Oregon wine country, in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, today encompasses over 28,000 acres of vineyards and is home to more than 700 wineries producing over 3 million cases of wine per year. The state ranks third in number of wineries and fourth in volume of production (after California, Washington and New York). The Oregon wine industry has historically focused on the production of low volume, high quality Oregon wines. The state is best known for its Burgundy-style, single vineyard Pinot Noir wines.
While California is best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, the top red grape of Oregon is Pinot Noir. This flagship grape accounts for the majority of plantings at more than 17,000 acres. The classic Oregon Pinot Noir is an intense cherry red in the glass. On the nose, it reveals delicious aromas of fresh black cherries and strawberry jam. At times, these wines offer earthy notes of forest floor and truffle, reminiscent of Burgundy Pinot Noir. On the palate, this red wine reveals a silky texture and an explosion of flavors. The latter include dark fruits like blackberry, black cherry and plum, spice and black tea.
The next three most planted varieties are white: Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling. And finally, Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for 650 acres of vineyard land in total. Other varieties include Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo and Gamay.
Oregon is home to three major wine producing AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas). The best known of these is the Willamette Valley of Oregon, which extends from Eugene in the south to the Columbia River in the north, and from the Cascade Mountains in the east to the Oregon Coast Range in the west. The Pinot Noir of Willamette Valley wine region produces some of the best expressions of this grape, regularly fetching a higher than regular price and great scores on Wine Searcher. Willamette Valley Pinot Noir wines are often confused with Burgundy reds from France at a blind tasting.
Just like in Burgundy, small AVA zones have developed within larger wine growing AVA’s, including the Ribbon Ridge, Chehalem Mountains, Mcminnville, Eola Amity Hills and Dundee Hills in Willamette Valley AVA. Each subregion, each estate and winery produces its own style of Oregon Pinot Noir. For example, the Pinot Noir of Dundee Valley grows in red volcanic soils known as Jory soil, which produce very concentrated and structured red wines. The Willamette Valley vineyards also grown Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Semillon in white. Red wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel grapes as well.
The second best known major AVA of Oregon is the Southern Oregon AVA, which includes the Rogue Valley AVA and Umpqua Valley AVA. The subregions of Southern Oregon are known to be less focused on Pinot Noir, instead growing a wide range of grape varieties. These include Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gruner Veltliner and Riesling. The vineyards are pruned in December and harvest can take place as early as August.
The Columbia Gorge AVA is situated in the Columbia Gorge and straddles the Columbia River, in both Oregon and Washington states. Here, a dynamic topography and geography results in a mosaic of mesoclimates, allowing winemakers to plant a wide range of grapes.
The Columbia Valley AVA is mostly situated in Washington, though a subsection with around 1,200 acres planted in Oregon. These vineyards are dedicated to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sangiovese. Included entirely within the Columbia Valley AVA, the Walla Walla Valley AVA is known for its relatively warm climate, perfect for the production of high-quality Syrah.
Finally, the Snake River Valley AVA (recently established by the Oregon Wine Board) is characterized by cool temperatures with low rainfall. Here, the vineyards are home to hardier grape varieties, like Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewurztraminer. Some warmer areas of Snake River Valley also allow for the cultivation of red grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
In addition to the excellent quality of its wines, Oregon has become known for its wine tourism, centered mostly around the city of Portland.