(May 2017) Though Oregon and Washington State border one another, and even have overlapping appellations, they are like two different countries when it comes to wine. After spending five days touring Washington wine country, and then crossing the border to Oregon, the only thing in common between the two famous wine regions is their friendly and hospitable welcome.
Indeed, as the 42 MWs on this trip soon discovered, Washington State, with its massive cabernet based blends and warmer weather could easily be compared to Bordeaux, whereas Oregon, with its focus on elegant earthy pinot noirs birthed from its cooler climate has aptly been likened to Burgundy. Viticulture methods and philosophy are also similar to these two French regions, with Washington focused on efficiency and quality control in large manicured vineyards, whereas Oregon vines are prone to be farmed in an organic fashion in smaller designated vineyard sites.
Key Facts About Oregon Wine
According to the Oregon Wine Board, in 2016 there were 702 wineries in Oregon and 1052 vineyards. The cooler climate, coupled with 15 hours of daylight during the summer, allows Oregon wineries to ripen grapes with high quality, good acid, and vibrant flavors. There are 72 varieties of grapes planted in Oregon, but pinot noir is dominant at 62% of the production, followed by pinot gris at 13% and chardonnay at 5%.
Oregon boasts 5 major regions (see map below), but the Willamette Valley produces more than 50% of the wine. Altogether, Oregon has just over 28,000 acres of vineyards, or 11,345 hectares and is still growing. The number of vineyards has nearly doubled since 2005, but most wineries are very small with 70% producing less than 5000 cases per year.
Wine Tour Itinerary
Our transition from Washington to Oregon started in the morning at our hotel in Walla Walla where Tom Danowski, President of Oregon Wine Board and Oregon Winegrowers Association, ushered us onto a bio-fueled bus. It was a bright, sunny, and soon to be very hot day as we traveled down the Columbia Gorge to the town of Hood River.
The drive was stunning, as we followed the mighty Columbia River from the parched desert bluffs in the East to the fir-covered hills that sprang into sight as we came closer to the Pacific Ocean. On the bus we were treated to a lecture on the climate and geology of Oregon by Dr. Greg Jones. The schedule for the rest of the trip was as follows:
Day One: Columbia Gorge and Portland
- Depart Walla Walla and drive to Hood River
- Lunch and Tasting with Columbia Gorge Wineries
- Drive to Portland and check into Hotel Vintage
- Tasting with Southern Oregon Wineries at FlexSpace
- Dinner at Clay Pigeon Urban Winery, Portland
Day Two: Willamette Valley
- Drive to Newberg in Willamette Valley
- Oregon AVAs Session and Tasting at Adelsheim Vineyards
- Lunch and Tasting at Domaine Drouhin, Dayton
- Check in and rest at Comfort Inn, McMinnville
- Walk-Around Tasting and Dinner at Domaine Serene Winery, Dayton
Day Three: Willamette Valley
- Vineyard Hike at Temperance Hill Vineyard
- Lecture and Tasting on Climate Change at Cristom Vineyards
- Lunch at Zenith Vineyard
- Break at Comfort Inn McMinnville
- White Wine Tasting at Trisaetum Winery
- Walkaround Tasting and Salmon Bake Dinner at Penner – Ash Wine Cellars
For more information on our Oregon adventures, please check out the following posts – coming soon!