The wine industry as we know it today in Oregon began in the 1960s with pioneers Richard Sommer (southern Oregon), David Lett, Charles Coury, and Dick Erath bringing Vitis vinifera grapes north from California. Despite contrary opinion that wine grapes could not be successful in Oregon, these original founders and a number of hopeful families lead the way to developing a thriving wine industry. Today, Oregon has major wine growing regions in the north and south parts of the state, with the Willamette Valley being the largest and most well known. Below are the major American Viticultural Areas (AVA) and the regions and sub-AVAs within each.
Maps provided courtesy of the Oregon Wine Board.
Willamette Valley AVA & Sub-AVAs
The Willamette Valley AVA extends north to south from the Columbia River to the city of Eugene, and is bordered to the east and west by the Cascades and Coast Range Mountains. There are six sub-AVAs located within the valley’s 5,200 square miles. Weather in the valley is generally cool through winter and spring with warm dry summers that extend into early fall providing ideal ripening situations. While pinot noir is the predominant red variety grown in this cool climate AVA, white varieties such as pinot gris, pinot blanc, riesling, and chardonnay (amongst others) are also growing in popularity.
Dundee Hills AVA: David Lett first established The Eyrie Vineyard in this protected area of the valley. Surrounded by mountains, and buffered by the valley floor the region benefits from lower rainfall and less frost. Dick Erath and the Sokol-Blosser family also started vineyards in this region, and in 1987 the world watched as Robert Drouhin of Burgundy fame bought land here. The terroir is rich with red volcanic soil, clay and loam and gives distinct minerality to the wines produced.
Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association
McMinnville AVA: Due west of the region’s namesake town, this growing area has a rich history in agriculture. The college town of McMinnville is also host to the International Pinot Noir Celebration held every July since 1987. The area sits in the “rain shadow” of the Coastal Range, which keeps moisture low. Shallow alluvial soils blanket marine sediment and silt soil types. A number of producers including The Eyrie Vineyards and Panther Creek are part of a local trend, purchasing and refurbishing former granaries and nut processing plants, forming what is regarded as the “Urban Pinot Quarter.”
McMinnville AVA Association
Ribbon Ridge AVA: The smallest AVA in the Northwest, Ribbon Ridge is enveloped within the larger Chehalem Mountains region. Harry Peterson-Nedry of Ridgecrest Vineyards planted the first vines here in 1980. Surrounding mountains shield this region resulting in a warmer climate, strong early growth, and long hang time for the fruit. This allows for more complex flavor and color development. Soils are younger and more uniform, and are made up of Willakenzie series, primarily sedimentary. Dry farming is extremely common for growers here, meaning no man-made irrigation is employed.
Chehalem Mountains AVA: This region is the most northern within the Willamette Valley. One of Oregon’s wine pioneers, Dick Erath, established his vineyards here, followed by others including the Adelsheim and Ponzi families. This area also contains the highest elevations and the greatest range of temperature in the valley. Vineyards are planted on volcanic basalt, marine sediment, and wind-blown silt soils.
Chehalem Mountains Winegrowers
Eola-Amity Hills AVA: Closest to the state capitol of Salem, this region has roots in the 1970s when Don Byard of Hidden Springs began his vineyard here. Eola is a name derived from Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds. This is appropriate as the location due east of the Van Duzer Corridor allows cooler Pacific airs to come in and lower temperatures in the humid summer months. This allows grape acidity to remain higher. Soil types include volcanic basalt and marine sediment with alluvial deposits, making for shallow, rocky and well-drained vineyard sites.
Eola-Amity Hills American Viticultural Area
Yamhill-Carlton AVA: A large horseshoe shaped growing region surrounds the towns of Yamhill and Carlton. Like McMinnville, a strong history of farming and logging has preceded in this region. In 1974 Pat and Joe Campbell formed Elk Cove Vineyards here, which produced the first commercially made wines. Lower acid wines with deep color are produced here, due to solid protection from the Coast Range, the Chehalem Mountains, and the Dundee Hills.
Yamhill-Carlton Winegrowers’ Association
Southern Oregon AVA & Sub-AVAs
Beyond Eugene the Southern Oregon AVA stretches south to the California state border, and encompasses four sub-AVAs. Grape growing in this region dates back to 1852, some of the earliest plantings in the state. With warmer weather than northern Oregon varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, and syrah will be found. However, there also exist plantings of gewürztraminer, viognier, chardonnay, pinot gris, and riesling.
Rogue Valley AVA: Oregon’s southern most wine growing region, this valley includes the drainage basin for the Rogue River, Illinois River, Applegate River, and Bear Creek. Despite the valley’s size very little land is suitable for grape growing. Oregon’s very first winery, Valley View Winery, was established in the Rogue Valley in 1873 by Peter Britt.
Rogue Valley Winegrowers Association
Applegate Valley AVA: Located just west of Grants Pass, this is a sub-appellation contained entirely within the Rogue Valley AVA. Despite having a warmer influence overall there exist a large number of microclimates in this region providing depth and complexity to the wines. The predominant white variety grown here is chardonnay.
Applegate Valley Wine Trail
Umpqua Valley AVA: This region, north of the Rogue Valley, is also contained within the Southern Oregon AVA. Arriving from UC Davis, Richard Sommer was responsible for much of the post-prohibition grape cultivation. Both cool and warm grape varieties have found homes in the Umpqua Valley, with white grapes including muscat, pinot blanc, gewürztraminer, chardonnay, pinot gris, riesling, sauvignon blanc, and sémillon.
Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Association
Red Hill Douglas County, Oregon AVA: After jumping through many hoops and facing disputes with winegrowers in both northern Oregon and California, the cumbersome name of this AVA was decided. Entirely contained within the Umpqua Valley AVA, Red Hill Douglas County is near the town of Yoncalla. It is one of just a few AVAs in the country which contains but one vineyard growing pinot noir, chardonnay, and riesling.
Following are the four AVAs which Oregon shares with neighboring states Washington and Idaho.
Columbia Valley AVA: Contained mostly within the state of Washington, a small portion of this AVA crosses the Columbia River and state lines into Oregon. The Oregon side of the Columbia Valley includes The Dalles, Boardman, and Hermiston. Zinfandel vines planted over 100 years ago can still be found. See the Washington region page for more information.
Columbia Valley Wineries Association
Columbia Gorge AVA: Another region that strattles the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington, the Gorge is located just 60 miles east of Portland. Also, being located in the rain shadow of the Cascade Range, this area is significantly drier than Portland, allowing for a wide variety of varieties to be grown. The Gorge is considered an United States National Scenic Area and contains a number of the country’s highest waterfalls. See the Washington region page for more information.
Columbia Gorge Winegrowers
Walla Walla Valley AVA: Crossing from southeastern Washington into northeastern Oregon, Walla Walla is a sub-appellation of the Columbia Valley AVA. While the majority of the wineries in the region are located on the Washington side, nearly half of the acres used for growing are found in Oregon. Primarily known for warm weather varieties like cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and syrah there are still some good quality white varieties being grown here as well. See the Washington region page for more information.
Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance
Snake River Valley AVA: Largely set in the state of Idaho, this region crosses into northeastern Oregon around the towns of Ontario and Baker City. Idaho is gaining notoriety for the white wine varieties being grown, and much of the fruit is in fact being used by Oregon wineries. Only one vineyard is planted within the Oregon bounds of the AVA. See the Idaho region page for more information.
Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission