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Oregon Wine Backgrounder
Since the first grapes were planted in the state 50 years
ago, Oregon is now recognized as one of the world's elite
winemaking regions. With 18 designated wine growing areas located
in four diverse regions, Oregon boasts more than 600 wineries
producing wine from dozens of grape varieties.
Oregon's wines have benefited from the state's
varied but accommodating climate and unique terroirs. Most of its
wineries are small and family owned, many producing fewer than
5,000 cases annually. They can be found sprinkled along country
roads, tucked into mountain foothills, situated high above
vineyards with breathtaking views of the landscape and now in
downtown storefronts on historic main streets.
Oregon's 400 wine tasting rooms are worth the
All of this made wine touring one of Oregon's
top draws. In 2013 (the most recent year for which statistics are
available), wine-related tourism contributed an estimated $207.5
million in revenues to the Oregon economy.
Oregon wines are available online, at
restaurants and from fine wine stores throughout the U.S. and
around the world, but there are many small-batch offerings only
available at the wineries' tasting rooms.
Here is our story.
All wines come from someplace, but the best wines can only
come from an extraordinary place. Oregon is an extraordinary place
When Oregon's wine pioneers looked out across the
state's varied landscape, they saw what others couldn't: a perfect
place for wine.
They understood that Oregon's northerly latitude
meant grapes would get extra growing season sunlight for long, even
ripening, and that crisp, cool nights would help grapes retain
their freshening acidity. Such a combination meant Oregon grapes
would naturally achieve mature, balanced flavors and full varietal
character. The resulting wines, they surmised, could be sustainably
grown and made without dramatic manipulation to be naturally fresh,
lively, and have true-to-the-fruit flavors.
They were right. Today, the suitability of Oregon
for great wine is unquestioned. There's a home in Oregon for any
wine grape, from Arneis to Zinfandel.
In the marine-influenced Willamette Valley,
cool-adapted grapes such as Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Riesling and
Chardonnay ripen to perfection, producing elegant wines with a
global reputation. In the warm, high-elevation vineyards of
Southern Oregon and the Walla Walla Valley, heat-loving varieties
including Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, Syrah and Viognier are
crafted into head-turning wines earning top scores from national
critics. And in the Columbia Gorge and Eastern Oregon, varied
microclimates allow winemakers and growers the luxury of working
with the widest range of grape varieties of anywhere in the
If you were a wine grape, you'd want to be planted
It takes great people to make great wine.
In Oregon, it's all about the wine, not the image.
Oregon's winemakers wear jeans, not chinos; boots, not boat shoes.
They speak more of sustainable farming than creative branding, of
biodynamics instead of market dynamics. They are an unpretentious
and independent lot who are as committed to the pursuit of their
entrepreneurial wine vision as they are to the collaborative
protection and advancement of Oregon wine quality.
It's always been that way. Oregon's wine community
was founded by free thinkers who stubbornly planted Pinot noir
where accepted wisdom said the grape would not grow - because they
were convinced they could make their greatest wines only in Oregon.
They were right.
Since then, second-generation and new wave Oregon
winemakers continue to build on that heritage. They established the
toughest wine labeling laws in the nation and imported
never-seen-in-the-US grape clones to ensure they could continue to
craft the best possible wine quality. They still pioneer new wine
grapes for North America, including Tempranillo, Albariño, Grüner
Veltliner, Lagrein and Vermentino. And they have established Oregon
as a leader in sustainability, setting new standards for organic,
biodynamic, and eco-sound vineyard and winery practices.
Above all, they maintain the primacy of quality:
lower yields in favor of quality are embraced; excess fruit is
stripped from the vine so what remains will ripen better;
just-picked grapes are inspected to eliminate substandard fruit;
native yeast fermentation helps keep the character of theterroir.
Nothing is spared to create quality wines; Oregon's vines are
hand-tended, the wines hand-crafted.
Eccentric? Perhaps. Uncompromising? Definitely.
Authentic wines honestly made - that's what you
find in Oregon.
Oregon wines taste of the land. The French call
itterroir. We call it delicious.
A Pinot noir from the Dundee Hills has lean ripe
cherry and strawberry notes, reflecting the iron-rich redness of
its volcanic soil. A sophisticated Syrah from the Walla Walla
Valley shows swaths of minerals and herbs, reminiscent of the
cobblestone ground where the vines grow. A suave Viognier offers
creamy touches of apricot and honey, conjuring images of summer sun
and wildflowers in Southern Oregon vineyards.
Oregon wines taste this way on purpose. A key
Oregon principle is to match the grape variety to the place where
it will grow best, not just where it is able to grow. That's why
Willamette Valley Pinot noir is so wonderful: a cooler climate is
best for that grape; and why Tempranillo from the Umpqua Valley is
so full of character: that variety prefers warmer temperatures.
Oregon winemakers also know that to get the best
from the grape, they must get out of Nature's way. The majority of
Oregon's vineyards are organic, many are biodynamic, and the
prevailing winemaking philosophy is "nonintervention," meaning do
as little as possible to manipulate the wine − let nature do it
The result is wines that have a genuine freshness,
balanced fruit, and true varietal flavor: wines that taste of the
place they were grown. And in a place as pristine, natural and
diverse as Oregon, you might expect our wines would show the same
qualities. You'd be right.
From sprightly sparklers and jaunty rosés, to
minerally Rieslings and peachy Viogniers; from elegant Pinot noirs
and sumptuous Syrahs, to classy Cabernets and dulcet dessert wines,
Oregon's wine variety will satisfy anyone's palate.
Oregon's wine-producing regions are unique in
geography, climate, varietals and winemaking styles.
All Oregon AVAs
Columbia Gorge and Columbia Valley
Mt. Hood and the cliffs of the Columbia River look
down on waterfront towns, countless waterfalls and the world's best
windsurfing waters. This brewpub mecca and up-and-coming wine
region is also the home of the Hood River Fruit Loop driving
Located in the Hood River area, the Columbia Gorge
AVA's climate varies widely. From the high desert-like east to the
cooler, wetter west, a range of grape varietals − Chardonnay, Pinot
noir, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, among them - thrive in this
While much of the arid Columbia Valley AVA is
located on the Washington side of the Columbia River, a number of
new, innovative Oregon wineries are making Merlot, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Chardonnay and a host of other wines in The Dalles
Chamber of Commerce
Oregon Wine Board / Columbia Gorge
Oregon Wine Board / Columbia Valley
Travel Oregon / Mt. Hood / Columbia River
With orchards and vineyards set against alpine
meadows, crystal-clear rivers and lush valleys, this rugged,
diverse region is home to Crater Lake National Park.
Oregon winemaking originated here when the first
wine grapes were planted in the 1800s. Today, new vineyards and
wineries are reigniting the established wine culture by producing
top-notch wines. Comprised of 170 microclimates, Southern Oregon is
the state's largest warm-climate growing region.
With five Sub AVAs − Umpqua Valley, Red Hills
Douglas County, Rogue Valley, Applegate Valley and the new Elkton -
in addition to the Southern Oregon AVA, and more than 65 wineries,
it's one of the most diverse winegrowing regions in the world.
Cooler areas produce Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Sauvignon blanc and
more. The warmer, arid regions ripen Cabernet Sauvignon,
Tempranillo, Syrah and others.
Southern Oregon Winery
Oregon Visitors Association
Oregon Wine Board / Southern Oregon
Travel Oregon / Southern Oregon
The spirit of the West is alive and well in
Eastern Oregon, where visitors can take in rodeos, fishing,
hunting, snow sports and incredible wildlife viewing. Orchards,
wheat fields and vineyards dot the countryside graced by the Blue
Mountains on the horizon.
Located in northeastern Oregon eight miles south
of Walla Walla, Wash., this region is open, spacious and home to
vineyards along the Columbia River. Diverse soils form the basis of
distinctive Walla Walla AVA terroirs: silty, sandy earth from the
Missoula Floods, basalt cobblestones and fractured basalt
Earthy and spicy, full-bodied Merlot, Cabernet
Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer,
Semillon, Pinot gris, Chenin blanc and Syrah produced here are
easily recognized for their distinctive minerality.
More than 60% of Walla Walla AVA wine is made
from grapes grown in Oregon.
The Snake River Valley AVA straddles the Oregon-Idaho border and
is one of the state's newest. Currently, there are no wineries in
the Oregon portion of the AVA.
Oregon Wine Board / Walla Walla Valley
Travel Oregon / Eastern Oregon
With its namesake river running through it from
Portland to south of Eugene, the region of more than 400 wineries
is protected by the Coast Range to the west, the Cascades to the
east and a chain of hills to the north. The Willamette Valley is
the heart of Oregon's agricultural production with farms growing
everything from fruit and nuts to Christmas trees and flowers, and,
of course, wine grapes.
In addition to the Willamette Valley AVA, Sub
AVAs include Chehalem Mountains, Yamhill-Carlton District, Ribbon
Ridge, Dundee Hills, McMinnville and Eola-Amity Hills.
Wet, cool winters and warm, dry summers make
this an ideal climate for Pinot noir and other cool-climate grapes,
including Pinot gris, Chardonnay and Riesling.
Valley Visitors Association
Willamette Valley Wineries
Oregon Wine Board / Willamette Valley
Travel Oregon / Willamette Valley
Food and Wine
What grows together goes together.
Oregon wines are made for the table.
Before Oregon became famous as a foodie haven,
Oregon winemakers were creating food-friendly wines. Because of the
natural refreshing fruit flavors inherent in Oregon wines, they
make easy and memorable matches for a wide variety of ingredients
and cooking styles.
Matching food and wine: At its best, Oregon wine is
paired with the season's freshest ingredients grown from nearby
farms or drawn from Oregon's rivers and coast.
The subtle earthiness of a Willamette Valley Pinot
noir is perfectly matched with fresh-picked wild mushrooms from the
forest, while the wine's dry fruit flavor wonderfully complements
the richness of wild-caught Pacific salmon. The notes of spice and
fruit in a brisk Pinot gris pair well with native hazelnuts and
farm-fresh cheeses. Steely dry Riesling and crisp Chardonnay easily
enhance oysters from the coast or free-range heritage turkey.
A hearty Umpqua Valley Tempranillo seems
made-to-order for a roast of hormone-free Oregon lamb, while a
silky Syrah from the Walla Walla Valley has a delicious affinity
for elk loin and other game meats. The soft succulence of a
Columbia Gorge late harvest Viognier marries with a dessert of Hood
River apples, while a compote of Southern Oregon peaches is a
wonderful foil to a zesty blanc de blancs.
Whatever your palate preference, there's an Oregon
wine to make the perfect pairing.
Photo credits: Brian Kimmel, Greg Robeson, Mike Chasar, Lance
Koudele and Jenny Hill.
Walla Walla Valley
Red Hill Douglas County
Snake River Valley
The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater
The Dirt on Oregon Soil
Valley: soil types are typically granite in origin, and
most of the area's vineyards are planted on stream terraces or
alluvial fans, providing deep, well-drained soils that are ideal
for high-quality wine grapes.
Mountains: a combination of Columbia River basalt, ocean
sedimentation, and wind-blown loess derivation soil types.
Gorge: soils are generally silty loams collected over
time from floods, volcanic activity and landslides.
Valley: roughly 15,000 years ago a series of tremendous
ice age floods (dubbed the Missoula Floods) deposited silt and sand
over the area. These deposited sediments, along with wind-blown
loess sediment, make up the area's present-day soils, which are
well drained and ideal for grapevines.
Hills: known for its rich, red volcanic Jory soil, which
was formed from ancient volcanic basalt and consists of silt, clay
and loam soils. They typically reach a depth of 4 to 6 feet and
provide excellent drainage for superior quality wine grapes.
Hills: predominantly contain volcanic basalt from
ancient lava flows as well as marine sedimentary rocks and alluvial
deposits at the lower elevations of the ridge. This combination
results in a relatively shallow, rocky set of well-drained soils,
which typically produce small grapes with great concentration.
McMinnville: soils are typically
uplifted marine sedimentary loams and silts, with alluvial
overlays. As compared to other appellations in the Willamette
Valley, these soils are uniquely shallow for winegrowing with low
total available moisture.
Douglas County: soils are iron-rich, red volcanic Jory
soils, which were formed from ancient volcanic basalt and consist
of silt, clay and loam soils. They are mostly deep, well-drained to
the 15-foot depth, and considered premier wine grape growing
Ridge: primarily sedimentary soils that are younger,
finer and more uniform than the alluvial sedimentary and volcanic
soils of neighboring regions. These moderately deep, well-drained
silty-clay loam soils are part of the Willakenzie soil series and
are of low fertility and ideal for growing high-quality wine
Valley: soil types are many and varied, including mixes
of metamorphic, sedimentary and volcanic derived soils ranging from
sandy loam to hard clay.
Oregon: soils are varied and complex, though generally
derived from bedrock, specifically from the 200 million year old
Klamath Mountains, which are comprised of sedimentary rocks, to the
Valley: soils are as varied as the climate. Generally,
they are derived from a mix of metamorphic, sedimentary and
volcanic rock; though more than 150 soil types have been identified
in the region. The valley floor levels have mostly deep alluvial or
heavy clay materials, while the hillsides and bench locations have
mixed alluvial, silt or clay structures-all typically excellent for
Valley: an old volcanic and sedimentary seabed that has
been overlaid with gravel, silt, rock and boulders brought by the
Missoula Floods from Montana and Washington between 10,000 and
15,000 years ago. The most common of the volcanic type is red Jory
soil, which is found above 300 feet elevation (as it had escaped
the Missoula Floods deposits) and is between four and six feet deep
and provides excellent drainage for superior quality wine grapes.
Anything below 300 feet elevation is primarily sedimentary-based
Yamhill-Carlton: comprised of
coarse-grained, ancient marine sedimentary soils, over sandstone
and siltstone that all drain quickly, making them ideal for
viticulture. Grapes grown in such soil often result in wines lower
in acid than those made from grapes grown in basaltic or wind-blown
The Oregon Wine Board's marketing and communications staff is
eager to assist with press inquiries. Please contact members of the
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