Willamette Valley

Willamette Valley AVA Map

Location:  The Willamette Valley is 150 miles long and up to 60 miles wide making it Oregon's largest AVA. It runs from  the Columbia River in Portland south through Salem to the Calapooya Mountains outside Eugene. Named for the river that flows through it, the Willamette Valley has the largest concentration of wineries and vineyards in Oregon and includes six sub-appellations: Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton and the recently approved Chehalem Mountains.

Wine history: Modern winemaking in the Willamette Valley dates back 50 years with the genius of three UC Davis refugees who believed that Oregon was an ideal place to grow cool-climate varieties. Between 1965 and 1968, David Lett, Charles Coury, and Dick Erath separately forged their way to the north Willamette Valley despite negative rumblings from their UC Davis cohorts who told them it was impossible to grow wine grapes in Oregon. They were the first to plant Pinot noir in the Willamette Valley. They also planted small amounts of related varieties, including Pinot gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling.  These wine pioneers whole-heartedly believed that Oregon would one day become an important wine-growing region. Other believers were not far behind. Within the next decade, David and Ginny Adelsheim, Ronald and Marjorie Vuylsteke, Richard and Nancy Ponzi, Joe and Pat Campbell, Susan and Bill Sokol Blosser and Myron Redford all planted vineyards in the Willamette Valley.  These families worked in a collaborative spirit, sharing advice, humor and encouragement, as they began writing history by producing superior wines in Oregon. Though, it wasn't until David Lett entered his Oregon Pinot noir in the 1979 Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades and won top Pinot noir honors against France's best labels that the world started to take notice of Oregon as a serious winemaking region.  The Willamette Valley became an official AVA in 1983. Today, it is recognized as one of the premier wine producing areas in the world. It is most widely known for its award winning Pinot noir, but consistently earns top honors for other such cool-climate varieties as Pinot gris, Dijon clone Chardonnay and Pinot blanc.

Climate: The Willamette Valley is relatively mild throughout the year, with cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. While moisture is abundant, most of the rainfall occurs in the winter, not during growing season. This temperate climate, combined with coastal marine influences, make the gentle growing conditions within the Valley ideal for cool climate grapes, including Pinot noir. The Valley enjoys more daylight hours during the growing season than in any other area of the state. During this longer growing season, the Willamette Valley enjoys warm days and cool nights, a diurnal temperature swing that allows the wine grapes to develop their flavor and complexity while retaining their natural acidity.

Soils: The Willamette Valley is 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 soil.

Topography: The Willamette Valley is protected by the Coast Range to the west, the Cascades to the east and a series of hill chains to the north. Its namesake, the Willamette River, runs through its heart. The largest concentration of vineyards are located to the west of this river, on the leeward slopes of the Coast Range, or among the valleys created by the river's tributaries. While most of the region's vineyards reside a few hundred feet above sea level, parts of the Willamette Valley do reach much higher. The Chehalem Mountains are the highest mountains in the Valley with their tallest point, Bald Peak, rising 1,633 feet above sea level.


Predominant varieties

  • Pinot noir
  • Pinot gris
  • Chardonnay
  • Riesling

While you're here...

The name Willamette Valley also refers to the fertile valley where visitors will find some of Oregon's biggest cities, including Salem, the state capitol, Oregon State University's Corvallis, and Eugene, home to the University of Oregon where Phil Knight (of Nike fame) got his start in shoes. All three cities have great shopping, fine-dining restaurants and lively arts communities with top-notch theaters, museums, galleries and festivals of all kind. Located in the hearts of this region's wine producing pockets are smaller towns such as Forest Grove, Dundee, Newberg, and McMinnville, that offer a great variety of charming inns and bed and breakfasts, and an impressive collection of small, chef-owned restaurants serving wine-friendly Pacific Northwest cuisine.

During spring, summer and fall growing season, roadside stands dot country lanes and farmers' markets selling local fruits and produce, artisan cheeses and handcrafted items appear throughout the Valley in both large and small towns. These are also great times to visit the 80-acre Oregon Garden, located in the charming town of Silverton. There's a lot of outdoors fun in this region including hiking, river rafting, cycling and mountain biking. And with nearly 40 public golf courses, visitors won't have to wait long for a tee-time.

Dundee Hills Winegrowers Association

The Dundee Hills Winegrowers is a community of vintners, growers and businesses that work together with a mission to promote, educate and grow the appellations reputation as Oregon's premier wine growing region. We invite you to visit and experience the brilliance that is this world-class Oregon wine destination.

Willamette Valley Wineries Association

The Willamette Valley wineries are a popular tourist destination, with the area boasting a new luxury destination resort, several high-end inns and many delightful bed & breakfasts. The Valley also offers a long list of fine dining restaurants. An additional advantage for the wine tourist is the proximity of the wineries to Portland. From Portland, tourists can visit the Willamette Valley winery of their choice in anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours.

Travel Oregon - Willamette Valley page

There's more to the Willamette Valley than award-winning, world-renowned wine. Sure, there are over 200 vineyards producing some of the best Pinot Gris, Riesling and Pinot Noir wine anywhere, but we grow more than just grapes.

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Jun 2015

Clink! A Taste of Oregon Wine at Linfield College Oregon Wine Historical Archive

June 1, 2015 | Location

Due to the overwhelming response to Clink! A Taste of Oregon Wine, the Oregon Historical Society has developed a traveling version of the exhibition to travel the state.
Learn More »

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