Is Pinot Noir the only grape the state of Oregon grows?
No, but considering the way they go on about it, I’ll forgive you for assuming every inch of vineyard within its extensive borders is overrun with the grape. Not that they don’t make amazing Pinot in Oregon. Spoiler alert: they do. Trouble is, they’re too good at it. So, like many wine producers who have been awarded a certain level of celebrity by the liquid media thanks to growing one grape particularly well, the public can’t get its collective head around what else it’s got in the ground.
Winemakers in New Zealand and Argentina certainly understand the pain of those non-Pinot Noir producing wineries in Oregon. With the Kiwis masters of Sauvignon Blanc and the Argentineans trustees of the world’s Malbec supply, everything else they put into bottles is seen by consumers as secondary at best.
While many of its winemakers try to find a way to open people’s minds and mouths, Oregon has embraced its Pinot powerhouse status. It helps that the grape loves the valleys that work their way down the state’s just-over-580 kilometres of Pacific coastline. The northern Willamette Valley, about an hour outside of Portland, is where much of the magic happens. Over 75 percent of Oregon’s vineyards and 90 percent of Pinot production are based there.
Three different mountain ranges nearly encircle the Willamette, and thanks to the Missoula Floods (a series of catastrophic Ice Age events worthy of a Roland Emmerich plot line), the valley is jam-packed with layers of vine-friendly volcanic soil mixed with lots of glacial goodness. Add to that a much cooler, more European-esque climate than neighbouring California and the comparisons to Burgundy, France’s Pinot powerhouse, are inevitable.
But you said they grow more than Pinot Noir? They do, more than 50 other varieties to be exact. While Pinot Gris has been pushed forward as Orgon’s best white grape, I’d put its Chardonnay output up against any competitor looking for a taste-off. Even more exciting is how well it does Riesling, Albariño and Grüner Veltliner, especially in its southern regions.
All of France’s and Italy’s big gun red varietals call Oregon home, though their production pale in comparison to Pinot. What may surprise you the most is how amazing its Tempranillo can be. No kidding. On my last visit, some Spanish friends who were along for the ride were gobsmacked by how well Oregon versions mirrored, if not bested, the wines from their home and native land.