The Willamette Valley is Oregon’s largest AVA (American Viticultural Area), over 150 miles long and 60 miles wide and producing some of the finest Pinot Noir and other wines in existence. It 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 District and Chehalem Mountains. There are 200 wineries and over 12,000 acres of wine grapes in this AVA, and it produces very fine Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and other excellent wines.
History. The first of Oregon’s modern winemakers made their way to Willamette Valley in the 1960s to plant Pinot Noir and other grapes. They were joined by other winemakers over time, all working together and supporting each other in winemaking. The rest of America, and the world, began to take notice of Willamette Valley in 1979. That year David Lett, one of the original wine pioneers, entered his Oregon Pinot Noir in the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades and won top Pinot Noir honors against France’s best wines. The Oregon Willamette Valley became an official AVA in 1984. Today it is known as one of the top wine producing areas in the world, not only for its Pinot Noir but for its award winning Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Dijon clone Chardonnay wines.
Climate and Soil. The Oregon Willamette Valley’s climate is mild throughout the year, with cool wet winters and warm dry summers. These gentle growing conditions are perfect for cool climate grapes such as Pinot Noir. Oregon’s Willamette Valley enjoys more daylight hours during the growing season than other areas in the state. The long warm days and cool nights allow the grapes to develop flavor and complexity. Willamette Valley’s soil, composed of an old volcanic and sedimentary seabed, provides excellent drainage for growing wine grapes. Oregon’s Willamette Valley shares the 45th Parallel North with Burgundy, France which gives it a similar growing season, one reason why Pinot Noir is thought to grow well here.
Wine Varieties. Oregon’s Willamette Valley produces predominantly Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling. For some excellent examples of these fine Oregon wines, try either (or both) of the Willamette Valley wineries below.
Willamette Valley Vineyards. This Oregon vineyard produces 125,000 cases per year, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay, and Muscat. The Willamette Valley winery and its underground cellar are carved into the top of an ancient volcanic cinder cone. Environmental and sustainability concerns are very important to this Oregon winery, and all of its vineyards are certified LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology) and Salmon Safe. In addition, all of the vineyards’ equipment use bio-fuel. Try their 2007 Pinot Noir, with aromas of raspberries and cocoa, and flavors that are a delicious blend of vanilla and red cherries. You can purchase this Oregon wine for $25.00 per bottle. The 2008 Pinot Gris, $15.00 per bottle, is also outstanding, a white wine with aromas of honeydew and green apple, and flavors of tropical fruit.
Emerson Vineyards. Family owned and operated for generations, this Willamette Valley winery is located on 127 acres of the Oregon coast. They grow Pinot Noir, Viognier, Baco Noir and other wine making grapes. This Oregon vineyard also focuses on environmental and sustainability issues; all of its sprays are organic, and they utilize cover crops, spent-grape-skin pomace fertilizer, and dry-farming. Their excellent Oregon wines include a 2008 Chardonnay with aromas of vanilla and apple, and amazing flavors of pear, apple and spice. This wine was awarded the Grand Award of Excellence “Double Gold” at the 2010 Oregon Wine Awards. For another Willamette Valley experience, try Emerson Vineyards’ 2008 Riesling. You’ll enjoy aromas of honey and orange in this Oregon wine, along with flavors of melon, lime and apple.