In the 1980’s, Oregon was barely a speck on the world wine map. There were a handful of wineries across the state, most of which are no longer around. Today though, Oregon’s vineyards have their cups running over, now with around 800 wineries where Pinot Noir is the absolute star of the show.
Often, California and Burgundy in France get all the love when it comes to Pinot Noir, but a shift has been in the making since those primitive days in the 1980’s. Perhaps that’s due to Robert Drouhin’s hand in 1987. When he purchased Dundee Hills land then, it paved the way for how the world would soon see this emerging Pinot Noir region.
He wasn’t the first French transplant to make a positive mark on American soil. Others came and breathed life into a region that was a virtual desert in terms of garnering affection for its wines. Classically-trained winemakers brought with them the proper cultivation of these vines and bred a respect for the older ones while allowing wine to age in the barrel. They paired these solid Old World techniques with those freedoms of the New World and now we have much to raise our glasses of Pinot Noir to.
Among the original pioneers of Oregon’s wineries, Elk Cove Vineyards, Ponzi Vineyards, Bethel Heights Vineyard, and Sokol-Blosser Winery are still going strong. Then there are ones like Ken Wright Cellars that came about in the mid-1990’s and joined the army of vineyards that has now made the beautiful Oregon landscape thrive.
Wright is largely considered the key to all of this in more recent years for defining the sub-AVAs of the valley and rebirthing Carlton into a winemaking hub of sorts. With expressively potent wines that age well, all small-batch crafted, it has ignited soul into the region bringing consumers to taste what Oregon uncorks from its mighty Pinot Noir selections.
In 2017, the first-ever 100-point wine was awarded for the 2016 Patricia Green Bonshaw Block Pinot Noir by Wine Enthusiast for wine sourced and produced completely in Oregon. Sadly, Patricia Green passed away before these honors were bestowed.
As for Oregon’s constantly-growing roster of vineyards, Pinot Noir lovers have are certainly spoiled for choice. The delightful maritime climate means milder winters and cooler summers than competing Burgundy. The North Willamette Valley’s soils tend to vary greatly with fascinating basaltic lavas and marine sediments. Those marine sediments are composed of sandstone and mudstone but don’t have carbonates. They drain quickly, allowing for stunning quality in the grapes.
The younger vines are truly expressive and spectacular on a different plane than elsewhere. Pinot Noir of Oregon is something special and unique, something that you should make sure you try. Need suggestions? Patricia Green Cellars, Domaine Serene, and Broadley are good ones to start with