Oregon's Wine Story
The Willamette Valley is the same latitude as Burgundy, France; and shares a similar mild climate aptly suited for growing grapes. Additionally, like France's Terroir; the Willamette Valley floor is exceptionally fertile. Volcanic rocks rich in iron and magnesium rolled into the valley during the Pleistocene era-floods. The resulting red, silty-clay loam known as Jory soil measures four to six feet deep and is unique to the region. It is so special that it was named Oregon's "State Soil" in 2011.
With prime terrain for agriculture, and in particular for cultivating the finicky Pinot Noir grape, Oregon wineries have gained international recognition for their achievements. In 1979, Oregon winemaker David Lett, known locally as "Papa Pinot," entered his 1975 Eyrie Vineyards Reserve Pinot Noir in France's Wine Olympics. When the blind tasting ranked his wine in tenth place, wine connoisseurs sat up and took note (after they got over the shock!). Since then Oregon winemakers have repeatedly proved their rightful place among top international wines. Other grapes that do well here include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling.
In 1984 Willamette Valley was recognized as an official American Viticultural Area (AVA). The Willamette Valley region was declared "Region of the Year" by Wine Enthusiast magazine in 2016.
The Willamette Valley is informally divided between the north and south with Salem at the center. Today, the South Willamette Valley is home to more than a dozen thriving vineyards and wineries. A popular wine corridor known as the Territorial Wine Trail follows Territorial Highway across the sprawling rural farmlands connecting small towns. In 2018, the South Willamette Wine Trail app was launched to guide visitors to some of the very special tasting rooms in the region.
The largest and most iconic local winery is King Estate, known for its award-wining wines and sustainable farming. Enthroned on a vineyard covered hill, this European-inspired facility offers a world-class wine country experience complete with sweeping picturesque views, an elegant tasting room, a top-notch on-site restaurant, and exquisite events. From their solar-panels to their raptor program, King Estate serves as a leader for organic wine production.
The boutique Pfeiffer Winery near Junction City sells exclusively from their tasting room. You can't find this wine at stores, or even in local restaurants. However, Pfeiffer Winery's 2007 Pinot Noir Blue Dot Reserve was selected to represent Oregon Pinot Noir at the 2009 Obama inauguration. The "Presidential Pinot," is just one of many interesting back-stories to Pfeiffer Winery. And the best place to hear these stories is at one of their popular "Pinot Clinics" held frequently at the winery.
Today there are wine tour companies springing up around the growing wine industry so it is easy to plan a day exploring wine country. Locals are extremely proud of Oregon wines and you will find regional wines on many restaurant menus and in local bottle shops and natural food stores. Alaska Airlines has even partnered with the wine industry so that Oregon wines fly free when visitors are taking their precious purchases back home. If you like wine, or just want to learn a little more about it, the unpretentious, uncrowded and award-winning South Willamette Valley's wine county is just the place to visit.