OREGON- WHERE THE BEST PINOT NOIR OF THE USA ORIGINATES
This small state wedged between Washington State to the north and California to the south has a relatively short (40 years) vitivinicultural history, but during this period growth and quality improvement have been nothing short of phenomenal.
D Lett, Oregon’s veteran winemaker, was studying at University of California at Davis oenology and asked one of his professors to recommend a location in the USA where Pinot Noir would thrive. The professor answered that no region would yield a fine Pinot Noir. Just to prove him wrong Lett started researching Burgundy’s success with that grape. Climate was one, and soil was the second. His research led him to Oregon, and after a long period of location search he decided to settle in the Willamette Valley. When his 1976 Pinot Noir won an international award in France competing against their wines, attention was focused on Oregon.
Several entrepreneurs and wine enthusiasts with winemaking backgrounds started opening wineries and have been the beneficiary of centuries worth of Pinot Noir research in Burgundy and received good advice from Burgundian winemakers, particularly after the venerable Joseph Drouhin purchased a tract of land to develop his domaine. Since then Oregon’s Pinot Noir quality improved immeasurably and today enjoys an excellent reputation wherever it is marketed. Unquestionably Oregon produces the best Pinot Noir wines of the United States of America, although Californians definitely disagree with this view.
Oregon’s preferred white grape variety is Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio/Grauburgunder), followed by Riesling and Chardonnay. The State’s topography includes mountains and coastline, desert plateaus and river valleys, allowing for a wide range of climates and growing conditions,. Overall the climate is warm and gentle on the 45th parallel; the same which traverses Burgundy.
Presently 9000 acres are under vines, with a potential of more than quadruple.
Umpqua-, Rogue-, Walla Walla-, Columbia- and Willamette Valley are the five appellations established by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF).
The countryside, especially the Willamette Valley offers beautiful vistas. There are well designed and marked highways for easy and quick travel. Wineries (presently there are 169) are eager for visitors to taste their wines, and willingly pour their products for tasting.
Oregon wines in general offer fine aromatics, medium to full body, deep flavour and good balance, all characteristics of fine wines. You may confidently try Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and even Zinfandel in red wines, but Pinot Noir will offer most satisfaction and reward.
For white wines the range is wider consisting of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Semillon, Muller-Thurgau and Sauvignon Blanc.
Of all those, Pinot Gris is the best established and most popular, but potentially Riesling and Gewurztraminer should do well, if the vineyard site is well chosen.
Oregon wineries are relatively small, and quality is stressed more than anywhere else in the U S A. Authorities specify that wines must contain at least 90 percent of the stated variety and 95 percent of the stated vintage with 100 percent of the grapes originating in
the State. All are well above minimum standards established by the BATF.
Vintages are important as the weather changes from one year to the next, whereas Washington and California generally enjoy consistent climatic conditions.
The following Oregon wineries are highly recommended, although their products are available through bi-monthly Vintages releases and consignment programmes of a number agents headquartered in Toronto.
Adelsheim Vineyards, Amity Vineyards, Chateau Benoit, Chehalem, Duck Pond Vineyards, Elk Cove Vineyards, Eola Hills Winecellars, Erath Vineyards Winery, Oak Knoll Winery, Ponzi Vineyards, Rex Hill Vineyards, Sokol-Blosser , St Innocent Winery, Drouhin Estate Winery, Ken Wright, Argyle, Brick House, Cristom, King Estate, Silvan Ridge, Torii Mor, King Estate and Willa Kenzie.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu