Willamette Valley: A hot frontier for cool-climate wines
Hitch the wagon, we’re heading north! A relatively cool climate, short growing season, ample water and a new land rush, have all eyes on the Willamette Valley as a new wave of producers descend upon Oregon’s burgeoning wine region.
Jackson Family Wines, Foley and Louis Jadot are only a few who have hitched their wagons and headed north from California to this emerging, world-class Pinot Noir region. The question remains: Why Oregon? Why now?
Aside from the winemakers’ irresistible urge to discover, one of the easiest answers lays in the fact that Oregon possesses more moderate land prices than neighboring California, and a climate where the finicky Pinot Noir grape can strive to reach its full potential.
The near-perfect 2012 growing season came at the ideal time for La Crema – which has spent 30 years exploring California’s finest coastal environments – to begin its foray into another excellent cool climate Pinot Noir region, Oregon.
“Looking back, we couldn’t have chosen a better year to begin our adventure in the Willamette Valley than 2012. The growing season offered near-perfect weather for ripening and fruit was in pristine condition as harvest approached enabling us to chose a blend that we felt best displayed the classic elegance, focused acidity, earthiness and vibrant fruit of the Willamette Valley while honoring the La Crema style, which emphasizes balance and supple texture”
– Elizabeth Grant Douglas, La Crema Winemaker
Oregon isn’t new to wine grapes, and first plantings can be traced back to 1840, but it wasn’t until the 60’s that the industry blossomed under the efforts and new Pinot Noir plantings of David Lett and Charles Coury, who recognized the climatic similarities between Oregon and Burgundy. The region’s profile increased further in 1979 when David Lett’s Eyrie Vineyards South Block Reserve Pinot Noir won first place in the Gault Millau Grand Tasting in Paris.
Over the past three decades the industry has grown exponentially from five commercial wineries to over 400 bonded wineries and the Willamette Valley wine tourism now contributes to over $92 million to the state economy from 1.4 million visits to wineries.
The region’s Pinot Noirs are known for their delicate and transparent aromas of mushroom and notes of fruits and flowers, brightness and acidity. With Oregon’s known vintage variation this is not something that is achieved on a consistent basis. While California winemakers strive for the same delicacy the Golden State sees 50 more sun days that lead to riper, richer and more dense Pinot Noirs.
So if you’re an adventuresome type, keep an eye out for Oregon Pinot Noir.
Photography by: Carolyn Wells-Kramer, CWK Photography