Monday, July 23, 2012

Oregon Wine Country: Behind Every Bottle A Place And A Face

Portland, Oregon, will host the 5th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference August 17-19. Once again a tasting team from Toledo Wines and Vines will be there to visit wineries, sample new wines and report on the festivities. Here a brief snapshot of the wonderful wine region of Oregon.

Stu Seeger
Rolling Oregon vineyards between Dundee and Newberg. Photo by Stu Seeger.
In 1979 at a Paris tasting with entries from more than 330 countries, the 1975 Eyrie Pinot Noir took a top 10 finish. In a follow-up match the next year, it came in second place – and less than a point behind – the 1959 Drouhin Chambolie-Musigny. This was an astounding international achievement. Since that time Pinot Noir has been Oregon’s flagship wine.

Although there is much more than Pinot Noir in Oregon, it certainly is king. There are 12,560 acres of Pinot Noir planted in Oregon, more than four times the amount of the second most popular grape (which is Oregon’s “other Pinot,” Pinot Gris). Lesser amounts of Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon are also planted.

Oregon’s Pinot Gris is often been compared to that made in Alsace. It is medium-bodied, yellow to copper in color, crisp with full fruit flavors.
Don Hankins
King Estate Winery. Photo by Don Hankin.

Countless millennia of volcanic eruptions and cataclysmic glacial action have blessed Oregon with some of the finest soil on earth. The rugged, alluring terrain attracts adventurous winegrowers who create artisan wines featuring fresh fruit flavors and lively acidity.

The vineyards are planted in small pockets to take advantage of the best micro-climates. There are enough of these pockets to make Oregon the fourth largest producer of wine in the U.S.

Oregon has 16 American Viticultural Areas (AVA): Columbia Valley, Umpqua Valley, Walla Walla Valley, Willamette Valley, Rogue Valley, Applegate Valley, Columbia Gorge, Dundee Hills, Yamhill-Carlton District, Southern Oregon, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Red Hill Douglas County, Eola-Amity Hills, Chehalem Mountains, and Snake River Valley.

The Columbia Gorge and Walla Walla Valley include parts of Washington State while the Snake River Valley is principally in Idaho.

The three main wine regions are:

Willamette Valley: Located just south of Portland and home to approximately 70 percent of Oregon’s wineries.  It is the largest and most important region. This fertile river valley produces primarily Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling.

Umpqua Valley: Located in the southwestern area of Oregon. It is the site of Oregon’s first winery, Hillcrest Vineyard. The warm climate here produces outstanding red wines including Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Also produced are Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.

Rogue Valley: Located in the southern part of the state just above the California border. The warm weather is well suited to growing red grapes such as Merlot. Also produced are Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon.

The wines of Oregon are impressive and food-friendly. Unlike some other states, if a grape variety is named on the label of an Oregon wine, 90 percent of that wine must be made from that variety. Other states require only 75 percent. (One exception to this rule is Cabernet Sauvignon, which only needs to contain 75 percent.)

Oregon offers a diverse and bountiful landscape with handcrafted, exquisite wines.

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