The Northwest Pioneers
Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and a bit of Pinot Blanc – this is Oregon and it is definitively Pinot Country. While there are multiple Pinot options here, Oregon’s claim to fame lies in the Noir variety. Unique soils and an ideal climate make the Willamette Valley one of the few places in the world that suit the finicky, thin-skinned grape. Oregon Pinot Noir marries the earthy subtleties of the Burgundian style with the more up-front fruit character of what you may find in California versions. Savory and subtle, yet powerful in its complexity and depth of flavor, Oregon Pinot delivers exactly what one wants in this elusive grape – a drinking experience to savor. White wine aficionados will enjoy the Alsacian style Pinot Gris, with an aromatic bouquet of stone fruits and rich texture. Pinot Blanc, though lesser-known, may be your new favorite white wine - its layered fruit and floral notes are sublimely wrapped in a soft, easy-drinking structure.
The success of Pinot in Oregon can be traced back to one man: David Lett, otherwise known as “Papa Pinot.” Seeing unique similarities between the terroir of the Willamette Valley and Burgundy, he took a chance on planting Because of his pioneering spirit and vision, Oregon is now regarded as classic Pinot country Pinot varieties.
Reds and Riesling
If you have not been enjoying the bounty of Washington State wines on your table, it’s time to give them a try. The 2nd largest wine producer in the US – just after California – Washington utilizes its unique terroir to craft some of the most exceptional wines in the world. A geological gem of diverse soils, Washington State is dry and warm and a viticulture haven. Diversity is a strength here, from crisp and refreshing Riesling to dense and spicy Syrah. The one consistent factor is quality.
Riesling may seem like an odd fit, but once you try it, you’ll understand. The Washington style of Riesling can vary in its sweetness level, but it is reliably wildly aromatic, luxuriously complex and absolutely zingy in its acidity.
Cabernet Sauvignon dominates red wines here, but if the California Merlot glut two decades ago still has you shying away from the variety, put one from Washington on your shopping list – it will revive your respect for Merlot. With these two grapes shining, it makes sense that Bordeaux blends also have a fantastic standing here. The breakout star over the past decade, however has been Syrah. It’s dense and juicy and savory and spicy. Better yet, the wines come in at a fraction of the price of some of their French and California counterparts.
The ecologically aware consumer should look to this region if they want to support businesses that balance a booming industry with protecting the environment. The Pacific Northwest is a leader in sustainable, organic and biodynamic winemaking practices. Here are a few reasons why:
- Two of the leading sustainable certification organizations, LIVE and SalmonSafe, are rooted here. They encourage wineries to adopt practices that protect natural resources and watersheds, and they provide education on best vineyard and winery procedures.
- Washington weather allows many vines to thrive on their own rootstocks, with little room for fungal disease or pests, which means no need for chemicals.
- Dry farming is popular in both states, and the practice makes it easier to follow organic and biodynamic farming methods. In fact, a high number of biodynamic wineries are planted in Oregon.
The region as a whole works hard to be a community of support - to promote their industry and protect their resources. Take note if you are looking for that magical balance of drinking well and doing good!