The Unique Wines of Oregon
Written by Jennifer Jordan
Filed Under: Wine Regions
When it comes to wine growing regions, Oregon can be viewed as a bit of a problem child, often caught sticking out its tongue whenever the grape vines aren't looking. Because Oregon contains inconsistent weather - a short supply of sunshine, a shortage of heat, and enough rain to cause local animals to line up two by two awaiting the arrival of an Arc - Oregon isn't the easiest place to be a winemaker. But, just because it's not one of the easiest places, doesn't mean it's not one of the best.
Because of the lack of warm climate, the grapes in Oregon are forced to age at a slower rate, ripening over time rather than plowing through the doors of maturity wearing lip gloss and a feather boa. It is this "slow aging" factor that gives Oregonian wine a flavor unlike any others, flavors that are packed with great elegance, beauty, and body; these wines pour on sophistication.
Though Oregon wineries are known for growing a variety of grapes, the pride and joy of Oregon is Pinot Noir. Nearly all of the wineries in the state of Oregon grow Pinot Noir, rumored through the grapevine to be one of the most sensual berries. Because it is one of the most delicate of red grapes, it might be surprising that it thrives in a place with such erratic weather. While Mother Nature does occasionally implement her own form of prohibition by destroying the Pinot Noir crop, when the crops survive the elements, something truly great emerges. Sometimes the grapes that blossom in adversity are the best tasting of all.
In terms of white wine, Oregon is a large producer of Chardonnay. They produce it more than any other white wine. But, the winemakers of this region, over the years, have fallen in love with Pinot Gris' and Pinot Blanc, causing Chardonnay to perhaps turn red with anger. One of the reasons for this love affair is the Pinot's ability to go along with all kinds of food, taking the challenge of food pairings away from many wine drinkers.
Another uniqueness of the Oregon winemaking community is the diversity of the winemakers themselves. Instead of being made up of a people who studied winemaking and ecology, or those made up of people who inherited a taste of winemaking from a parent, Oregon winemakers are made up of people who are bit rebellious when it comes to Corporate America. From former teachers, to ex-politicians, and ex-doctors to former Fraternity presidents, Oregon winemakers are as eclectic as Oregon weather itself.
Though divided into five major wine regions, the most prominent is the Willamette Valley. Located about 100 miles south of Portland, this valley is marked by rolling green hills and is the place where nearly three quarters of the state's wines are made. Nearly all the best wines in Oregon are born, bred, and bottled in the Willamette Valley.
Among some of the greatest wines to pick up in a bar, introducing yourself and then taking a drink, are Chehalem (Dry Riesling), King Estate (Pinot Gris), Yamhill Valley Vineyards (Pinot Gris), Archery Summit (Pinot Noir), Domaine Drouhin Oregon (Pinot Noir), and Beaux Freres (Pinot Noir).
For those interested in visiting Oregon wineries, you will likely find that these wineries are extremely friendly. It is, after all, Oregon. But, some of the wineries are too small for public tours so be sure to find out in advance before stopping by. Even the tiny ones, however, are open twice a year, on Memorial Day weekend and Thanksgiving weekend, when Oregon wineries host a state-wide open house. These open houses introduce the state's wine to newcomers, ultimately succeeding in making everyone grateful for the Oregon Trail.