Oregon was not a wine powerhouse for many years. The first recorded plantings were made in 1847 and the Northwest’s first winery, Valley View, was established in 1854 in Jacksonville. While wines from the rest of the country were flourishing, but Oregon was seen by many as too difficult terrain for grapes. After the transcontinental railroad was completed, California wines became very popular and pushed Missouri wine to second in the country until Prohibition.
The 1960s brought about the modern era of Oregon wine, when three pioneering winemakers setup shop in Oregon. Richard Sommer planted his HillCrest Vineyard in the Umpqua Valley in 1961, which is today Oregon’s oldest estate winery, and two UC Davis classmates, David Lett and Charles Coury, who moved to Oregon in 1965 because they were convinced that Burgundian varieties would thrive in the Oregonian climate. In 1967, Sommer was bottling his first significant vintage of Pinot Noir from the Umpqua. This was followed by a wave of names that we recognize in the early 1970s: Erath, Sokol Blosser, Adelsheim, Campbell, and Ponzi family vineyards were all established within a few years! From there, Oregon wine exploded. They had there own Judgement of Paris moment in 1985 when Willamette Valley Pinot noirs were picked as the top three wines at the Burgundy Challenge in New York. It was picked up in Wine Spectator and The New York Times as a story of Oregon’s success.
More recently, there were the Oregon vintners who in 1995 banded together to create eco-certification LIVE (Low Impact Viticulture and Enology), one of the most authoritative sustainability accreditations in the wine world. Today, with 18 AVAs, almost 700 wineries, and grape plantings ranging from Albariño to Zinfandel, Oregon winemakers are leading the industry in progressive, sustainable practices while expanding on their already well-established reputation for crafting exceptional wines.
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