A great and interesting wine region to visit is the Willamette Valley, Oregon. The focus is the farming. It’s less glamourous than Napa. Just as good though…In a way it really echoes Burgundy, France. Great Terroir! I have had the opportunity to tour the area in some detail.
Here are some of my insights…
The Willamette Valley was Oregon’s first official American Viticultural Area (AVA). It was created in 1984. Unofficially, it is cut into north and south halves along the 45th parallel (Burgundy, France and Piedmont, Italy are in range of that parallel) and covers from Portland up north all the way down to Eugene in the south.
The Willamette Valley has grown to 15 AVAs in Oregon and 6 sub-AVAs in the Willamette Valley. The latest AVA is Chehalem Mountains. These sub-AVA designations have started to show up on the wine labels. They Willamette Valley to give more specifics on the wine.
The soils in Willamette is what’s getting everybody motivated. There are two main types: (1) red volcanic basalt soils known as ’Jory’ from 13 million year-old lava flows, and (2) brown marine sedimentary soils known as “Willakenzie’ laid down under the ocean 20 million years ago. The hillsides with vineyards are situated in places from 200-1000 ft. in elevation.
The valley floor is exciting too. It’s composed of rich, alluvial soils which are appropriate for crops such as grain, grass seed, and fruit trees. This is just a big plus for local foods and restaurants as well. Along with the area seafood and the cheeses. Wow!
Anyways, all this soil action makes for some nuances wines!
I am going to give a synopses about flavor and style of Pinot Noir that can be made for the appellations based on the differences in soil type.
The AVAs with Jory soils like Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills and parts of Chehalem Mountains and McMinnville tend to produce Pinot Noirs with bright red fruits including cherry and raspberry, and are softly textured.
The Pinot Noirs from AVAs with Willakenzie soils like Yamhill-Carlton, Ribbon Ridge, and some parts of Chehalem Mountains and McMinnville seem to offer much more darker fruit, spice (cola, five spice, anise), and forrest floor, musty flavors and have bigger tannins and structure. (this is where you can find similar to California...but not so much... ;-) )
The best way to get a feel for the Willamette Valley terrain is to visit.
All of the appellations are can be easily explored by car over the course of a few days, and only a 45 to 90 minute drive from Portland!
Vintages in Oregon are, like Burgundy, at the mercy of climatic conditions during the growing season. Then there was a run of good vintages from 1998 until 2002.
In 2003 the weather was the hottest and driest year on record in the Willamette Valley. The Pinot Noirs had elevated sugar levels, high extraction, high alcohol, and raisiny flavors. The 2004 and the 2005 are of great quality.
I have barrel tasted the 2006. It’s boundless. I really liked them. Which may sounds frivolous; but they hit the spot for me. Beautiful nose and palate. I have tasted Archery Summit, Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Serene, Rex Hill, Chehalem , Sokkel Blosser Elk Cove, Ponzi, Benton Lane, and Argyle and several more.
…According to the the Oregon Wine Press the 2006 Vintage is superb
…According to winegeeks.com, the following vintages were “great”: 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2003, and the remaining ones “outstanding”: 1999, 2002, and 2004.