valley receives. Vineyard elevations go as high as 3,000 feet (that’s higher than any other winegrowing regions in the Northwest). Most of the vineyards in Snake River Valley are at elevations between 1,500 feet and 2,500 feet.
Predominant Varieties: Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gewurztraminer and Merlot.