Experimentation, collaboration, revelation. That’s the story of Oregon wine. In the 1850s, Peter Britt first planted Mission grapes in the Rogue Valley, but by the 1870s he had experimented with more than 200 American and European varieties. In the 1960s, David Lett and Charles Coury famously defied convention and began growing Pinot noir in the Willamette Valley; they also cultivated Pinot gris, Chardonnay, Semillon, Sylvaner and more. Today, Oregon’s winegrowers continue to experiment in search of the perfect match of grapes to place. It’s not about forcing the land to follow a trend; it’s about pairing soils, aspect and climate with grapes that will naturally thrive.
Though more than 50% of the wine grapes grown in Oregon are Pinot noir, more than 40% are not. Pinot gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Syrah are all gaining speed and many others are garnering attention from critics. With dozens of micro-climates and soil types throughout the state, Oregon’s grapes—from more than a thousand vineyards—are as distinct as the places from which they hail.
Planted Area: 9,010 acres (3,645 ha)
Predominant Soils: Loess, sandy silts, loams
Predominant Varieties: Riesling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon blanc, Pinot gris, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Franc, Viognier
Columbia Valley downloads
The Columbia Valley AVA is a very large growing region with 11 million acres (4.5 million ha) of land in total. Most of the Columbia Valley lies in Washington State, with a small section in Oregon stretching from The Dalles to Milton-Freewater. The region is 185 miles (300 km) wide and 200 miles (320 km) long.
The Columbia Valley has a largely continental high desert climate. The hot days promote slow, even ripening, while the cool nights ensure that grapes retain their natural acidity. The area receives just 6-8 inches (15-20 cm) of annual rainfall, making supplemental irrigation a necessity throughout the region.
Roughly 15,000 years ago a series of tremendous Ice Age floods (dubbed the Missoula Floods) deposited silt and sand over the area. These deposited sediments, along with wind-blown loess sediment, make up the area’s present-day soils, which are well drained and ideal for grapevines.
On the Oregon side, the Columbia Valley wine history dates back to the early 1900s, when settlers planted the area’s first vineyard on a steep, south-sloping hill near the small town of The Dalles. These Zinfandel vines, which are now more than 100 years old, still produce wine grapes at what is today known as The Pines 1852 Vineyard, whose vintner revitalized the land in the early 1980s. Around that time, as the Washington side of the Columbia Valley appellation began to flourish with large-scale wineries, reputable winemakers started tagging the small Oregon side as an excellent location for high-quality wine grapes. The appellation became official in 1984.
Walla Walla Valley
Situated along latitude 46° N, midway between Bordeaux and Burgundy, the Walla Walla Valley AVA lies on a bedrock of fractured basalt laid down 15 million years ago, its soils composed of the sand and gravel discarded by ancient floods, layered by wind-deposited silts. Those soils produce not only juicy strawberries and sumptuous sweet onions, but also some of the finest Cabernets, Merlots and Syrahs in the world, which are increasingly making their way onto top wine lists nationally and internationally. In the land of “many waters,” this oasis amid the vast sagebrush desert that rolls across America’s northwest interior, winegrowers are working their craft, from the foothills of the spectacular Blue Mountains to the arid regions of the valley’s west, building on a history almost four decades long and spanning the two states of Oregon and Washington.
Total Area: 359,600 acres (145,525 ha)
Planted Area: 2,930 acres (1,185 ha) total, 1,260 acres (510 ha) in Oregon*
Predominant Soils: Volcanic, Missoula flood sediments, loess, cobbles
Predominant Varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot
*Updated November 1, 2018
Walla Walla Valley downloads
Located about 250 miles (400 km) east of Portland, the Walla Walla Valley AVA straddles southeast Washington State and northeast Oregon. It is contained within the Columbia Valley appellation. Vineyards are hemmed in by the Blue Mountains to the southeast, the Palouse to the north and the Columbia River westward. Elevations across the valley soar between 400 and 2,000 feet (120-610 m) above sea level creating many micro-climates.
Located far from the marine influences of the Pacific Ocean, the Walla Walla Valley is the warmest growing region in Oregon, making it ideal for warm-weather varieties like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Dry July and August heat provides a vibrant core of ripeness in the berries, while the chill of September nights assures the acidic backbone necessary for creating superb wines.
There are four distinct soil terroirs in the Walla Walla Valley: loess (wind-deposited silt) overlying Missoula flood sediments, thick loess overlying basalt bedrock, basalt cobblestone gravels and very thin loess on basalt bedrock.
The warm growing season temperatures, low rainfall and complex soils lead to complex, full-bodied wines.
It is believed that winegrowing in the Walla Walla Valley dates back to the 1920s, although the modern-day wine industry began in the 1970s when childhood friends Gary Figgins of Leonetti Cellar and Rick Small of Woodward Canyon Winery began conducting oenological experiments in Rick’s garage. They soon began growing grapes in the Valley, and subsequently founded their wineries in 1977 and 1981, respectively. L’Ecole No. 41 was established soon after, in 1983. The Walla Walla Valley was officially designated as an AVA in 1984, but it took another decade for the growth spurt to begin. At the turn of the millennium, more than 50 wineries called the Valley home, and today that number has grown to more than 100. In 2015, a sub-section of the Walla Walla Valley called The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater was approved as an AVA.
Total Area: 693,300 acres (280,600 ha)
Planted Area: 3,605 acres (1,460 ha)*
Predominant Soils: Stream sediments, marine sedimentary bedrock, volcanic
Predominant Varieties: Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Syrah, Tempranillo, Merlot, Albariño
*Updated Feb. 2021
Umpqua Valley downloads
The Umpqua Valley AVA sits between the Coast Range to the west and the Cascade Range to the east, with the Willamette Valley AVA to the north and the Rogue Valley AVA to the south. The appellation stretches 65 miles (105 km) from north to south, and is 25 miles (40 km) wide east to west.
The complex topography of the Umpqua Valley is a result of the collision of three mountain ranges of varying age and structure: the Klamath Mountains, the Coast Range and the Cascades. Many say the area should not be thought of as a single valley, but rather “The Hundred Valleys of the Umpqua” because it is made up of a series of interconnecting small mountain ranges and valleys.
One of Oregon’s more diverse climates, the Umpqua Valley can successfully grow both cool and warm varieties. It comprises three distinct climatic sub-zones:
- The northern area around the town of Elkton, which enjoys a cool, marine-influenced climate and receives around 50 inches (125 cm) of annual rainfall, making irrigation unnecessary. Pinot noir and other cool-climate varieties thrive here.
- The central area to the northwest of Roseburg, which has a transitional, or intermediate, climate where both cool and warm varieties do quite well.
- The area south of Roseburg, which is warmer and more arid, similar to Rogue and Applegate Valleys to the south. Warm-climate varieties, including Tempranillo, Syrah and Merlot thrive here. Growing season temperatures vary dramatically from north to south.
Umpqua Valley soils are as varied as the climate. Generally, they are derived from a mix of stream sediments, marine sedimentary and volcanic rock, though more than 150 soil types have been identified in the region.
The diversity of this region has inspired a culture of experimentation with varieties not grown elsewhere in Oregon: Garnacha, Albariño, Malbec, Petit Verdot and more.
The Umpqua Valley’s winegrowing history dates back to the 1880s when German immigrants who had worked for the Beringer Bros., the oldest continuously operating vineyard in Napa, planted the first wine grape vineyard in the Valley. Post-Prohibition, Richard Sommer established HillCrest Vineyard near Roseburg in 1961. He was the first to plant Pinot noir in Oregon despite being told by his UC Davis cohorts that it was impossible to successfully grow wine grapes in Oregon. During the 1970s, new wineries opened, including Henry Estate Winery, whose winemaker Scott Henry developed a now world-famous vine trellis system, which increases grape yield, among other benefits. The Umpqua Valley appellation continues to evolve as new winemakers discover the area, bringing with them a passion for innovation and world-class wine. The Umpqua Valley appellation became official in 1984.
Taste any of the superb wines from the Southern Oregon AVA and you’ll understand why many writers are talking about this region as Oregon’s “next big thing.” Southern Oregon has been garnering attention for its wide range of outstanding wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Tempranillo, Pinot noir, Viognier and more. With 170 microclimates and five AVAs defined by four rivers, Southern Oregon is a region of discovery and experimentation. Among the rolling hills and lush valleys of this rugged region, Southern Oregon winemakers are, quietly and without pretention, putting their focus squarely on quality.
Total Area: 2,283,600 acres (924,500 ha)
Planted Area: 9,240 acres (3,740 ha)
Predominant Soils: Marine sedimentary, alluvial gravels, volcanic
Predominant Varieties: Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier, Chardonnay, Tempranillo
*Updated Feb. 2021
Southern Oregon downloads
The Southern Oregon AVA lies in the southwest portion of the state, stretching 125 miles (200 km) south of Eugene to the California border, and 60 miles (95 km) at its widest between the Cascade Mountain Range to the east and the Coast Range to the west. It encompasses the Applegate Valley, Elkton Oregon, Red Hill Douglas County, Rogue Valley and Umpqua Valley appellations.
The Klamath Mountains, Coast Range and Cascade Mountains all merge in the Southern Oregon AVA, creating a varied, mountainous topography with vineyards typically situated in high mountain valleys at elevations between 1,000 to 2,000 feet (305-610 m). The lofty southern coastal mountains provide a barrier to the west, blocking marine air and casting a rain shadow to the area’s south and east.
Southern Oregon experiences one of the widest growing season diurnal temperature swings in the world, helping to preserves grapes’ acidity and complexity in an otherwise warm climate. Additionally, there are many cool micro-climates within its varied hillsides and valleys that enable Southern Oregon to successfully grow both cool- and warm-climate varieties.
Southern Oregon’s soils are varied; however, the many rivers that meander through Southern Oregon, including the Umpqua, Applegate, Illinois and Rogue, all have contributed to the development of well-draining stream terraces and alluvial deposits.
Wines produced from this region’s grapes are very diverse but offer good structure and balance.
Southern Oregon has the oldest history of grapegrowing in the state. It dates back to 1852 with an early settler named Peter Britt, who operated a winery in Jacksonville called Valley View Winery. Post-Prohibition winemaking started in 1961 when vintner Richard Sommer migrated from UC Davis and founded HillCrest Vineyards in the Umpqua Valley, planting Oregon’s first Pinot noir vines. Impressed with the diversity of growing conditions in this area, other winemakers began planting roots in the 1970s, resulting in a patchwork of vineyards growing both cool- and warm-climate varieties. Today, this winegrowing region continues to grow and turn out a great variety of high-quality wines. The appellation became official in 2004.