Willamette is often compared to Burgundy because of their mutual affinity towards Pinot Noir and similarity of climate. Where they most significantly diverge is in regard to the soil. While Burgundy is known for its limestone marl, Willamette Valley has none. No Limestone. Instead, it is known for its volcanic based soils Jory and Nekia, uplifted marine sedimentary soils based on sandstone and shale, and ancient loess. These soils provide a broader texture than limestone and are key to the distinction of Willamette Valley wines and how they express fruit, earth, and structure. The nine sub appellations of Willamette Valley distinguish themselves by these soil types, as well as aspect, altitude, and wind that funnels in from the Pacific, and I encourage you to do some comparison tasting to see for yourself.
While Pinot Noir is king in Oregon, it’s certainly not the only wine worth drinking. Pinot Gris has been in the valley for as long as Pinot Noir and has a unique expression that’s all its own. Southern Oregon has an even older history than Willamette and produces some incredible Rhone and Spanish varieties in its relatively warm climate. The small set of wineries around Hood River in the Columbia Gorge are making a wide variety of wines in the tiny region’s volatile climate including fantastic sparkling wines, and warm weather varieties, not to mention the wildly thoughtful wines at Hiyu. But what has really been on the minds of many in the biz these days is Oregon Chardonnay. The sister grape to Pinot Noir has also been in the area from the beginning and quietly been produced in a restrained, low oak, mineral and verve driven style for decades. Finally, these styles are being embraced by sommeliers and consumers alike. I hesitate to tell you to be on the lookout for these Chardonnays because I really just want to drink them all myself, but they’re absolutely wines to seek out and drink with conviction. Go find some Big Table Farm, Lingua Franca, or Walter Scott and find out for yourself.
The beauty of the quality of Oregon wine is only reinforced by the overall commitment to sustainability and beyond. Over fifty percent of the vineyards in the state are certified sustainable, and Oregon is home to over fifty percent of Demeter’s Biodynamic Certified vineyards in the United States. Oregonians take stewardship of their land seriously, and most if not all of the wineries in this blog are pushing the envelope for organic, biodynamic, and regenerative farming.
Oregon has been a sleeper region for a long time despite a history that nearly syncs with that of California. It’s time we as consumers and wine pros wake up to see that it has pretty much everything we’re looking for.