Regions and Appellations USA Oregon Willamette Valley

Willamette Valley Wine

Willamette Valley, in western Oregon, is one of the United States' most important non-Californian AVAs. From the city of Portland, it stretches southwards for 120 miles (190km) down the eponymous river valley, covering some 3.3 million acres (1.2 million ha) of land. Pinot Noir is by far the most popular and top-performing variety here. The best Oregon Pinot Noirs are regularly compared to their significantly more expensive counterparts from Burgundy.

The fertile Willamette Valley has been the most densely populated area of Oregon since pioneers began to settle in the early 19th Century. Viticulture began in earnest here in the late 1960s, when students from the University of California's Davis campus looked north for inspiration, finding the climate in California unsuitable for Pinot Noir. In 1979, a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir beat a host of wines from Burgundy to take a place in the top three at the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades. This made the world take notice of Oregon and the Willamette Valley; vineyard plantings and international interest have increased steadily ever since.

The entrance to Willamette Valley Vineyards
? Wikimedia/Trashbag

The valley follows the path of the Willamette River, a tributary of the larger Columbia River that marks Oregon's northern border with Washington. The Cascade mountain range forms the valley's eastern border and the Oregon Coast Range on the western edge runs between the Willamette and the Pacific Ocean. Wine is produced throughout the valley, but the greatest concentration of vineyards is in the hills just south-west of Portland.

Although much of the Pacific's influence is blocked by the Coast Range, the climate in the Willamette Valley can be considered as maritime, with ocean breezes seeping in through a series of gaps in the mountains. Rain falls mostly in the winter, and long, dry summers with ample sunshine and cooler evenings provide an excellent ripening situation for the vines. The threat of rain in autumn means that longer-ripening grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc have not thrived in the climate here, which is better suited to the earlier-ripening Pinot Noir. In fact, these rains and the general changeability of the climate can play havoc with the crop, and vintages in the Willamette Valley can be as variable in quality as those in Burgundy.

Most of the region's vineyards can be found on the many hills in the valley, where the soils are less fertile and there is less risk of frost. These hills are the result of tectonic shift and ancient lava flows and are characterized by their red, iron-rich soils known as Jory, a type so distinctive to the Willamette Valley that it has become Oregon's official state soil. Other viticultural parts of the valley benefit from ancient sedimentary soils, and the valley floor is covered in fertile silt, the result of massive Ice Age floods that swept through Washington's Columbia Valley before settling in the Willamette Valley. This fertile soil is not suitable for viticulture, but supports Oregon's other important crops: hazelnuts, Christmas trees and hops for the production of beer.

The Willamette Valley became an AVA in 1984. In 2002, a group of producers banded together to mark out and petition for the creation of six new AVAs within the Willamette Valley to celebrate the diversity of the terroirs here. As a result, the Dundee Hills, McMinnville, Eola-Amity Hills, Yamhill-Carlton District, Chehalem Mountains and Ribbon Ridge sub-AVAs were established between 2004 and 2006.

The newest AVA here is Van Duzer Corridor, which was granted official status in late 2018. The topography of the area funnels coastal winds, creating conditions considered specific enough to warrant its own appellation. Van Duzer Vineyards is the dominant producer here.

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Most Popular Willamette Valley Wine

Based on search frequency, updated monthly
Wine Name
Grape
Popularity
Score
Avg Price
Beaux Freres 'The Beaux Freres Vineyard' Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, USA Pinot Noir 720th 93 $100
Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, USA Pinot Noir 1,122nd 90 $44
Domaine Serene 'Evenstad Reserve' Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, USA Pinot Noir 1,565th 92 $78
Ken Wright Cellars Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, USA Pinot Noir 1,566th 89 $26
Beaux Freres Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Oregon, USA Pinot Noir 1,647th 91 $70
Resonance Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District - Willamette Valley, USA Pinot Noir 2,067th 91 $45
White Rose Estate Dundee Hills Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, USA Pinot Noir 2,224th 91 $78
Bergstrom 'Cumberland Reserve' Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District, USA Pinot Noir 2,825th 90 $45
Angela Estate Pinot Noir, Yamhill-Carlton District, USA Pinot Noir 3,258th 89 $40
Cristom 'Mt. Jefferson Cuvee' Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, USA Pinot Noir 3,272nd 90 $36
Thomas Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, USA Pinot Noir 3,485th 91 $190
Lavinea NYSA Vineyard Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, USA Pinot Noir 3,712th 91 $64
Shea Wine Cellars Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, USA Pinot Noir 3,940th 91 $44
Antica Terra Antikythera Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, USA Pinot Noir 3,947th 92 $152
Domaine Drouhin Laurene Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, USA Pinot Noir 4,049th 92 $67
Beaux Freres The Upper Terrace Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, USA Pinot Noir 4,087th 93 $110
Colene Clemens Vineyards 'Margo' Pinot Noir, Chehalem Mountains, USA Pinot Noir 4,350th 90 $38
Antica Terra 'Botanica' Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, USA Pinot Noir 4,593rd 92 $114
The Four Graces Reserve Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, USA Pinot Noir 4,668th 90 $40
La Crema Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Oregon, USA Pinot Noir 4,681st 89 $27
Domaine Serene 'Yamhill Cuvee' Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, USA Pinot Noir 5,020th 91 $56
Brittan Vineyards Basalt Block Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, USA Pinot Noir 5,037th 91 $51
Nicolas Jay Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, USA Pinot Noir 5,226th 91 $74
Maison Noir O.P.P. - Other People's Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, USA Pinot Noir 5,284th 87 $22
Evening Land 'Seven Springs Vineyard' Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, USA Pinot Noir 5,308th 91 $41
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To see how Wine-Searcher uses average pricing and professional wine critic scores on this page, please see Average Wine Prices and Wine Scores. To find out about popularity, please see Wine Ranks.
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