You know me as a Texas wine lover, and you may also know that I feel strongly we should all continually explore wines from other parts of the world. By drinking wine from other regions, we better understand what is going well here and how our wines compare to wines from the same grapes grown in other areas. In this vein of education and comparison, let’s explore the popular region of Willamette, Oregon.
In the northwest region of Oregon, the Willamette Valley boasts over 700 wineries. This American Viticultural Area (AVA) is 60 miles across at the widest point and covers 3,438,000 acres or 5,372 square miles. This stretch of land is a little over 1/3 the size of the Texas Hill Country AVA, which is nearly 15,000 square miles. Willamette boasts 22,500 acres of grapevines, nearly all planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay.
This landscape is breathtaking, but growing grapes in this cool corner of the world is challenging. Sunlight is scarce most of the year and frost can occur at the most inopportune times. The most famous grape here is Pinot Noir which is thin-skinned and notoriously sensitive. The valley stretches from north of Portland to south of Eugene and spans roughly the same latitude as the great wine region of Burgundy, France. While this may seem idyllic, the Willamette Valley is defined by a rather dramatic past including crashing tectonic plates, volcanic eruptions, and a two-thousand-year cycle of floods. The diverse mix of marine sedimentary, volcanic ash, and loess soil provides some distinct benefits and challenges for grape growers.
Some say true passion is required for making wine in the Willamette Valley. Fortunately, the region is full of determined, forward-thinking winemakers and growers who serve as stewards of the land. These are people who passionately debate the use of native yeast in wine, experiment with the microclimates in the backyard, and are constantly seeking to perfect Pinot Noir.
The Willamette Valley wine country is a popular vacation destination with luxury resorts, cozy inns, and delightful bed & breakfasts. You can also find a long list of fine-dining restaurants and intimate cafes. If you plan to visit the Willamette Valley, check out Willamette Valley Wine Tour for a comprehensive visit. The picture-perfect scenery and educated guide will draw you deeper into the story of Oregon wine.
Whether you are visiting the region or looking to expand your world wine knowledge at home, here are a few wineries that come to mind as my personal favorites: Anne Amie, The Four Graces, Ponzi, Archery Summit, and Sokol Blasser. Consider enjoying this wine region that is far different from Texas but still offers a fantastic way to explore wine.