Last summer, I took a lovely trip to explore Willamette Valley wine on the Wine Writers Educational Tour (WWET), which was organized by Fred Swan. The trip was 3 days long and consisted of multiple vineyard and winery visits with about 20 other wine writers. Oh, how I miss trips like this. The trip was a wine geeks dream. We delved into many aspects of Willamette Valley wine. MOST of what we talked about would not be of interest to a “regular” (non-industry person). Above all, my goal here is to distill what I learned on that trip and take you on a journey through the sub-AVAs of Willamette Valley wine country. Basically, how to help you break down what’s in the bottle of a Willamette Valley wine.
As an aside, the Willamette Valley is an amazing place to visit for wine. That is to say, for someone coming from Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest is stunningly beautiful and rustic. As you likely know, the wine is stellar, and there are eateries that would rival those in any big city. One particular stellar experience with Willamette Valley wine was at Youngberg Hill. Above all, the hospitality, wine, views, and food were all top-notch.
Back to the wine! Let’s start with some numbers and facts to give you context before we look at each sub-AVA. Firstly, the Willamette Valley wine region is the largest wine region in Oregon. 71% of Oregon wine is produced here. Secondly, the region lies between the lower Coast Range and the higher elevation Cascade Range. Aside from Napa, I’d say that the Willamette Valley is the most prestigious winemaking area in the US. Jason Lett, whose father David Lett planted the first Pinot Noir vines in the region (in 1965) said that the Willamette Valley is the New World wine region that is taken with the highest degree of seriousness. Here in the Willamette, they make good wine and they care about it. Thirdly, the Willamette Valley is a large region over 150 miles long and 60 miles wide. There are over 23,000 acres planted, 756 vineyards, and 564 wineries. Moreover, Pinot Noir dominates with over 65% of plantings.
This quick breakdown of the 7 AVAs of the Willamette Valley is meant to help you navigate bottles on a shelf. What might a wine from the Chehalem Mountains or Yamhill-Carlton taste like? Read below!
I would be remiss if I did not mention Elaine Brown, who led the group through a seminar comparing Willamette Valley AVAs through Pinot Noir. Elaine has spent significant time researching and studying Willamette Valley wine. Certainly, her attention to detail and relatability makes her one of my favorite speakers and educators on the topic of wine.
Let's move onto the AVAs!
Willamette Valley wines from the Chehalem Mountains are rich and full. Certainly bigger wines than any of the other sub-AVAs.
Willamette Valley wines from Yamhill-Carlton have fine-grained tannins and darker fruit character (blue and black fruit). The wines are fleshier and richer.
Willamette Valley wines from Ribbon Ridge express elegance and structure. There is an intensity to the fruit and concentration.
Willamette Valley wines from the Dundee Hills showcase red fruit predominantly. These wines are not heavy. They’re finer and more delicate; leaner.
Willamette Valley wines from McMinnville have deep flavor concentration. Darker flavors and more apparent tannins.
Willamette Valley wines from the Eola-Amity Hills are bright and have high acid. Clean, distinct aromas and flavors.
Willamette Valley wines from the Van Duzer Corridor have rustic tannins. This the newest sub-AVA in the Willamette Valley and is less than a year old.
Bookmark this page to help you navigate the shelves of Willamette Valley wine!
Did you know Brianne can lead you through a virtual wine tasting, from the comfort of your own home? For example, we can focus on and explore Willamette Valley wine. Please contact Brianne to book your virtual vino class.