Wine Writers Educational Tour Archives - Please The Palate
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Of course when you think about the Willamette Valley in Oregon, you likely think of it as a land of Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir definitely reigns in the region and as a likely partner, Chardonnay is also planted and well-regarded in the Willamette Valley. But, the Willamette Valley is far more diverse than you might think it is and there are a number of producers who are working with other grape varieties and these grapes are well-suited to the region. I explored some of these grapes in my column in the Napa Valley Register, which you can read here.
Say ‘Napa’ and people think Cabernet Sauvignon. Say ‘Burgundy’ and people think Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Say ‘Piedmont’ and people think Nebbiolo. Say ‘Oregon’ and people think Pinot Noir.
It is easy to think of the Willamette Valley in Oregon as one large Pinot Noir-producing region. After all, of the 24,436 acres* of vineyards, 16,536 acres* are planted to Pinot Noir. At the same time Pinot Noir was planted in the 1970s, Chardonnay was also planted. The Willamette Valley shares the same latitude as Burgundy, so it makes sense that if Pinot Noir is suited for the Willamette Valley, so is Chardonnay. However, there are only 1,941 acres* planted to Chardonnay.
I have the good fortune of meeting lots of winemakers. I have met some of the icons in the industry, people who helped establish their regions and set trends. But, when I was in the Willamette Valley as part of the Wine Writers Educational Tour, we attended a seminar with the Willamette Valley wine pioneers. This was not just a discussion of the people or a tasting of their wines but they, the original wine pioneers of the Willamette Valley, were there. It was not lost on me how legendary this panel was. These are the people who built the Willamette Valley and they shared their stories which I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and you can read here. “It takes a village to raise a child. This is my village and I am the kid,” declared Jason Lett as he welcomed a group of wine writers to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Jason’s father, David Lett, first saw the potential of Pinot Noir in Oregon.
A Utah native, David Lett moved to San Francisco for dental school in 1963 and was introduced to Napa Valley. He decided instead to study viticulture at UC Davis and after graduating, he moved to Oregon. According to Willamette Valley Wine, Pinot Noir was the first post-Prohibition vitis vinifera variety planted in the north Willamette Valley and the reason Lett came to Oregon. After studying the geography and climate of western Oregon, he had an idea of what would do well in the cool climate. Lett planted his vines in the Dundee Hills, establishing the Eyrie Vineyard, and produced his first wine in 1970.
As Jason spoke about his father, he sat alongside Richard and Nancy Ponzi, David Adelsheim, Harry Peterson-Nedry and Susan Sokol-Blosser.
The Willamette Valley in Oregon spans from Portland in the north to Eugene in the south. Within this larger AVA, there are seven AVA's. Perhaps you have heard of Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Yamhill-Carlton, Ribbon Ridge or even the newest Van Duzer Corridor. But, how can you remember each of these AVAs and what is the difference in the Pinot Noir produced in each area. I spent four intensive days in the Willamette Valley on the Wine Writers Educational Tour in August and we delved into each AVA. I wrote about it in the Napa Valley Register which you can read here. But, take a close look at the map of the Willamette Valley AVAs and you will find some unique shapes that make the AVAs all the easier to remember.
When we talk about wine regions, we see the big picture: Napa, Sonoma, Santa Ynez Valley, Willamette Valley, etc.
Each region is then broken up into AVAs (American Viticulture Areas). How each AVA is determined is based on a common set of attributes and microclimates that contribute to the uniqueness of the wines produced. As wine regions have evolved in the United States, new AVAs have been created.
It is not just about buying a wine from Napa, but is it from Howell Mountain AVA, Diamond Mountain AVA, Spring Mountain AVA or another AVA? What about Sonoma? What about the Santa Ynez Valley?
And what about the Willamette Valley? Do you know what the AVAs are within the Willamette Valley? Can you tell the difference between one AVA and another?