Oregon Wine Month: Willamette Valley 101
Posted on November 11 2023
This November here at The Good Wine Shop we are excited to be celebrating Oregon Wine Month; we have bolstered our wine selection to show many of the amazing wines this breath-taking region has to offer!
Coming from North America, I’ve long been spoiled for choice when it comes to Oregon wine. For UK wine lovers, Oregon has historically been under-represented. If you’re just now discovering this wine region, it is a densely forested state in the Pacific Northwest of the United States; the state is sandwiched between Washington State to the north and California to the south. Oregon’s wine scene is synonymous with one region and one grape: The Willamette Valley and Pinot Noir.
The excitement around Oregon Pinot began in the 1970s when winemaker David Lett received outstanding results in French wine competitions for his Pinot Noir from the Eyrie Vineyards. Seeing these results, winemakers flocked to the region and international investment soon followed.
Like any Pinot Noir-growing region, it is difficult to label a generic style of wine produced. Typically Oregon’s Pinots are earthier than those produced in California and show riper fruit than those from the Cote d’Or in Burgundy. From a more technical standpoint, there is limited use of oak in Oregon and grapes are more often de-stemmed, as opposed to left as whole clusters for fermentation. It is worth noting Burgundy’s other star, Chardonnay, also excels in Oregon. While less planted the resulting wines are acid-driven, subtle, and show little oak influence.
Grape growing is possible in the Willamette Valley thanks to two mountain ranges that protect vineyards from wind and rain: the Cascade Mountain Range to the east and the Coastal Mountains to the west. There are several sub-regions aka AVAs (American Viticultural Area) in the Willamette Valley; to get a feel for Willamette wine I’d recommend starting with wines from the Dundee Hills AVA and Eola-Amity Hills AVA.
David Lett’s iconic Pinot Noir comes from Dundee Hills AVA. This sub-region is unique for its red volcanic soils that lead to delicate and perfumed Pinots often with a lighter colour in the glass and a red fruit profile. In our range, we have two fantastic examples of Dundee Hills Pinot Noir from producers Sokol Blosser and Kelley Fox Wines.
Susan Sokol and Bill Blosser were among the first to plant vines in the Dundee Hills long before the wine industry was booming. Their Dundee Hills Pinot Noir has a rich bouquet with notes of mushroom, truffle, and forest floor, accompanied by black cherry, cranberry, and clove.
Kelley Fox Wines is a small family winery run by just two people, Kelley Fox and her brother, Gerson Stearns. The wines are made to reflect the land, the vines, the fruit of the vines, the year, and everything else unknown and unseen that comes with those things. While Kelley’s Pinots are fantastic, we are equally as fond of her Durant Chardonnay sourced from the Durant Vineyard. This is a nervy, finely balanced, and elegant Chardonnay with a nose of minerals citrus and a hint of vanilla.
In contrast to Dundee Hills, Pinot Noir’s from Eola-Amity Hills AVA are denser and more tannic, often with a darker hue in the glass and a darker fruit profile on the nose. Why the difference in style? There is a gap in the Coastal Mountains where the cold Van Duzer wind blows. This wind causes stress on the vine and reduces berry size, shrinks crop yields, and produces thicker grape skins. It’s worth noting that vines are grown here on marine sedimentary soils which also contributes to the darker colour and profile. Unlike in Burgundy, there is no limestone or marl soils in the Willamette Valley. We are excited to carry Eola-Amity Hills wines from producers Evening Land and Cristom.
Cult winemaker Sashi Moorman runs this operation. He follows organic and biodynamic principles in the vineyard and is very hands-off in the cellar. Seven Springs Pinot Noir is a vibrant wine with nuanced notes of savouriness and smokiness accompanying the pure fruit.
Cristom Vineyards is a family-owned and operated winery that has established itself as a top producer in Oregon. They farm organically and much of their range is focused on single vineyard wines. They are quite partial to whole cluster fermentation and use more new oak than many producers in Oregon. Their Mount Jefferson Pinot Noir is quite rich and perfumed with notes of blackberries, rhubarb liquorice, and florals.
If you are interested in learning more about the region please come by any of our shops; our wine advisors are always happy for a chat!