Oregon Wine History
Oregon’s rich wine heritage
Editors Note: The history of the Oregon wine industry is
made available to the Oregon Wine Board for use on its website with
the permission of its author, Katherine Cole, wine columnist, The
Oregonian, and may not be reused for any other purposes without the
expressed written permission of the author.
Oregonians were growing and fermenting grapes before we achieved
statehood. But our current reputation as one of the world's top
producers of high-quality wine has been built over only the past
The Early Years
1933: John Wood and Ron Honeyman of Salem
were among a group of early Oregon entrepreneurs who received
bonded winery status shortly after the repeal of the 18th Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution which established Prohibition in 1920.
Honeywood Winery is Oregon's oldest continuously operating winery
and holds bonded winery number 26. Hillcrest Vineyard later ushered
in the modern era of Oregon winemaking, planting the first
viniferous grapes near Roseburg as Oregon's first estate winery.
Hillcrest, which holds bonded winery certificate number 42, is
Oregon's oldest estate winery.
1961: After a long dry spell following
Prohibition, Richard Sommer launches Oregon's modern era of
winegrowing when he plants Riesling, gewürztraminer, Chardonnay,
Semillon, Sauvignon blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot noir and
Zinfandel at his HillCrest Vineyard in the Umpqua Valley.Oregon's
oldest estate winery.
1964: Food writer and Portland native James
Beard places Oregon on the culinary map with the publication of his
memoir, Delights & Prejudices: A Memoir with Recipes.
1965: The Pinot noir era dates from February
1965. David Lett first rooted Pinot Noir cuttings near Corvallis,
while researching a permanent vineyard site , the first plantings
in the Willamette Valley. Charles and Shirley Coury, fresh from UC
Davis and a year in Alsace, arrived in March and planted his first
vines in the nursery established by Lett and then returned to
California, leaving the vines in the care of Lett. The Courys
returned later in the year and eventually purchased a Forest Grove
property that had operated a vineyard and winery from the mid-1800s
through Prohibition and began to replant it with Pinot noir and
Riesling. (The property is now known by its historic name, David
1966: Lett and his wife, Diana, spend their
honeymoon planting young vines at The Eyrie Vineyards in the Dundee
Hills, now the epicenter of the Oregon wine industry. He was
convinced the Burgundian varieties could be grown better in Oregon
than in California. (Two years later, they will acquire some cheap
labor in the form of an energetic 10-year-old named Joel Myers, who
will go on to become one of the Willamette Valley's leading
1967: Richard Sommer harvests his "first crop
of any consequence," resulting in 6,000 gallons of juice. Sommer
decides to quit his day job as an appraiser to make wine full-time
and bottles Oregon's first ever vintage of Pinot noir.
1968: Another Davis grad, Dick Erath, arrives
in the Willamette Valley and prints up business cards in
anticipation of planting his first wine grapes in 1969.
1969: Dick and Nancy Ponzi arrive in Oregon and
begin planting their first 20-acre vineyard. (Later, Nancy will
cofound ¡Salud! and other organizations, and the couple will
launch BridgePort Brewery Company and the Dundee Bistro). The same
year, Jim and Loie Maresh begin planting grapevines on their
now-famous Maresh Vineyard.
1970: Susan Sokol Blosser and Bill Blosser buy
an abandoned prune orchard in Dundee, two weeks before their first
child is born, and begin clearing the land so they can plant
1971: David Adelsheim and Ginny Adelsheim
purchase their original property at Quarter Mile Lane in Newberg
and prepare to plant Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Pinot gris and
Riesling. The same year, an innovative and formal Italian
restaurant, Genoa, opens in Portland; and Philippe and Bonnie
Girardet begin planting their Umpqua Valley estate.
1972: The Wisnovsky family decides to revive
pioneer Peter Britt's 1850s-era winery and vineyard, Valley View,
in Southern Oregon's Applegate Valley. Sons Mark and Michael
are conscripted as vineyard crew. The same year, Dick Troon plants
his vineyard nearby, on the Applegate Valley's Kubli Bench.
1973: With the establishment of the Oregon
Department of Land Conservation and Development, a group led by
David Adelsheim and David Lett creates maps designating the prime
vineyard zones of the northern Willamette Valley, then lobbies to
protect this land. Until now, farmers have fought land
developers (as Jim and Loie Maresh did in the mid-1960s) on a
1974: David Adelsheim travels to Burgundy to
work harvest and realizes that the clones (or specific strains of
grapevines) there perform better in the cool Burgundian climate
than the "Davis" clones from California perform here in Oregon. It
will take him a decade, but with the help of David Heatherbell,
Professor of Enology at Oregon State University, Adelsheim is able
to import "Dijon clones" from Burgundy beginning in 1984.
1975: The Eyrie Vineyards makes a Pinot noir
that will become the "South Block Reserve." Four years later, this
wine will trump the French competition at a now-famous Paris wine
tasting sponsored by the Gault & Millau restaurant guide.
1976: Myron Redford builds his winery at Amity
Vineyards and makes his first wine, a "Pinot noir Nouveau."
1977: The Campbell family ferments the first
vintage of grapes from their Elk Cove Vineyards, planted three
years prior, in Gaston; and the Casteel family begins to plant
Bethel Heights Vineyard in Salem. Meanwhile, in McMinnville, Nick's
Italian Café opens.
1978: In Grants Pass, Ted and Mary Warrick
plant grapevines on their property overlooking the Applegate River,
establishing Wooldridge Creek Vineyard.
1979: The Enological Society (now the Seattle
Wine Society) meets to taste through Oregon, Washington and Idaho
wines. Someone has the idea of printing the menu in French,
as if that will make the potato salad and deviled eggs sound more
1980: David Adelsheim, Dick Erath and David
Lett petition the state department of agriculture to establish a
1981: After a year of driving a tractor around
the decade-old Knudsen Vineyard, Allen Holstein realizes he can't
go back to his PhD program at OSU. Three decades later,
Holstein is still farming Knudsen Vineyard, as vineyard manager at
1982: Alarmed by the rapidly declining quality
of the fruit at his decade-old Henry Estate Vineyard, Umpqua Valley
vintner H. Scott Henry designs a unique four-pronged trellising
system that exposes the grape bunches to maximum sunlight. The
"Scott Henry Trellis System" is soon adopted by vineyards all over
1983: Nine vintners get together, form the
Yamhill County Wineries Association, and decide to throw open their
winery doors for the first "Thanksgiving Weekend in Wine
1984: Relentlessly wet, cold, muddy and late,
this is, by all accounts, the worst harvest season in Oregon wine
history. On a more positive note, Cameron Winery is established
this year; and the Oregon Wine Advisory Board, now Oregon Wine
Board, begins funding enology research through Oregon State
1985: At a tasting at the International Wine
Center in New York, a group of oeno-experts cannot distinguish
Oregon Pinot noirs from Burgundies costing more than twice as much.
They choose Oregon wines as their top three favorites.
1986: A winemaker named Ken Wright starts up a
boutique winery in McMinnville that specializes in
vineyard-designate bottlings. He calls it Panther Creek
Cellars. Later, Wright will sell Panther Creek to found Ken
Wright Cellars and Tyrus Evan> in Carlton.
1987: The first International Pinot Noir
Celebration takes place in McMinnville, gathering Pinot noir
producers and lovers from all over the world. Image provided
by Oregon Wine History Archive.
1988: Burgundy-born and -educated Véronique
Drouhin makes her first vintage of Willamette Valley wine for the
newly minted Domaine Drouhin Oregon label. The investment by
Véronique's family company, Maison Joseph Drouhin, in Dayton
vineyard land and a world-class new winery, places an international
spotlight on Oregon. Meanwhile, an Oregon wine cellar is installed
in the governor's mansion.
1989: The state's only shareholder-owned and
publicly traded winery, Willamette Valley Vineyards, opens in
1990s - Today
1990: The dreaded vine-root louse, phylloxera,
appears in the Willamette Valley, forcing vineyard owners to rip
out vines and replant on grafted phylloxera-resistant rootstock.
The process is expensive, labor-intensive and heartbreaking.
1991: Eighteen Oregon wineries join forces to
plan a charity auction modeled on the Hospices de Beaune, the
annual barrel sale in Burgundy that is said to be the oldest
charity auction in the world. ¡Salud! raises funds to provide free,
in-the-vineyard healthcare to migrant laborers, the only program in
the nation of this kind. The same year, a 50-seat restaurant called
Tina's opens in a little red cottage in Dundee.
1992: Construction of King Estate winery is
underway. A decade later, in 2002, the vast property will achieve
organic certification. Only in Oregon would the state's largest
winery farm all of its vineyards organically.
1993: Renovations of the former Multnomah
County Poor Farm are complete and McMenamins Edgefield opens its
100 guest rooms to overnight guests. Visitors to the sprawling
Troutdale resort can watch winemaking, brewing
and--soon--distillation happening on site while enjoying house-made
wines, beers and spirits.
1994: Harry Peterson-Nedry, Judy Nedry and Bill
and Cathy Stoller open Chehalem winery in Newberg. In a
then-unusual move, the partners bring in a consulting winemaker
from Burgundy, Patrice Rion, to assist with the startup. Their
original fruit source is Ridgecrest Vineyard, planted by
Peterson-Nedry in 1982.
1995: Earl and Hilda Jones plant the first
Tempranillo vines in the Pacific Northwest at Abacela winery in
Roseburg. Their Iberian varietals go on to win international
1996: Sokol Blosser is the first winery to
achieve the Salmon-Safe sustainable farming designation.
1997: Ted Casteel
of Bethel Heights leads a group of vineyards to form LIVE (Low
Input Viticulture and Enology), a wine-grape specific
1998: As "celebrity chefs" begin to spend more
time in front of the camera than the stove, Oregonians begin to
take a keen interest in their own top toques. At events like the
IPNC, chefs like Philippe Boulot and Pascal Sauton enjoy top
1999: Bill Holloran more or less launches the
"garagiste" movement in Oregon when he converts his West Linn horse
barn into a winery, blurring the lines between suburban and rural;
he hires Jay Somers (today of J. Christopher) as winemaker. The
same year, another suburban winery--Cooper Mountain Vineyards in
Beaverton--is the first in the state to achieve Demeter-Certified
2001: Portland Wine Storage opens in Portland's
Central Eastside, introducing Oregonians to a new concept:
temperature-controlled, secure storage for their ever-growing wine
2002: The winemaking business reinvents itself,
twice. When the eco-built Carlton Winemakers Studio debuts, it's
the first multiple-winery facility in the state. And the arrival of
A to Z Wineworks takes the negociant model--purchasing finished
wine in bulk and creating value-oriented blends--all the way to the
bank, quickly growing to be Oregon's largest winery.
2003: Another new business model: Laurent
Montalieu and his partners take the "custom crush" business from
vineyard to bottle with the new NW Wine Company in McMinnville,
which will source, farm, crush and vinify fruit for you, then
bottle and label it, too.
2004: The release of the film "Sideways" sparks
Pinot mania. Also: The Willamette Valley begins to subdivide.
By 2006, the large AVA has six additional sub-appellations:
Chehalem Mountains, Eola-Amity Hills, Dundee Hills, McMinnville,
Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton.
2005: The Portland Indie Wine and Food Festival
arrives, offering a showcase for the best of Oregon's many
2006: The Wine and Spirit Archive opens its
doors, offering WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust)
accreditation and joining the International Sommelier Guild in
establishing Portland as a center of wine education on the west
2007: Celebrity chefs are so yesterday. A
series of "Dueling Sommelier" dinners held in Portland this year
calls attention to the rising prominence of sommes. Also: Riedel
rolls out its first region-specific design ever: the "Oregon Pinot
Noir Glass." Local tasting rooms begin to sell the glass version,
stamped with their winery logos, for $15; the crystal version sells
for $30 per stem.
Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine (OCSW) certification debuts,
simplifying the state's many eco-certification options by
offering a single umbrella designation. Fourteen
wineries--representing approximately 20 percent of Oregon wine
production--join forces with the Oregon Environmental Council to
kick off the Carbon Neutral Challenge, the first wine-industry
carbon-reduction program in the United States. Solar panels begin
to pop up all over wine country. And Willamette Valley Vineyards
cofounds what is said to be the world's first cork recycling
program, entitled Cork ReHarvest. Also, The Allison Inn and
Spa opens in Newberg, nudging the Willamette Valley a centimeter
closer to the impossibly high bar of "Napa Valley luxury." Also,
the British wine magazine Decanter names Southern Oregon University
geologist Greg Jones, an international expert in vineyard
climatology, to its "Power List" of the 50 most influential people
in the world of wine.
2010: Who said wine had to come in a bottle?
Oregon restaurants start serving wines by the glass that are
fresher than ever thanks to packaging in boxes and kegs. The new
wines on tap are lighter on the wallet and the environment, as
well. Also, wineries like Boedecker Cellars, Chehalem and Troon
roll out refillable bottle programs for regular customers.
2011: Oregon is now home to more than 400
wineries and a $2.7 billion industry, bringing tourist dollars and
jobs to the region. Wineries remain focused on quality, with
the average winery's production at a mere 5,000 cases
annually--tiny by national standards. In Portland, a new group, PDX
Urban Wineries, forms; it's an indicator of the fast growth of the
boutique urban winemaking trend. And in McMinnville, Linfield
College publishes the Oregon Wine History Project, a collection of
interviews, documents, exhibits and photographs archived online for
the public to browse and for scholars and reporters to refer
2012: The new year kicked off with the USGA's
annual vineyard survey, reavling that the 2011 harvest was the
largest in Oregon history at 41,500 tons. In January, Gov. John
Kitzhaber proclaimed May Oregon Wine Month, reviving a tradition
that had been dormant for more than two decades. In February, the
Oregon Wine Industry Symposium was held in Portland for the first
time and attracted a record attendance of 1,300 industry
registrants. OWB hosted the state's largest tasting of Oregon wine
under one roof in April to kick off Oregon Wine Month. In May, the
first-in-the-nation Oregon Wine Country license plate was made
available by the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles. More than 800
consumers and 91 wineries attended. In August, Oregon hosted the
fifth Wine Bloggers Conference, attracting bloggers from all over
the world. In November, Wine Spectator devoted its cover to Oregon,
proclaiming Oregon the home of American Pinot noir and marking
Oregon's first cover story.
2013: Elkton Oregon became the
state's newest American Viticultural Area after receiving approval
from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau this week.
The new Elkton Oregon AVA is entirely contained within the Umpqua
Valley AVA, which is entirely within the Southern Oregon AVA.
Oregon has a total of 17 AVAs.