Guide to Oregon Wine Country
Oregon wineries are generally small and decentralized within each official wine region of the state. They are often winemaker or family-owned. Most Oregon wine country regions lie in valleys between the southern Cascade Mountains and the coastal range to the west.
The northwest portion of Oregon is celebrated for its cool-climate grape varieties, including Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and, especially, Pinot Noir. The Southern Oregon appellation (AVA), starting south of Eugene, includes the Umpqua Valley, the Applegate Valley and the Rogue Valley, all located in the southwestern portion of the state. These regions, along the vineyards of the Columbia Gorge Valley View Vineyards, Applegate Valley AVA, are generally higher, much warmer and significantly drier than those appellations in the northwestern quadrant of Oregon State including the Willamette Valley AVA.
It wasn’t until early 2005 that the Southern Oregon appellation was federally authorized as the macro viticultural area encompassing the previously authorized regions of the Umpqua, the Applegate and the Rogue Valleys. The rich variety of microclimates in southern Oregon (as well as in the Columbia Gorge AVA at Oregon’s north central border) provide distinctive vineyard locations capable of nurturing high-quality Bordeaux and Rhône grape varieties as well as French Burgundian varieties such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Columbia Gorge appellation, located on both the Oregon and Washington sides of the Columbia River, was authorized as an official AVA for both states in June 2004.
Oregon’s northern latitude brings long hours of summer sunshine to its vineyards, usually adequate to fully ripen grapes. Occasional marine breezes breach the coastal range, and help moderate the climate, causing the ripening process for wine grapes to be gradual. The combination of these conditions encourages complex fruit flavors, aromatics and nuances in these northern-Oregon-grown wines, complexities that allow Oregon wineries to compete well with other world-class wineries.
The Willamette Valley AVA is the largest of Oregon's wine country regions, stretching from Portland in northern Oregon to Eugene, more than 100 miles to the south. When the Willamette Valley AVA was first authorized in 1984, its geographic description included 3.3 million acres. Twenty years later, winemakers and wine growers succeeded in submitting applications for approval of several subregions within the Willamette Valley, to better describe microclimates that had proven over the years to be particularly suited for the growing of wine grapes. McMinnville Foothills, Dundee Hills and the Yamhill-Carlton District were all authorized as official AVAs in early 2005.
Appellations on the east side of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains include the southern ends of the Columbia and Walla Walla valleys. Both these wine regions, however, lie mostly within Washington State to the north. Currently, there are no Oregon wineries in either of these eastern regions — only vineyards.
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