Viticulture in Oregon was present as early as the mid-1800s . After spending most of the 20th century as a haven for hazelnut growers and turkey farmers, pinot Noir was planted in the 1960’s and Oregon began to capture the greater wine world’s attention. This territory now belongs to the pinot grape and those who admire it...
Today, Oregon is a leader in Pinot Noir production with other varieties growing in importance. Chardonnay in particular has made significant strides in quality and sophistication in the last decade.
You can blame David Lett. He was the 25-year-old who rolled in from California 50 years ago with a trailer full of vine cuttings and a crazy dream about something called pinot. And now the Willamette Valley is never going to be the same.
What makes the North Willamette Valley wine growing region so unique?
Location, location, location –Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay grow beautifully in Oregon’s cool climate regions, which sit between the North 42nd and 46th parallels. The 45th parallel in both hemispheres offers conditions for delicate grapes to develop balanced, concurrent, ripening of sugar, acid, tannin and flavor.
Once upon a time, 16 million years ago . . .
Geologic history and soils – Oregon’s exciting geologic history is filled with grand-scale natural phenomenon– volcanic eruptions, shifting tectonic plates and skyscraper-high flood waters.
Blame the volcanoes of the Northwest that sent so much lava roaring through this valley and set the stage.*
Or blame the glaciers of Montana for forcing flood waters (the ice-age floods; AKA Missoula Floods), about 14,000 years ago, that carried in so many tons of rich dirt.**
Over the course of millennia, these events have defined not only the beautiful topography and landscape of Oregon, but also its unique soils, which defines our AVAs and brings complexity to these fine wines.
Climate – Oregon summers are filled with abundant sunshine, yet nights remain cool, sometimes with temperature swings approaching 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This strong diurnal swing allows grapes to achieve daytime ripening while retaining vital acidity during the night, creating a natural balance within the grape. Oregon is probably better known for its abundant rainfall, most of which falls during winter and spring. This abundance of water allows for the dry farming of vineyards all across the state, forcing vines to develop deep taproots, which contribute to complexity and phenolic development.
*The Willamette Valley creation started about 16 million years ago when in far eastern Washington and Oregon very fluid lava erupted from very unusual volcanoes, called basalt floods, and flowed west over portions of Idaho, Washington, Oregon and the northern part of what is now the Willamette Valley. During this period Basaltic Lava flowed right over the top of this Valley. Starting about five million years ago, mass tectonic uplift started to occur, and the collision of the Pacific Plate and the continental plate created what is now the Coast Range. One of the many ripple effects of all of this land movement was the uplift of the north Willamette Valley floor, creating the hills our vineyards and wineries call home. So too did a Mt. Hood explosion 10,000 years ago. The top layer of soil in this region is a black silt loam of volcanic soil, rich in nutrients that contribute to the complexity and aromatics of the wines.
**Further defining our Viticulture area (or appellation) was the catastrophic Missoula Flood. This flood happened about 14,000 years ago. It was caused by a glacier heading south clogging rivers near Missoula, Montana. Lake Missoula would grow into a very large lake, the size of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron combined. A break in the ice dam caused the catastrophic flood known now as the Missoula flood.
The ice dam burst forth the water from Lake Missoula at a rate of ten times the flow of ALL the rivers of the world. This event scattered debris across the Willamette Valley and helped to carve the Columbia River Gorge, and nourish the Willamette Valley. It rushed down from Montana eventually filling the Valley to a depth of about 300 feet. It laid down a thick layer of sediment over the Willamette Valley, covering all elevations below 300 feet. Anything below 300 feet was a sedimentary soil, while anything above remained predominantly Jory (volcanic) soil. This flood also formed Lake Willamette (aka Lake Allison), referring to the 300-square-mile lake that briefly covered the entire Willamette Valley during this time. Lake Willamette was formed when these floods washed down from Lake Missoula, scouring away the topsoil from eastern Washington (aka Washington Scablands) and depositing much of it here in the Willamette Valley, making this a uniquely fertile
The Bellevue Erratic in Erratic State Park between McMinnville and Sheridan. The 160-ton block of Belt argillite was rafted across four states in a huge chunk of glacier torn from the ice dam.
land that produces an abundance of fruits, nuts, berries and wine grapes. The shores of Lake Willamette extended as far south as Eugene and are marked by numerous iceberg-rafted erratics (flood/glacier transported rocks). Two ice-rafted flood erratics in the Willamette Valley are particularly interesting. The Bellevue Erratic is a large block of Belt metamorphic rock with an original weight of 160 tons. It would have taken a very large iceberg to carry this from Montana! The Willamette Meteorite, found nearby among other flood debris, most likely fell on the Cordilleran ice sheet in Canada, was carried to the Missoula Lake dam site in the glacier and was likewise ice-rafted to the Willamette Valley in the Missoula flood. Thus the largest meteorite ever found in the U.S.A. may be just a Canadian import.
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