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The Pacific Northwest.

This chapter explains how the wine industry developed in Washington and Oregon, and discusses how their respective climates and geography have affected the varieties of grapes that are grown and the styles of wine that they produce.



The Pacific Northwest is one of the nation's most important wine-producing regions. Oregon and Washington's wine-growing regions range from 400 to 600 miles (650 to 960 km) north of California's Napa and Sonoma appellations. This places them at approximately the same latitude as the Bordeaux and Burgundy regions of France. Oregon and Washington combined account for about 4 percent of the U.S. wine production but have 16 percent of the nation's wineries. With comparable geography, history, and culture, the two states are similar in many respects. However, in spite of these similarities the wine industries of the two states have developed differently, giving each its own unique identity. Washington's vineyards are predominately in the dryer eastern part of the state, and several large producers make up the majority of the production (Figure 12.1). Oregon's vineyards, by contrast, are located primarily in the state's western half and small wineries and vineyards predominate (Figure 12.2). Washington and Oregon have three American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), the Walla Walla, Columbia Valley, and Columbia Gorge, which cross the boundary between the two states. The majority of the vineyard land in the Walla Walla and Columbia Valley AVAs lies on the Washington side of the border, while the vineyards of the Columbia Gorge appellation are more evenly distributed.


After California, Washington State is the nation's second largest producer of premium table wine, making nearly five times as much wine as Oregon does. New York State produces slightly more wine than Washington, but much of its production is from non--Vitis vinifera grape varieties. In recent decades there has been dramatic change in the state's wine industry; it has undergone rapid growth, with wine grape acreage increasing nearly 200 percent and the number of wineries increasing 500 percent from 1997 to 2008. Riesling is the most widely planted variety with Chardonnay coming in a close second, but the state is also known for its red wines, particularly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon (Figure 12.3).





Compared to California, the history of winemaking in Washington is not nearly as extensive. The state's first grapes were planted by members of the Hudson's Bay Company at Fort Vancouver in 1825. The grapes were planted from seed instead of from cuttings, and the variety is unknown. However, since the seeds came from Europe they were undoubtedly a cultivar of V vinifera. Although this is not much later than winemaking began at the California missions, the commercial winemaking industry of Washington developed at a much slower pace. Fort Vancouver was a fur-trading outpost on the north side of the Columbia River near Portland. Early settlers coming to the area for homesteading would stop at the fort for provisions, and some early immigrants acquired vine cuttings to take with them to their new farms. Here the grapes were cultivated, and the settlers would make small quantities of wine for personal use. In Eastern Washington, the first grapes were planted in the Walla Walla Valley around 1859. The settlers found the Walla Walla Valley to be an excellent growing region for many fruits and vegetables, and by the 1860s several plant nurseries were started and supplied local farmers with fruit trees and grapevines. Grapes grew particularly well in the irrigated vineyards of Eastern Washington because it was much dryer during the growing season than the coastal areas were. The dry weather helped prevent rot and mildew on the grape clusters as they developed.

Just northwest of Walla Walla in the Yakima Valley, grape growing began when a French immigrant named Charles Schanno planted grapes in 1869 and soon after began making wine. Schanno had brought vine cuttings with him when he moved from The Dalles, Oregon, on the Columbia River, protecting them during the journey by wrapping them in wet straw. While living in The Dalles, he had founded Oregon's first brewery and was very familiar with fermentation. Within a decade, grape growing had expanded in the Yakima area and traveled northward to the town of Wenatchee. Here John Galler, a Dutch trapper, and Phillip Miller from Germany had each established their own homesteads with fruit orchards as well as grapevines. By 1874, each operation was annually producing 1,500 gallons (5,700 liters) of wine (Irvine & Clore, 1998).

By the end of the century, there were many small farming communities throughout the eastern half of Washington State. The region was found to be particularly well suited for tree crops and viticulture because of the lack of rain during the growing season and plentiful water for irrigation from rivers. Despite the growth of agriculture in the region, winemaking remained mainly an amateur activity. Many settlers of European descent would grow grapes to make wine for their own families, and it was not a major source of income. At the turn of the century, the commercial industry began to develop in the Yakima Valley. In 1905, a Seattle attorney named Elvert Blaine founded Stone House Winery near the town of Grandview in the middle of the Yakima Valley. He hired a French Canadian winemaker named Paul Charvet, and soon they were using both traditional vinifera winemaking varieties as well as Concord grapes to produce wine.

The Concord variety is native to the East Coast of the United States and is very cold tolerant as well as being a prodigious producer. Today Concord accounts for about 40 percent of Washington State's vineyard acreage; however, it is used for making grape juice and jelly rather than wine. Because of their tolerance to the Northwest's cold winters, native American grapes from the East Coast such as Concord and Isabella became popular. The importance of grape growing increased as agriculture in Eastern Washington developed and by 1911 the first Columbia River Valley Grape Carnival was held in Kennewick Washington, where over 40 different varieties of grapes were entered. The Concord variety is still used for winemaking today in New York and other northeastern states.

Prohibition and Rebirth

Prohibition had much the same effect on Washington's wine and grape business as it had in other American wine regions. Although wineries were devastated by the law, vineyards flourished, producing grapes for juice as well as for home winemakers. At the beginning of Prohibition in 1920, the state's vineyards were producing 1,800 tons (1,632 metric tons) of fruit annually, and by 1929 they were producing 6,200 tons (5,600 metric tons), the majority being the Concord variety (Irvine & Clore, 1998). After Prohibition was repealed at the end of 1933, the state set up the Washington State Liquor Control Board to regulate the consumption of alcohol. It did this by controlling the distribution and sale of wine and spirits through state-owned stores. Although the goal of the state stores was to limit consumption by being the only source for consumers to purchase alcohol, they also wanted to encourage the wine business in the state. They did this by giving a significant tax break on the wines that were produced from grapes grown in Washington, putting wines from California and Europe at a competitive disadvantage. The first winery started after appeal was St. Charles Winery, Washington Bonded Winery No. 1, on Stretch Island in Puget Sound. By 1937 there were 42 wineries operating in the state, but just five years later in 1942, wartime rationing and lack of demand had lowered the number to 26. Even though the number of Washington wineries declined, the protectionist tax code preserved their market share, which reached a high of 65.7 percent in 1941 (Irvine & Clore, 1998).

The production of Washington wine declined in the decades following World War II, and consumption declined as well. However, grape growing did increase, with the extra tons going into Concord grape juice production. Many wines were made from Concord grapes picked at low sugar and then fortified to a higher alcohol. Non-grape wines were also made, taking advantage of the Northwest's production of high-quality fruits and berries. The quality of Washington wines during this time was generally substandard, and there was little incentive to improve production methods because the protectionist laws limited competition from out of state. This trend first began to change in the early 1960s; Washington State University (WSU) began conducting research on winemaking and growing premium wine grapes in Eastern Washington. At WSU, Dr. Walter Clore and Dr. Charles Nagle established test vineyards of vinifera wine varieties and produced wines that demonstrated the region's potential for making fine wines. Some of the most significant research at WSU helped establish the proper methods of irrigation for growing high-quality vinifera wine grapes in the arid climate of the eastern half of the state.

In 1962 a group of amateur winemakers incorporated and formed the Associated Vintners. The group soon owned a winery and vineyard land and concentrated on producing premium wine from vinifera grapes. Associated Vintners would be renamed Columbia Winery in 1983. Another pioneer in modern winemaking during this time was one of the state's largest wineries American Wine Growers, or AWG. In 1967 it hired renowned California Winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff as a consultant and renamed its brand Ste. Michelle Vintners. Ste. Michelle was purchased by US Tobacco (now Altria Group) in 1974 and renamed Chateau Ste. Michelle. The new ownership invested a huge amount of capital and opened a number of wineries under the corporate name Stimson Lane Vineyards & Estates. Its brands include Chateau Ste. Michelle, Columbia Crest, Snoqualmie, and Northstar Winery in Washington State as well as wineries in Oregon and California. By 2009 it was producing more than half of the wine bottled in the state.


In 1969 the Washington State legislature removed its tax on wine imported from out of the state. Although this slowed development for a time, the increased competition from out of state wineries, particularly those in California, forced Washington producers to improve their product. In the late 1960s there was still greater than 20 times more vineyard acreage planted to Concord than there was with European wine varieties. Using knowledge gained from the research done at WSU, growers and vintners shifted efforts toward making wines from vinifera grapes that were more acceptable to consumers. Growth was steady but modest throughout the 1970s and there were 19 wineries in the state at the end of the decade (Figure 12.4).

As the consumption of table wines grew in America and Washington State wineries started producing better wines, the pace of development dramatically increased. In the early 1980s, two trade organizations were formed to help promote the wine industry in the state. In 1981, the Washington Wine Institute was formed to promote the business interests of the wineries and was financed by winery dues. The Washington Wine Commission was created in 1983 with help from the Department of Agriculture. It focused on the marketing and promotion of Washington wine and was funded by a small tax on grape and wine production. These two organizations helped support the wineries and vineyards of the state during the rapid growth that was to come. The success of large wineries, like Columbia and Ste. Michelle, inspired many wine enthusiasts and grape growers in the 1980s and 1990s to establish wineries of their own.

By the year 2009 there were more than 32,000 acres (12,900 hectares) of vinifera wine grapes, double the amount that was planted in 1998 (U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA], 2007a). There were also more than 500 bonded wineries in the state as well as 11 AVAs. Today Washington State is the second largest producer of fine wine after California, with 51 percent of the wine being made from white varieties and 49 percent from red (USDA, 2009a). During the rapid growth, the cost of vineyard land in Eastern Washington was much less than it was in California. This allowed Washington wineries to sell their product at a reasonable price and quickly gave the state a reputation for producing wines of good value. In recent years, as the industry has matured, it has also become known for making first-rate wines (Table 12.1).


The state of Washington is split into its eastern and western halves by the Cascade Mountain range. The western half is more urbanized and has the rainy weather and thick forests that most people associate with the state. Those who are unfamiliar with Washington's wine grape appellations wonder how it could be possible to grow wine grapes under such conditions. While there are some vineyards in the western half of the state, more than 99 percent of the wine grapes in Washington are grown east of the Cascades (USDA, 2007b). In contrast to the west side of the state, the eastern half is sparsely populated, with a dry climate and an agriculturally based economy. The dry, sunny weather is due to the rain shadow that is caused by the Cascades. Storms coming in from the Pacific Ocean are blocked by the high mountains and release their rain on the western side before moving east. The rainfall in Eastern Washington averages about 8 inches (20 cm) per year, one-fifth of the rainfall on the coast. This amount of rain is not enough to support vines; therefore, the majority of the state's vineyards are irrigated. There is adequate water available for irrigation from wells and the rivers carrying snowmelt down from the mountains. The ideal climate during the growing season, combined with irrigation, makes Eastern Washington one of the country's most productive agricultural regions for many crops besides grapes, as well as what is perhaps its most famous product, apples.

Eastern Washington is also marked by much cooler winters than viticultural areas to the south (Figure 12.5). There is often subzero weather during the winter, and budbreak is delayed, beginning about three weeks after it does in the Napa Valley. Despite the late start, harvest takes place about the same time as in Napa. This is due to the more northern latitude having longer days during the growing season, giving the vines a chance to catch up and obtain full maturity by harvest. Being east of the mountains, the area has more of a continental climate that is not as temperate as coastal grape-growing regions. The cold winters are also responsible for winterkill, the biggest headache for Washington grape growers. If the temperature falls below 5[degrees]F (-15[degrees]C), it can cause damage to the dormant buds, and if it gets cold enough, it can actually kill the grapevine down to the ground level. Winterkill conditions are different from the spring frosts described in Chapter 2. During spring frosts, tender young shoots are susceptible to subfreezing conditions; winterkill damages dormant vines before budbreak occurs. This weather does not happen every year, and when it does, it has a greater effect on yield than quality. In the winter of 1996, a hard freeze reduced that vintage's Merlot production by 60 percent. During these winter cold snaps, cold air settles in low-lying areas just as it does during spring frosts, so a vineyard's slope and orientation are very important to its survivability.


The dry climate of Eastern Washington does have advantages; since bunch rot and mildew are discouraged by low humidity, they are less of a problem here. Phylloxera is also less of a concern; although it was discovered in the state in 1943, it has not increased its range. It is not certain exactly why it never spread to other vineyards, but it is believed to be due to a combination of Washington's dry climate, sandy soils, and cold winters. The fact that the state's vineyards were also more dispersed than those in other grape-growing regions also may have helped limit the spread. Today almost all of the state's vineyards are own-rooted, that is, the vines are grown on their own roots without the use of a rootstock. This is important because if cold winter temperatures kill a vine to the ground level it is possible to train a new shoot up from the roots and establish a new vine more quickly than if it had to be regrafted.


Columbia Valley

The Columbia Valley AVA is made up of the drainage of the Columbia River from the eastern half of Washington State as well as a small portion of north central Oregon. Established in 1987 it is one of the largest AVAs in the country, encompassing nearly 11 million acres (4.4 million hectares), and it includes a number of smaller wine regions. Although the overall climate is similar throughout the region, there are many types of soils and mesoclimates that account for a number of unique terroirs. Only a small fraction of the appellation is planted to vineyards and there is much room for expansion, but not all of the land is suitable for growing grapes. The best vineyard sites must have the right soils, proper slope, and adequate water for irrigation (Figure 12.6).

The Columbia Valley has eight AVAs as well as a number of subappellations that are not official AVAs located within its boundaries. The appellations are the Horse Heaven Hills, Lake Chelan, Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, Snipes Mountain, Yakima Valley, Wahluke Slope, and the Walla Walla Valley AVAs. These appellations combined produce about 90 percent of the wine grapes grown in the Columbia Valley AVA, with the most popular varieties being Riesling (frequently called White Riesling in Washington State), Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah in that order. Syrah acreage in particular has been expanding and shows promise to be one of the region's best varieties. The appellation includes the Tri-Cities of Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco at the confluence of the Columbia, Snake, and Yakima Rivers. While it is not an official AVA, there are a number of vineyards and wineries located in the Tri-Cities region.

Yakima Valley

The Yakima Valley is a broad valley formed by the Yakima River as it flows down from the Cascade Mountains. It runs from the southern edge of the town of Yakima for 60 miles (96 km) to just before the confluence of the Yakima and the Columbia Rivers. Established in 1983, this appellation has a long history of winemaking and was Washington's first AVA. It contains just over 40 percent of Washington's vineyard acreage and a number of both small and large wineries. Chardonnay is the most widely planted variety followed by Riesling, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The valley has gentle rolling hills and most of the soil is made up of a gravelly silt-loam that drains very well; higher elevations in the valley tend to have soils with more clay content. Many crops other than grapes are grown in the valley including apples, cherries, hops, and alfalfa.

Because of the cold winters, the topography of the vineyard site is very important, and vineyards compete with other crops for the best land. Near the southern end of the valley is the small community of Prosser, the home of several wineries as well as the Washington State University Research Station where much of the research on growing vinifera in the state was done. As the wine industry in the area grows, Prosser is becoming a destination for many people touring the Eastern Washington wine county. Within the boundaries of the Yakima Valley are the smaller AVAs of the Rattlesnake Hills, Red Mountain, and Snipes Mountain.

Rattlesnake Hills and Horse Heaven Hills Appellations

The Rattlesnake Hills make up the northern slopes of Yakima Valley above the small towns of Zillah and Sunnyside. They lie at a higher elevation than most of the appellation, which gives them excellent air drainage, and the southern orientation provides good exposure to the sun. It is about a 10th the size of the Yakima Valley and is home to 17 wineries. Bordering on the southern rim of the Yakima Valley is the Horse Heaven Hills AVA. It begins on the rim of the Yakima Valley at an elevation of 1,800 feet (550 m) and gradually slopes to the south and drains into the Columbia River. It is home to Columbia Crest, one of Washington's largest wineries, which is owned by Chateau Ste. Michelle. There are 8,600 acres (3,500 hectares) planted to wine grapes, about a quarter of the vinifera vineyards in the state.

Red Mountain and Snipes Mountain

These mountain appellations are the two smallest AVAs in Washington and both have about 20 percent of their land planted to vineyard. The first vines at Red Mountain were established in 1975 and it already had a reputation for producing some of the state's best wines when it became an AVA in 2001. Located about 20 miles (32 km) east of Prosser, just outside the small town of Benton City, where the Yakima River turns to the north before it joins the Columbia, the appellation boundaries lay within both the larger Yakima and Columbia Valley AVAs. It lies above the valley floor on the western face of Red Mountain and is best known for its red wines; however, the mountain takes its name from the light red color of the cheat grass that grows on its slopes each summer (Figure 12.7). There is room for more vineyard development; however, expansion has been limited by access to water. Recently efforts have been made to develop new water sources for irrigation. The soil is light, sandy loam and well drained, with the slopes of the mountain providing excellent air drainage during hard winter freezes. Red Mountain's weather is slightly warmer than most of the Yakima Valley to the west, and the grapes have little difficulty attaining ripe sugars at harvest. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are the most widely planted varieties, but Syrah and Sangiovese are being established and show great promise. The grapes are used by a number of Washington State wineries as well as several small premium producers located within the appellation.


Snipes Mountain is one of Washington's newest recognized appellations receiving its AVA in 2009; yet it is one of the state's oldest grape-growing regions with the first vineyards being planted around 1915. It lies just to the west of the small town of Sunnyside in the middle of the Yakima Valley. Rising above the valley floor, the appellation has an elevation that ranges from 750 to 1,300 feet (225 to 400 m) which gives the vineyards excellent air drainage during freezing conditions.

Walla Walla Valley

The Walla Walla Valley lies at the southeastern edge of the Columbia Valley appellation and the southern portion of the Walla Walla AVA extends over the border into Oregon. Walla Walla translates to "many waters," and the valley is marked by several tributaries that flow down from the Blue Mountains east of the valley into the Walla Walla River. It has a slightly warmer climate than most of the Columbia Valley AVA and receives more rainfall as well, 19 inches (48 cm) annually. This allows for some of the vineyards to be dry-farmed, grown without irrigation, a rarity in the desertlike climate of Eastern Washington. The valley has a rich history of agriculture and grape growing dating back to the 1860s. The region is still home to a number of vegetable crops including peas, strawberries, and onions that all do well in Walla Walla's rich volcanic soil. Beginning in the late 1970s small, premium wineries were established in the valley. Woodward Canyon Winery and Leonetti Cellars were both founded during this time, and remain two of the state's most highly regarded producers (Figure 12.8). In recent years, the Walla Walla Valley, like the rest of the state, has experienced dramatic growth, with vineyard acreage going from 450 acres (180 hectares) in 1999 to 1,300 acres (525 hectares) in 2009. Today it is home to more than 40 small wineries that have an emphasis on producing premium wines, more than double the amount it had in 1999.


Columbia Gorge and Lake Chelan Appellations

Established in 2004, the boundaries of Columbia Gorge AVA extend roughly 8 miles (13 km) on either side of the Columbia River into Oregon and Washington, and it spans the two climates on either side of the Cascade Mountains. It begins just west of the southwestern edge of the Columbia Valley AVA and extends westward through the gorge that is carved out by the river, ending 60 miles (96 km) east of Portland. The soils are generally silty-loam and there is a great difference between the eastern and western portion of the appellation. The west is cool and has a wet climate that is similar to Oregon's Willamette Valley, while the east side is warm and dry, more like the Columbia Valley. In between the two zones the temperature and rainfall is more moderate; however, the conditions are very windy. The Lake Chelan appellation lies within the Columbia Valley AVA about 110 miles (177 km) east of Seattle. Established in April of 2009, it occupies the land around the southern portion of scenic Lake Chelan and is best known for cool-climate varieties such as Riesling.


Puget Sound Region

The Puget Sound appellation contrasts in almost every way to Eastern Washington. Lying between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascade Mountains, it has a maritime climate and experiences much more rain and less prolonged freezes than the interior of the state (Figure 12.9). It is much more populated and home of the state's largest cities, Seattle and Tacoma. The wet weather makes it difficult to grow wine grapes and there are only about 53 acres (21 hectares) of vinifera varieties planted in the appellation (A. Baker, personal communication, November 5, 2009). Despite the fact that there are few vineyards, Puget Sound has more than 35 wineries, including some of the state's largest producers. Smaller wineries often produce wine using hybrid grape varieties and other fruits and berries that do well in the appellation, as was once popular throughout the state. Most of the wineries source their grapes from east of the mountains to make their wines. Some Puget Sound wineries import the grapes directly to the winery for crushing; others have crush facilities located in the Columbia Valley to be closer to the vineyards. After fermentation, the young wines are loaded into tanker trucks to be shipped to the Seattle area for blending and bottling. Northeast of Seattle, the small town of Woodinville has become a major wine-tasting destination with a number of both small and large wineries. Its two biggest are the headquarters of Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Wineries, located across the street from one another (Figure 12.10).




Set in between California and Washington, Oregon is the country's fourth largest wine producer (Figure 12.11). While the size of Oregon's wine business is overwhelmed by its neighbors, its reputation for producing fine wine, in particular Pinot Noir, is not. Pinot Noir makes up over half of the vineyard acreage and is the state's most important variety. Like Washington State, the industry has had tremendous expansion in recent years. Despite the growth, the majority of producers remain very small, with most making less than 5,000 cases per year. This is evidenced by the fact that Oregon has 395 wineries, almost as many as Washington does, yet bottles only one-fifth as much wine (USDA, 2009b). The limited production of the wineries also contributes to the fact Oregon wines usually command higher prices than those of Washington State.


In the mid-1800s, settlers were attracted to Oregon's rich agricultural land and many came to settle the area by crossing the Oregon Trail. One of them, Henderson Luelling, was a horticulturist and planted Oregon's first grapevines in the Willamette Valley in 1847. Luelling, working with his son-in-law, William Meek, produced wine and in 1859 they won a medal at the California State Fair for their wine produced from the American grape variety Isabella (Hall, 2001). By the 1850s, viticulture was also being developed in southern Oregon in the Rogue River Valley. Here Peter Britt grew grapes and established a winery named Valley View Vineyard. The winery and vineyards were reestablished in early 1972 and continue to produce wine today. In the 1880s, two brothers named Edward and John Von Pessls came up from California to the Umpqua Valley region of southern Oregon. They planted cuttings they had brought with them of Zinfandel and other vinifera varieties obtained in the Napa Valley. To the north in the Willamette Valley, Earnest Reuter was making wine out of white vinifera grapes. Like his predecessor Henderson Luelling, he won praise outside Oregon with a gold medal at the 1904 world's fair in St. Louis.

Despite the fact that these early vintners enjoyed some successes, viticulture in Oregon never developed to the extent it did to the south in California. Although the coastal river valleys in southern Oregon have a climate similar to California's North Coast AVA, most of the state's agriculture takes place farther north in the Willamette Valley, which growers considered too damp and cool for production of wine grapes. What little industry existed was wiped out by Prohibition in 1920. After its repeal, the industry did not benefit from protectionist laws that Washington State had, and it could not compete with the more established vineyards in California, which enjoyed a more consistent climate. After Prohibition a handful of small wineries did exist; however, most produced fruit wines from berries and other crops that were grown on their own farms. The great majority of these wines were consumed close to home and rarely left the state. In 1938, 5 years after the repeal of Prohibition, there were 28 bonded wineries in Oregon; just 20 years later in 1958, nearly all were closed.

The Beginning of an Industry

The lack of post-Prohibition development lasted until the 1960s, when a new generation of winemakers began to attempt to make table wine from traditional wine varieties. Two of the early producers were expatriates from California. In southern Oregon, Richard Sommer began Hill Crest Vineyard outside the town of Roseburg. He had been trained at the University of California-Davis where he was warned that Oregon would be too wet and chilly to successfully grow vinifera grapes. In the Willamette Valley, Charles Coury began growing Alsatian varieties such as Pinot Blanc, as well as some Pinot Noir, on Wine Hill where Ernest Reuter had grown grapes in the 1880s. Perhaps the most significant year of the decade for Oregon winemaking was 1966, when David Lett of the Eyrie Vineyard Winery planted the first Pinot Noir vines in the Dundee Hills region of the Willamette Valley. Having spent time in France, Lett was convinced that the climate of Oregon more closely approximated that of Burgundy than California's did. After the vines were mature, he used traditional Burgundian production methods to make his wines. At the end of the decade, the wine industry in the state was still very small with only five bonded wineries producing wine.

Over the next two decades, Pinot Noir would become Oregon's most notable wine and raise the reputation of winemaking in the state. The wineries that were established in the 1960s and 1970s were small and often built by an owner/winemaker in contrast to the large, capital-intensive wineries that were being built in California and Washington. Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow and its delicate flavors can be lost during processing at the winery. The variety seemed well suited to Oregon's capricious weather and the handmade, labor-intensive techniques used at its small wineries (Figure 12.12). Oregon winemakers were also among the first in the country to pay close attention to the aspects of clone selection with Pinot Noir production. As described in Chapter 2, Pinot Noir has a number of different clones that growers can select from when planting their vineyards. In 1975, Oregon State University in Corvallis began working closely with growers to import Burgundy Pinot Noir clones best suited for table wine production and make them available to the public.

The quality of Oregon Pinot Noir gained worldwide attention in 1979 when David Lett entered a 1975 Pinot Noir from Eyrie Vineyard into an international Pinot Noir competition in Paris where it placed 10th, ahead of many of Burgundy's best producers. These results sent shock waves around the wine world in much the same way as the Paris tasting of 1976 did for California winemakers. During this time Oregon also formed some of the strictest labeling and composition laws in the United States. In 1977, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission enacted rules that state:

* A wine labeled Estate must be grown within 5 miles (8 km) of the winery.

* The composition of a wine must be at least 90 percent of the varietal listed on the label.

* Generic terms of European appellations such as Champagne and Burgundy cannot be used.


The 90 percent minimum of a grape variety is considerably higher than the 75 percent required in California and Washington. By 1980 there were 34 wineries and 1,100 acres (445 hectares) of wine grapes in the state.

During the last two decades, the growing popularity of Oregon wine attracted new investment, and a few larger showcase wineries were built. During the 15 years from 1992 to 2007, the number of wineries in Oregon grew from 78 to 370 and it ranked fourth in production after New York State. Despite its successes, Oregon's wine industry has retained its modest character. Small independent producers are common, and the largest winery bottles only 125,000 cases a year. Oregon also has gained a reputation for white wines, most notably Pinot Gris and Chardonnay; however, Pinot Noir remains Oregon's most popular grape, representing 58 percent of the planted acres and half of the state's wine production (USDA, 2009b). First identified in 1990, phylloxera has been found in some vineyards. However, it has spread slowly and remained somewhat isolated. Consequently, half of the state's vines still grow on their own roots, although most new plantings are grown on rootstocks.


Oregon has 16 AVAs. Twelve are located west of the Cascade Mountains, 3 are in Eastern Oregon, and 1 spans the region between the east and the west along the Columbia River Gorge. Of the 12 western appellations, half were recently established--in 2005 and 2006. The western appellations have more of a maritime influence on their climate, and all have boundaries entirely within the state. East of the mountains, the 3 appellations are the Columbia River, Walla Walla Valley, and Snake River Valley. The first 2 are shared with Washington State to the north and the Snake River Valley is shared with Idaho to the east. All have drier climates than the western appellations. The Columbia Gorge AVA also spans the border with Washington; on its western edge the terroir is more similar to the Willamette Valley, and on its eastern side it is more like the Columbia Valley (Table 12.2).

Willamette Valley

The Willamette Valley appellation lies in the northwestern part of the state and is Oregon's most prolific region for agriculture. It is Oregon's largest and oldest AVA, established in 1984, and it contains the majority of the state's vineyards and wineries producing nearly 75 percent of the grapes harvested in the state. The boundaries of the appellation are approximately formed by the watershed of the Willamette River and extend from south of the city of Eugene to Portland, 125 miles (200 km) to the north. The climate is generally cooler and wetter than Napa and Sonoma but with a similar pattern of wet winters followed by dryer summers. This weather makes it an excellent region for the cool-climate varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Gris as well as Oregon's most popular variety, Pinot Noir (Figure 12.13).

Oregon is known for its rainfall, and it can be a major headache for vintners. The summers are usually dry, but storms often linger into the late spring, affecting bloom, or can come early in the fall during harvest. These conditions mean that mildew and bunch rot are always a concern, and there is not always enough warm weather for the grapes to ripen fully. The early fall rains are always a risk in the Willamette Valley, meaning that in some vintages the grapes never attain full maturity. For this reason the wines of the Willamette Valley experience more variation from year to year than those of California and Washington typically do. Oregon vintners are always quick to point out, however, that these conditions are similar to those of Pinot Noir's home in Burgundy. One advantage of Oregon's climate is that hard freezes that cause winterkill are much rarer than they are in Washington.


Although there are vineyards and wineries located throughout the appellation, many are concentrated just to the southwest of Portland. If there is an epicenter of Oregon wine country it lies here in Yamhill County, particularly between the small towns of Newberg and McMinnville. Yamhill County alone has one-third of the state's vineyards and grows 44 percent of Oregon's Pinot Noir. To those who have visited California's Sonoma and Napa Valleys, the area seems familiar in many respects. Like the wine country of the North Coast in California, the area is home to a number of vineyards and wineries. Here, however, there is less development and the wineries are less crowded and more rustic in nature. The smaller wineries are often one- or two-person operations and one is as likely to find the winemaker or owner pouring wine to visitors. This area has more than 150 wineries including some of the state's most well-known producers. The concentration of wineries and vineyards located within an easy drive to Portland, the state's largest city, has created a thriving trade in wine tourism. This success causes frequent traffic jams on weekends during the harvest season on the highway 99W, the region's major thoroughfare.

Appellations within Willamette Valley

Many of the best vineyards in the Willamette Valley are planted in the small ranges of hills that are laced throughout the countryside. Two of the most famous ranges are the Dundee and Eola Hills. Their sloping hillsides provide good drainage for both water and cold air during the winter and spring. If the vineyards are oriented to the south, they have better exposure to the sun, which is an advantage whenever growing grapes in a cool region. The extensive vineyard development in the northwestern section of the Willamette Valley has given birth to a half-dozen recently created smaller appellations. Just southeast of the Portland metropolitan area are the Chehalem Mountain, Ribbon Ridge, and Dundee Hills AVAs. Farther west are the Yamhill-Carlton and McMinnville AVAs. Just to the south of McMinnville on a small isolated range of hills lies the Eola Hills appellation. All of these regions feature gently rolling slopes that have a diversity of soil types made up of marine sediment, basalt, and red soil (Figure 12.14) that is high in iron.

At the southern end of the Willamette Valley, the vineyards are less concentrated and the soils have more clay content. This region has about 11 percent of the appellation's vineyards and about 50 wineries. Although the wine industry in southern Willamette Valley has fewer vineyards and wineries, it is home to the state's largest winery, King Estate.


Umpqua, Rogue, and Applegate Valleys

Established in 1984, the Umpqua Valley is centered on the town of Roseburg and was carved out by the Umpqua River and its tributaries. Located south of the Willamette Valley, it is a smaller appellation, only about a quarter the size of its neighbor to the north covering an area 70 X 35 miles (112 X 56 km). It lies about the same distance inland as the Willamette Valley, but because the coastal mountains are higher in this part of the state, the climate of the region experiences less of a moderating influence from the Pacific Ocean than the Willamette Valley does. This fact, coupled with its more southerly location, allows the Umpqua to have a warmer, drier climate than the Willamette Valley. This dryer terroir means that there is less concern of early rains affecting the harvest, and warmer grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah do well in the Umpqua Valley (Figure 12.15). Within the Umpqua Valley AVA is the smaller appellation of Red Hills Douglas County, formed in 2005.

The Rogue Valley appellation encompasses the valley formed by the Rogue River as it travels along Interstate 5 just north of the California border. Here in southern Oregon, agriculture is less common than it is in the Willamette Valley, and the timber and forest product industries are more prominent. The Rogue Valley sits at a higher elevation than the rest of Oregon's appellations, with most of its vineyards lying between 1,000 and 2,000 feet (300 and 600 m). It has a diversity of terroirs, with the areas to the west having a more coastal climate that is cooler and has more rainfall than those areas that are farther inland. The diversity of growing conditions allows for many different types of grapes and wines to be produced, and the appellation does not have a reputation for any one variety in particular. It was established in 1991 and in the year 2001 the subappellation of the Applegate Valley was formed within the borders of the Rogue Valley AVA.

In 2004, the Southern Oregon AVA was created, containing all of the Umpqua Valley, Rogue Valley, and Applegate Valley AVAs. Together these appellations grow roughly 15 percent of Oregon's wine grapes. Although this large AVA has a diversity of weather patterns, the entire region is generally much warmer and drier than the Willamette Valley. The Southern Oregon AVA has most of the state's Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, varieties that do not always ripen in the Willamette Valley.


Appellations of Eastern Oregon

These three appellations lie in the eastern half of the state along the borders with Washington and Idaho. The appellations together have about 1,600 acres (650 hectares) of vineyards, roughly 8 percent of Oregon's total acreage. The majority of both the Columbia Valley and the Walla Walla Valley appellations are in Washington State, and have much more in common with the growing conditions in Eastern Washington than with the appellations in western Oregon. The majority of the Snake River appellation resides within Idaho. Although it can be confusing for consumers and producers alike to have AVAs cross over state boundaries, it makes perfect sense considering an AVA should encompass a similar terroir regardless of the political boundaries it crosses.


Idaho has a small wine industry, ranked 17th in production by state, with the vast majority of its 2,000 acres (800 Hectares) of vineyards located in the Snake River Valley AVA that it shares with Oregon. The climate of the region is dry and slightly colder than Washington's Columbia River Valley, and cool-climate varieties such as Riesling and Chardonnay do best. Its vineyards are generally at a higher elevation than those in the Columbia Valley, making for cool nights that help preserve acidity in the grapes. The largest winery in the state is Ste. Chapelle which produces more than half of Idaho's wine. Like its neighbors to the west, it has undergone significant growth in recent years, with vinifera acreage doubling in the last 10 years.






rain shadow

Stimson Lane Vineyards & Estates


Although the wines of the Pacific Northwest are often eclipsed by the volume of wine made in California, they represent a significant and growing segment of American wine production. With Washington State wines, consumers have come to expect high-quality Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as Chardonnay and Riesling presented at affordable prices. With Oregon wines, customers look for distinctive examples of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris from small wineries with limited production. The wineries of the Northwest also enjoy a great deal of support in their home states and are becoming better known throughout the rest of the country. With both states, there is still plenty of opportunity for expansion in production, given increased demand from the marketplace.


1. Who introduced Pinot Noir to Oregon and when was it first planted?

2. How do the size of Oregon and Washington wineries compare to one another?

3. How does the climate of Columbia Valley compare to the climate of the Willamette Valley, and how do the differences affect the varieties of grapes that are grown there?

4. What effect did the tax on out-of-state wines have on the development of Washington's wine industry?

5. Besides vinifera wine grapes, what other fruits have been used for wine production in the Pacific Northwest?


1. What is the most significant threat to vineyards in Eastern Washington?

A. Phylloxera

B. Winterkill

C. Drought

D. Urban development

2. What is the most widely planted grape variety in Washington State?

A. Syrah

B. Chardonnay

C. Cabernet Sauvignon

D. Riesling

3. What are the three appellations that span the border between Washington and Oregon? --, and --.

4. Which variety established Oregon's reputation for producing fine table wines?

A. Pinot Noir

B. Pinot Gris

C. Isabella

D. Chardonnay

5. Oregon state is ranked -- in the nation for wine production.

A. Second

B. Third

C. Fourth

D. Fifth



brie and habanero quesadilla


A Willamette Valley Pinot Gris made in a slightly off-dry style with limited oak aging

first course

risotto with garlic parmesan and porcini mushrooms


A Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills appellation main course

bacon-wrapped pork medallions with fresh carrots and parsnips


A Walla Walla Valley Cabernet Sauvignon


lemon shortbread bars dusted with confectioner's sugar


A Riesling ice wine from Washingtons Columbia Valley


Hall, L. S. (2001). Wines of the Pacific Northwest. London: Octopus.

Irvine, R., & Clore, W. J. (1998). The wine project: Washington State's winemaking history. Vashon, WA: Sketch.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2007a).

Vineyard acreage report 2006. Olympia, WA: Author.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2007b).

Washington winery report 2006. Olympia, WA: Author.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2009a). Grape release. Olympia, WA: Author.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service. (2009b). 2008 Oregon vineyard and winery report. Portland, OR: Author.

Caption: FIGURE 12.1

An expansive vineyard located in Eastern Washington's Columbia Valley appellation. Washington Wine Commission

Caption: FIGURE 12.2

Vineyards growing in the low, forested hills of the Willamette Valley appellation in Western Oregon.

Oregon Wine Board, Patrick Prothe Photography

Caption: FIGURE 12.3

The Red Willow Vineyard in the Yakima Valley was one of the first vineyards in the state to grow Cabernet Sauvignon in 1973. In 1988, it was also one of the first to produce Syrah.

Washington Wine Commission

Caption: FIGURE 12.4

A mechanical harvester at Columbia Crest Vineyards, with the Columbia River in the background. On the left side of the photograph, a conveyer moves the picked grapes into a bin being towed alongside the harvester in the next row.

[C] Charles O'Rear/Corbis

Caption: FIGURE 12.5

Midwinter in a Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in Eastern Washington. The inland location of Eastern Washington vineyards gives them a more continental climate than vineyards located on the coast and winter snow is common.

Washington Wine Commission


Caption: FIGURE 12.6

The Seven Hills Vineyard in the Walla Walla Valley region of Washington's Columbia Valley appellation.

Washington Wine Commission

Caption: FIGURE 12.7

Hedges Cellars in the Red Mountain appellation; the region is the smallest of Washington's AVAs and is best known for its red wines.

Hedges Family Estate

Caption: FIGURE 12.8

Leonetti Winery in Washington's Walla Walla Valley. One of the early premium wineries in the Walla Walla appellation, it produces some of the state's most-sought-after wines.

[C] Cephas Picture Library/Aiamy

Caption: FIGURE 12.9

A fall vineyard in Washington's Puget Sound region. Washington Wine Commission

Caption: FIGURE 12.10

The stainless steel tank cellar at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, one of Washington State's largest producers.

[C] Wolfgang Kaehler/CORBIS

Caption: FIGURE 12.11

Open-top stainless steel fermentation tanks at an Oregon winery. With open-top tanks, punching down the cap into the fermenting must is the most common method of extracting flavor and color from the skins.

Oregon Wine Board, Patrick Prothe Photography

Caption: FIGURE 12.12

Chardonnay grapes being loaded into a tank press for whole cluster pressing. Whole cluster pressing is gentler than pressing fruit that has been crushed and destemmed before pressing.

Oregon Wine Board, Patrick Prothe Photography

Caption: FIGURE 12.13

Bins of Pinot Noir grapes ready for transport to the winery for crushing.

Oregon Wine Board, Patrick Prothe Photography

Caption: FIGURE 12.14

In the hills west of Dundee, Oregon, the soil is being prepared for planting a new vineyard. The freshly tilled earth exhibits the red soil that the region is renowned for.

[C] Pat Henderson

Caption: FIGURE 12.15

A vineyard scene in southern Oregon's Rogue River Valley. Here the climate is warmer than the Willamette Valley to the north and the region has a better reputation for varieties such as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon rather than Pinot Noir.

[C] Pat Henderson
TABLE 12.1 Appellations of Washington State

Appellation             Best-Known Varieties

Columbia Valley         Produces a number of varieties
(WA and OR)

Yakima Valley *         Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon
Walla Walla Valley *    Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Syrah
(WA and OR)

Red Mountain *          Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah
Horse Heaven Hills *    Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling,
                        Cabernet Sauvignon
Rattlesnake Hills *     Merlot, Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet
Wahluke Slope *         Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Syrah
Snipes Mountain *       Not known for any one variety
Lake Chelan *           Syrah, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
Columbia Gorge          Produces a number of varieties
(WA and OR)

Puget Sound             Not known for any one variety

* AVA borders are within the Columbia Valley AVA.

TABLE 12.2 Appellations of Oregon State

Appellation                       Best-Known Varieties

Willamette Valley                 Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris,

Chehalem Mountains *              Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris,

Eola Amity Hills *                Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris,

Yamhill-Carlton *                 Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris,

Dundee Hills *                    Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris,

Ribbon Ridge *                    Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris,

McMinnville *                     Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris,

Southern Oregon                   Produces a number of

Umpqua Valley                     Riesling, Syrah

Red Hill Douglas County           Not known for any
                                  one variety

Rogue Valley                      Cabernet Sauvignon,
                                  Merlot, Syrah

Applegate Valley                  Cabernet Sauvignon,

Columbia Valley (OR and WA)       Cabernet Sauvignon,
                                  Merlot, Syrah

Columbia Gorge (OR and WA)        Produces a number
                                  of varieties

Walla Walla Valley (OR and WA)    Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot,
                                  Chardonnay, Syrah

Snake River Valley (OR and ID)    Riesling, Chardonnay

* AVA borders are within the Willamette Valley AVA.
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Title Annotation:SECTION III: Wine Regions of North America
Publication:About Wine, 2nd ed.
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1U9OR
Date:Jan 1, 2012
Previous Article:California.
Next Article:New York, Canada, and other North American Regions.

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