The Early Years
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.
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. Hillcrest holds bonded winery certificate number 42.
David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards first rooted Pinot noir cuttings near Corvallis, the first plantings in the Willamette Valley, while researching a permanent vineyard site.
Richard Sommer harvests his “first crop of any consequence” in the Umpqua Valley, 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.
University of California, Davis grad Dick Erath arrives in the Willamette Valley and prints up business cards in anticipation of planting his first wine grapes in 1969.
Dick and Nancy Ponzi arrive in Oregon and begin planting their first 20-acre vineyard. The same year, Jim and Loie Maresh begin planting grapevines on their now-famous Maresh Vineyard.
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. Philippe and Bonnie Girardet begin planting their Umpqua Valley estate.
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 grapevines.
Knudsen Vineyard becomes the largest vineyard in the Willamette Valley with an initial planting of 30 acres of Pinot noir, Chardonnay and Riesling vines. The Wisnovsky family decides to revive pioneer Peter Britt’s 1850s-era winery and vineyard, Valley View, in Southern Oregon’s Applegate Valley.
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 case-by-case basis. Also that year, Bill Fuller, the first professional winemaker to settle in Oregon from Napa, took home Best of Show for the Red and White categories at the London International Wine Fair for his Tualatin Vineyards Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Later in 1989, Fuller’s Tualatin Vineyards Chardonnay was the first Oregon wine to be named to the Wine Spectator Top 100 List.
Myron Redford builds his winery at Amity Vineyards and makes his first wine, a “Pinot noir Nouveau.”
The Campbell family ferments the first vintage of grapes from their Elk Cove Vineyards, planted three years prior, in Gaston. The Casteel family begins to plant Bethel Heights Vineyard in Salem.
In Grants Pass, Ted and Mary Warrick plant grapevines on their property overlooking the Applegate River, establishing Wooldridge Creek Vineyard.
The 1975 Eyrie Vineyards Reserve Pinot noir wine tenth place among Pinot noirs in blind tasting at the Wine Olympics in Paris. Burgundy winemaker Robert Drouhin organizes a re-match at Maison Joseph Drouhin in Beaune, Burgundy. The 1975 Eyrie Vineyards Reserve won second place, losing to Drouhin’s 1959 Chambolle-Musigny by only two tenths of a point. Drouhin later purchased land in Oregon and built Domaine Drouhin Oregon.
David Adelsheim, Dick Erath and David Lett petition the state department of agriculture to establish a wine commission.
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 the world.
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 Country.”
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 the Oregon Wine Board, begins funding enology research through Oregon State University.
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.
A winemaker named Ken Wright starts up a boutique winery in McMinnville called Panther Creek Cellars that specializes in vineyard-designate bottlings.
The first International Pinot Noir Celebration takes place in McMinnville, gathering Pinot noir producers and lovers from all over the world. Also in 1987, the highly respected Drouhin family of Burgundy, France, purchased land in the Dundee Hills and established Domaine Drouhin Oregon, a landmark event for the Oregon wine business.
Winemaker Rollin Soles arrives in Newberg and establishes Argyle Winery, Oregon’s first sparkling wine production facility.
Burgundy-born and -educated Véronique Drouhin makes her first vintage of Willamette Valley wine for the newly minted Domaine Drouhin Oregon label.
The state’s only shareholder-owned and publicly traded winery, Willamette Valley Vineyards, opens in Turner.
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.
Eighteen Oregon wineries join forces to plan a charity auction. ¡Salud! raises funds to provide free, in-the-vineyard healthcare to migrant laborers, the only program in the nation of this kind.
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!
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.
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 acclaim.
Sokol Blosser is the first winery to achieve the Salmon-Safe sustainable farming designation.
Ted Casteel of Bethel Heights leads a group of vineyards to form LIVE (Low Input Viticulture and Enology), a wine-grape specific eco-designation.
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.
2000's - Today
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, then bottle and label it, too.
The winemaking business reinvents itself, twice. The eco-built Carlton Winemakers Studio opens, becoming the first multiple-winery facility in the state. And then, 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.
The release of the film “Sideways” sparks Pinot mania. Also: The Willamette Valley begins to subdivide. By 2006, the large AVA has six appellations within its borders: Chehalem Mountains, Eola-Amity Hills, Dundee Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge and Yamhill-Carlton.
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 Coast.
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. Willamette Valley Vineyards cofounds what is said to be the world’s first cork recycling program, entitled Cork ReHarvest.
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. Wineries like Boedecker Cellars, Chehalem and Troon roll out refillable bottle programs for regular customers.
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. 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 reference.
In January, Gov. John Kitzhaber proclaims May Oregon Wine Month, reviving a tradition that had been dormant for more than two decades. In February, the Oregon Wine Industry Symposium is held in Portland for the first time and attracts a record attendance of 1,300 industry registrants. In November, Wine Spectator devotes its cover to Oregon, proclaiming Oregon the home of American Pinot noir and marking Oregon’s first cover story.
Elkton Oregon becomes the state’s 17th American Viticultural Area after receiving approval from the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The new Elkton Oregon AVA is entirely contained within the Umpqua Valley AVA, which is entirely within the Southern Oregon AVA.
The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, contained within the Walla Walla Valley AVA is designated as Oregon’s 18th AVA. Oregon is now home to more than 700 wineries and 1,000 vineyards. The Oregon wine industry contributes more than $3.3Bn to the Oregon economy and is responsible for more than 17,000 jobs.
Five decades after the planting of first modern grapevines in Oregon, we’d like to propose a toast to all the vinetenders, winemakers, sommeliers and wine lovers who have farmed, fermented, poured and sipped for the past 50 years.
769 wineries now call Oregon home. Nearly 34,000 acres of grapevines produced more than 77,000 tons of fruit.
The Van Duzer Corridor becomes Oregon’s 19th AVA and the 7th within the larger Willamette Valley AVA. The Van Duzer Corridor is comprised primarily of marine sedimentary soil. The region’s trademark afternoon winds combined with these soils result in Pinot noirs offering notes of dark fruits, tea leaf and earth. White wines tend to have bright fruit and acid-driven profiles complimented by weight and texture. The AVAs total area is 59,850 acres of which 1,000+ are currently planted.