The History of Oregon’s Wine Industry

History of Oregon Wine Making

Ask any wine lover what comes to mind when you say "Oregon" and their first thought is usually about Oregon Pinot Noir. Yes, Oregon is Pinot Noir country but it’s only part of the story. Wine in Oregon is all about geography. From the lush rainy hillsides in the northwest to high deserts in the east and the fertile sunny south, Oregon offers an amazing array of viticultural diversity and a thriving wine industry.

As early as the 1840s intrepid pioneers coming west on the Oregon Trail had begun planting grapes in northern Oregon’s Willamette Valley. In 1850 grapes were planted in Southern Oregon at Valley View Vineyard, a winery revived in the 1970s and still in operation today.

In 1919 U.S. Prohibition brought wine production to a virtual halt and the industry did not begin to recover until the 1960s. In 1965, David Lett, one of several California winemakers in search of cooler weather sites, established the Eyrie Vineyard. Early believers in the region’s ability to support Pinot Noir and other varietals from the Burgundy region of France included the founders of Erath Vineyards, Ponzi Vineyards, Sokol-Blosser, Adelsheim, Elk Cove and Amity Vineyards, all of which continue to make wine in the Willamette Valley region.

The mid-1980s brought formal recognition of four distinctly different growing areas with the American Viticultural Area designations: Willamette Valley, Umpqua Valley, Columbia Valley and Walla Walla Valley. The latter two share territory with Washington State. The newest Oregon AVA is the Snake River Valley, located along the Idaho border, for a total of sixteen official viticultural regions.

Oregon Wine Production

Nearly 400 wineries are operating in Oregon, with roughly half of them located in the Willamette Valley. The top five varieties grown include Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Cabernet Sauvignon. Oregon ranks third in the United States behind California and Washington for number of wineries. Sales top 1.7 million cases.

As the Oregon wine industry continues to mature, adventurous winemakers are expanding into lesser-known areas such as the Columbia River Gorge. Southern Oregon’s Umpqua Valley is one of the fastest-growing wine regions in the state. Tourists come to Oregon from nearly every corner of the globe to enjoy the pristine natural beauty of its rocky shores, heavily wooded forests and snow-covered mountain peaks, but wine tourism is now one more reason visitors are seeking out the pleasures of this delightful state.