Oregon Wine: Beyond Pinot Noir

By Kori ~ May 14th, 2012.

Oregon ranks third in the number of wineries and fourth in wine production in the United States. In its relatively short 40-year history, the Oregon wine industry has evolved into a world-class wine region. Today, Oregon boasts over 400 wineries and 16 AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas). With those AVA’s found in both warm and cool climates, Oregon winemakers are able to produce wines from over 70 different grape varieties.

Pinot Noir is the variety that propelled Oregon onto the worldwide wine stage and is still what many people think of when it comes to Oregon wine. Over 12,000 acres of vineyards in Oregon are planted to Pinot Noir and production of Pinot Noir is over three times the next leading variety, Pinot Gris. Nevertheless, Oregon wine is far from a one-trick pony.

During my recent media tour to explore Oregon wine country, I had the opportunity to try many different Oregon wines. Beyond Pinot Noir, which they continue to do well, I was particularly impressed with the quality of sparkling wines and Chardonnay that Oregon is producing.

Given that Oregon, and particularly the Willamette Valley, is predominately a cool climate growing area that has proven to grow Pinot Noir well, it is no surprise that Chardonnay is showing signs of greatness there as well. The leading white variety in the world’s leading Pinot Noir growing region of Burgundy, France, is none other than Chardonnay. The two varieties seem to go hand in hand. You may be wondering then why we haven’t seen more Chardonnay out of Oregon in the past, with many wineries instead focusing on Pinot Gris as their leading white variety. Well, according to Rollin Soles, founder/winemaker of Argyle Winery in Dundee, Oregon, the problem was that initially the wrong Chardonnay clone was planted in Oregon. After years of trial and error and experimentation, a number of those vines have been pulled out and a Chardonnay clone better suited for Oregon’s terroir has been planted. As a result, better Chardonnay wines are finally making an impact in the marketplace.

Two Chardonnay wines that I especially enjoyed during my trip were the 2009 Cameron Abbey Ridge Chardonnay [Quality: 4.5, QPR: 4, Price: $55] and the 2008 Ponzi Reserve Chardonnay [Quality: 4, QPR: 4, Price: $30].

Likewise, Oregon’s Willamette Valley has a similar climate and latitude to Champagne, France, and the two grape varieties most often used to produce sparkling wines are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Therefore, it only stands to reason that Oregon has the potential to produce some outstanding sparkling wines as well.

Both Rollin Soles of Argyle and Buzz Kawders of Domaine Meriwether are bullish on sparkling wines. Sparkling wine is very food-friendly so they see it as being particularly appealing to foodies. And, in general, younger generations are more celebratory and don’t need a special occasion to drink sparkling wine. Both of those facts bode well for the future of sparkling wine in Oregon.

“The Prosecco drinker of today will be the Willamette Valley sparkling wine drinker of tomorrow.” –Rollin Soles, founder/winemaker, Argyle Winery

From a viticultural perspective, sparkling wine producers can give an early snapshot of what to expect in any harvest because they pick their grapes earlier than still wine producers. And Soles believes that his experience making sparkling wines has made him a better winemaker and made him more attentive to how he blends still wines.

I had a number of excellent sparkling wines during my trip, but a couple of particular note were the 2001 Argyle Extended Tirage Brut [Quality: 4.5, QPR: 5, Price: $60] and the 2000 Domaine Meriwether Prestige Cuvee Brut Rosé [Quality: 4, QPR: 5, Price: $40].

If you haven’t had the opportunity, I highly encourage you to seek out Oregon sparkling wine and Oregon Chardonnay. As I’ve mentioned previously, May is Oregon wine month so this is a great time to try some new-to-you Oregon wines.


Filed under: American Wine, Chardonnay, Five-Bangs For Your Buck Wines, Oregon Wine, Pinot Noir, Red Wine, Sparkling Wine, White Wine, Wine Travel

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