The west coast of the United States has become the place to be for wine lovers looking to sample some of the best wines that the country has to offer. While most people believe that California has the corner on the market in that part of the world, the reality is that Oregon is also widely recognized as a creator of great wine. This is particularly true if you are a fan of Pinot Noir, as it is that particular wine that has helped put Oregon on the map.
There are over 700 wineries currently operating in Oregon, with a total of 6 AVA’s nested within the Willamette Valley region. The amount of visitors to the region, as well as the amount of money spent on wine, is very much on the rise with each passing year, which means the growth of the wineries and vineyards that operate there looks as though it will continue unabated. Rather than looking ahead to the future, though, we thought it might be a good idea to look at the past to discover the true wine pioneers of Oregon.
While it was the 1960’s that saw wine production in the state of Oregon really take off, the history of winemaking in this part of the world can be dated back to 1847. Peter Britt was the man responsible for operating the first recorded winery, Valley View, around that time. Several different varietals were produced by other winemakers up until 1904, when prohibition put an end to the winemaking operations in Oregon.
When things started back up again in the 1960’s, they did so quietly, with just 5 wineries opening up shop in Oregon. The first winery to open its doors at that time was Eyrie Vineyards, which was started by David and Diana Lett in 1966. The other visionaries who took steps to start planting grapes and making wine around that time included Ponzi Vineyards, Bethel Heights Vineyards, and Sokol Blosser Winery. It’s fair to say that Eyrie Vineyards where the one to put Oregon on the map, as they won at the 1975 Wine Olympics with a delicious Pinot Noir. Winemaker who believed that the Willamette Valley was too cold to produce great wines were suddenly forced into a rethink, which is perhaps why the 1980’s proved to be boom times for the wine industry in Oregon.
You can’t talk about the history of winemaking in Oregon without talking about the Phylloxera infestation of the 1990’s, which came close to wiping out the industry entirely. While the winery owners played a part in turning things around, the state legislature of Oregon also needs to be recognized as a pioneer, as they introduced a number of laws that were designed to help the winemakers through these troubled times. Oregon now ranks as the #4 wine producer in the United States, and their stock continues to rise with wine lovers with each passing year. If you’ve never taken a trip through Oregon wine country, we suggest you put it on your travel agenda.