Among the AVA (American Viticultural Areas) in Oregon we count the Willamette Valley, Umpqua, Rogue and Illinois Valleys and parts of Walla Walla and the Columbia Gorge shared with Washington.
Making wine in Oregon continues to be a challenge, owing to it's largely rainy climate, limited hours of sunshine, cooler temperatures and frequent frosts in the fall.
Owing to the large climate changes from year to year, vintage quality varies greatly. Some years produce a high-alcohol, below-average acidity fruit while others — owing to dry winters and wet springs — produce lower alcohol and varied flavor profiles. Still others see late season rain after intense summer heat, to produce concentrated flavors and smooth tannins.
The Oregon Pinot Noir stands out with its hard-earned, but well-deserved reputation. As far back as 1979 it has placed second or third in French Olympiad competition, against the powerhouse from Burgundy.
The Pinot Noir is fortunately an early-ripening grape, with the main production area being the Willamette Valley, just south of Portland.
For years known primarily for that Pinot Noir, Oregon's wineries are branching out to new reds, while making better than ever whites. In good years the Pinot Noir makes smoky, earthy wines, but the Pinot Gris is quickly rising to compete favorably.
Others like the Cabernet Franc and Zinfandel grow only in the warmer Rogue Valley and Walla Walla, blessed with more sunshine.
Here also grows the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are beginning to see the light thanks to the efforts of some of the risk-taking vintners who benefit from select warmer micro-climates.
In the southern areas, Zinfandel and Tempranillo are artfully managed. Even the vaunted Syrah is making a beginning, urged along by the region's meticulous caretakers of the vine, who now have over 30 years of experience under their belts. From a small section on the south side of the Columbia River, has come the first major Syrah from the formerly unheralded area.
Experiments continue with Riesling and Gewürztraminer, with a bit of Sauvignon Blanc and even the little-known Muller-Thurgau. The Grenache, Lemberger, Sangiovese and even Nebbiolo are beginning to make an appearance.
With over 300 wineries and 500 vineyards covering over 13,000 acres the area has grown from its humble beginnings, when only 20 years ago there were only 47 wineries. It's production is now fourth in the U.S., producing sales of over $200 million a year. Look for great things in the future.