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America’s Emerging
Pacific Northwest
Wines of Oregon and Washington
Wines from Oregon and Washington continue to receive increasing public attention and critical acclaim.
Pacific Northwest A bright November day in one of Oregon’s many vineyards.
Although the grape varieties grown in the Northwest are, for the most part, familiar to aficionados of California wine, the scale, focus and viticulture of Oregon and Washington are unique and distinct from California. For starters, California has over 1,000 wineries, compared to 250 in Oregon and 320 in Washington. Oregon shares its location on the 45th parallel with the Burgundy region in France and focuses its attention on the traditional Burgundian varieties of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The production of Pinot Gris (known in Italy as Pinot Grigio) is also important, but the Oregonians give the grape a more Alsatian swing. Washington, with its 30,000 acres planted to vine, is the second-largest producer of wine in the United States, behind California in the top slot. With more than 450,000 acres of grapevines, the Washington growers’ focus is nonetheless on premium table wine as opposed to bulk wine production.

Oregon’s 13,400 acres are located primarily in western Oregon between the Coast Range and the Cascades. The Willamette Valley, which runs south from Portland roughly 100 miles, is the home of Oregon’s most recognized wineries. The climate is moderated by the maritime influence of the Pacific Ocean, and rain is plentiful. Vineyards are dry-farmed, and the keys to producing superior fruit and wine are clonal selection and controlling the vigor of the vines. Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris are the standouts here, although the introduction of French Dijon clones of Chardonnay holds promise for this variety. Look for the wines of Adelsheim, Argyle, Panther Creek, Elk Cove, Ponzi, and Domaine Drouhin in your local wine shops for prime examples of the quality of wine being produced in this burgeoning wine region.

Washington’s 30,000 acres of vineyards are located primarily in the high desert of eastern Washington’s Columbia Valley. The climate there is characterized by hot days and cool nights that help to maintain the necessary acidity of the grapes. In contrast to Oregon, where a moderate climate and ample rainfall make controlling vine vigor a priority, the high desert vineyards of eastern Washington are irrigated in a controlled fashion to regulate vigor and produce superior fruit. White varieties, Chardonnay primarily, were Washington’s initial focus, but now the emphasis has tipped to red with a ratio of 57% red to 43% white. Cabernet and Merlot are planted and produced in almost equal proportions, and there is growing acreage of Syrah, which has proven itself well adapted to Washington’s climate and soils, and is producing engaging full-bodied wines with dark fruit, sweet spice and alluring mocha notes. You can find many stellar examples of Washington wines, including but not limited to Apex Winery, L’Ecole Vineyards, Château Ste. Michelle, Covey Run, Hedges and Hogue Cellars.

Shop Wines by Region: Oregon/Washington