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Oregon wine: The New World's king of Pinot Noir

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Wine has been in produced in Oregon since before it achieved statehood, with the first winery built outside of Jacksonville in what is now the Applegate Valley AVA in 1850.


As in most of the United States, Prohibition virtually killed the Oregon wine industry, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that it began to make a comeback. It was in this period that some ambitious winemakers began planting pinot noir in the Willamette Valley – a region with a climate on the edge of being inhospitable to wine grapes.


Oregon’s pinot noir entered the world stage with a top international ranking for a 1975 Eyrie Vineyards pinot, and since then has developed a reputation as one of the premiere pinot regions in the world. Oregon winemakers have reached out to Burgundy on numerous occasions, and many French winemakers have purchased land in Oregon to produce their own wines.


Oregon wine is unique in its emphasis on small-scale production. The largest producer in the state only puts out 175,000 cases a year, and the majority of wineries produce less than 5,000, with many releasing fewer than 1,000. This, coupled with the high-quality and longevity of the state’s wines, has created a price premium, and it’s difficult to find the kind of bargain-basement priced wines one finds in other states.


The majority of Oregon’s wine tourism is centered on the Yamhill region of the Willamette Valley. Just a few miles outside of Portland, day trips to the wineries are easy. Many wineries that are open for tasting are small scale, often winemakers are present, and they may pour and sell wines from their tasting rooms that aren’t available for widespread purchase. Compared to other major wine tourism regions, such as the Napa Valley or Santa Barbara, Oregon’s wine regions may seem under-developed. Even just a few years ago luxury hotels and resorts were non-existent, and even today they are few and far between (and only really found in the Willamette Valley). What Oregon offers instead is an authentic, more rustic experience – top-notch bed and breakfasts, restaurants using locally-produced food, and original farm settings for their wineries.


Although the Willamette Valley is undoubtedly the center of most wine in the state, there are other wine regions throughout. Along the Washington border, Oregon shares a handful of appellations with their northern neighbor, including Walla Walla, Columbia Gorge, and Snake River (which it also shares with Idaho). In the southern part of the state is the Southern Oregon appellation, which contains the Rogue Valley and Umpqua Valley.