It’s no secret that I’m kinda infatuated with Oregon wines. More than just the wines…it’s the people behind them. That whole “Keep Portland Weird” thing, kinda speaks for much of Oregon. But then again, with all the delicious weirdness, there is a simple, elegant classy side also. I love it so much, let’s delve in a little.
The Oregon Wine Trailblazers
This is a relatively new region for wine. The first winery, post prohibition, appeared in southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley back in 1961, thanks to Richard Sommer who refused to listen to the UC Davis folks who told him it wouldn’t work. There were a couple of other UC Davis grads who bucked the trends in the mid to late 60’s and headed North including David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards), Dick Erath (yep, you guessed it, Erath) and Charles Coury (which is now David Hill Winery). If you have been into a wine store (or a grocery store) you will recognize Erath. Obviously growing grapes here worked.
My Introduction to Oregon Wine – At Home in the Vineyard
I’ll admit that my knowledge of early Oregon wine history came from reading Susan Sokol Blosser’s book “At Home in the Vineyard”. this memoir is her personal story of the struggle to build the Sokol Blosser Winery in the Dundee Hills. These were not people with money looking to invest and have a retreat in a vineyard. They were idealists and they struggled with the weather and the soils as they figured our this new area for wine.
This was the way for many of the early vineyard owners and winemakers and it’s still that way for many today. (I had a wonderful conversation with Annedria Beckham of Beckham vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains that I will share with you soon, about the continuing struggles of planting and growing their vineyard and winery).
I encourage you to visit the fantastic site of the Oregon Wine Board and read all about the history of this great region.
Early visit circa 2011
My introduction to Oregon wine came with a visit back in 2011. We came to spend 3 or 4 days, visit wine country and catch up with an old friend of mine. We stayed at the cottage at Winter Hill. Winter Hill Winery is in the Dundee Hills, the cottage was over the hill with a separate entrance. There were chickens running about and an amazing view of the area and the stars from the porch.
On this visit we took in, Winter Hill Winery, Erath, Youngberg Hill, Stoller Family Estate, Lange Estate, Argyle, Cana’s Feast, Willakenzie, Rex Hill, Trisaetum, Domaine Drouhin Oregon, Sokol Blosser, Torii Mor, Vidon & Vista Hills. It’s a list, I know!
I remember them all. Here are a few of the stories…
Winter Hill at the time was tasting in the middle of the working winery on a folding table. It was a humble for a tasting room, but warm and friendly, and we got a first hand look at the wines with the people who were putting their heart and soul into the endeavor.
Michael was driving to get to us Youngberg Hill and Adam (my friend who had been married there just a year before) was giving directions. Adam and I got busy talking and we missed a turn, and then another. We arrived to views and VIP treatment thanks to Adam. The views here are wedding worthy that’s for sure!
At Stoller, Adam was also a member, and he was doing a pick up, so we got a little extra special treatment. I remember a Tempranillo they had that I wish we would have taken home with us. And I remember a story about the honey that they were hoping to get from hives in a black berry patch part way up the hill.
Up on the hill at Lange, we were greeted by Jack, the vineyard cat and stepped into the tiny tasting room where they were boxing up their wine club shipment. I remember a moving experience tasting their Pinot Noir (if I close my eyes, I can still taste it).
At Argyle we enjoyed some bubbles and I got hooked on their Black Brut. This was back when Rollin Soles the pioneering vintner was still the winemaker. I remember thinking how cool it was that Lyle Lovett was his friend from college. They are two unique and iconic individuals in their own right.
When we visited Vidon, we met Don the owner, when he came in off the tractor. Don was still busy in the vineyard back then. He was a particle physicist by training and worked with NASA before he purchased the property in the Chehalem Mountains in 1999. We also visited Vista Hills. It was late in the day, and close to the cottage and they snuck us in as their last tasting. The views are stunning and the wines delicious. We returned to them on our last trip again, just before the announcement that they had been purchased by Coppola.
We’ve waxed poetic on some of this before…
You can read a little about the Stoller Tempranillo, the Lange Pinot Noir and the Argyle Black Brut in our piece Wines I can’t forget Part 1
Or about that Trisaetum Coastal Riesling in Wines I Can’t forget Part 3.
And in our piece on Gravity flow wineries, we talk a bit about Willakenzie.
Returning to Oregon in 2018
Last year we returned to this region that had so enchanted us. We spent 5 days exploring AVA’s within the Willamette Valley. Actually trying to visit each of the AVA’s and the proposed AVA’s. We gathered so much content, that we are still putting out pieces! We also were able to enjoy the last “Uncommon Wine Festival” at Vista Hills, where we spent a day tasting and talking with up and coming wine makers.
You can see Mega Mix Video and read about the day at Vista Hills Vineyard and the Uncommom Wine Festival.
Willamette Valley AVAs
We did a Primer on this that you can read here. We managed to visit most of the AVAs.
Current Willamette Valley AVAs
We managed to visit a winery or tasting room representing each of the current AVAs
- Chehalem Mountains AVA – est 2006 where we visited Beckham Vineyards and met both Annedria and Andrew.
- Dundee Hills AVA – est 2005 where we visited Vista Hills to taste their wine as well as enjoy the hospitality of the Uncommon Wine Festival
- Eola-Amity Hills AVA – est 2006. We visited the Evening Land tasting room in Dundee and then drove to see the vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills.
- McMinnville AVA – est 2005. We visited Brittan Vineyards tasting room and then did a drive by of the McMinnville vineyard on the way to the coast.
- Ribbon Ridge AVA – est 2005, where we revisited Trisaetum.
- Van Duzer Corridor AVA – est 2019, actually established after we visited! We visited Johan here and fell in love.
- Yamhill-Carlton AVA – est 2005. We spent a wonderful evening enjoy the sunset view at Fairsing Vineyard (along with smores!)
Proposed Willamette Valley AVAs
In addition there are 4 more proposed AVAs, which include:
- Mt Pisgah/Polk County AVA. Located near Salem, we spent 1/2 a day with Lowell Ford owner of Illahe Vineyard.
- Laurelwood AVA. We visited Ponzi Vineyards in this proposed AVA which is the Northern facing slopes of the Chehalem Mountains.
- Tualatin Hills AVA. Located North of Yamhill-Carlton and West of Chehalem Mountians, we visited with Rudy Marchesi of Montinore Estate.
- Lower Long Tom AVA. Okay…we didn’t make it here. It is far south between Corvalis and Eugene and there was just not enough time.
Get yourself to Oregon. You won’t regret it. Be it the Willamette Valley or further south in the Umpqua, Applegate or Rogue Valleys. Or maybe you head to some of those border areas that share AVAs with Washington. (they are good about sharing in Oregon)
And don’t forget to check back here! We have loads of posts on our last trip and there will be more as we head back again this July!
More on Oregon wine Country
Here are a few you might want to check out:
- Grapes of Southern Oregon with Leah Jørgensen
- Willamette Valley Oregon Wine Country
- Jim & Jenny – Fossil and Fawn
- Montinore Episode 4 Biodynamics
- Illahe Vineyards – Stepping back to a simpler time
And there are more, check the bottom of each page for other related pieces.