Table of Contents – First Vineyards in the Willamette Valley
Here is a timeline and list of the first vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Scroll to see the vineyards in the order they were planted or select a vineyard to jump down in the article.
The Willamette Valley, Oregon, is known as a premier wine-producing region, particularly for Pinot Noir. But the history of the region’s vineyards dates back several decades. The post takes us through the earliest vineyards in the Willamette Valley.
Vineyards in the Willamette Valley
A part of “La Butte” in Butteville, Oregon, was claimed by a French immigrant, Mathiot, in 1853, who acquired 139 acres of land. Jean Mathiot and his sons started preparing the ground for what would become their American vineyard out of a desperate desire to make his own wine once more, as he had done in France. It took the family four years of backbreaking labor to finally clear “La Butte” of its dense vegetation and forest so that grapes could be planted. The first plants were bought in California and planted on “La Butte” for about $600 in 1858. The grapes appeared to have done well, and the next year, it was deemed that more was required. Today, the old volcanic butte is home to major vineyards, like the Champoeg Vineyard, first planted in 1974.
In 1965, one of Oregon’s wine pioneers, Charles Coury, planted his vineyard in the region. Charles grew these Pinot Noir clones on the Forest Grove property using rootstock he brought back from Alsace and Burgundy. To support his master’s thesis on cultivating grapes in colder climes, Coury also planted a variety of Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner, Semillon, Pinot Blanc, and Riesling vines, some of which are still present on the property today.
On February 22nd, 1965, with the planting of his first grapes, David Lett began the current era of winemaking in the Willamette Valley. An old orchard in the Dundee Hills was the foundation for David and Diana’s estate, which they planted and continued to grow. Their plantings concentrated on other cool temperature varietals and the first Pinot noir and Chardonnay to be grown commercially outside Europe in the Willamette Valley.
In 1968, Dick Erath relocated from California to the Willamette Valley to start a vineyard. He started his vineyard in the Dundee Hills in 1969, becoming the third farmer of grapes in the Willamette Valley. An intergenerational experiment was launched from this small location. Erath and other modern winemakers persistently recognized the Pinot vintages. Throughout the 1980s, the Oregon wine industry saw rapid expansion.
Maresh Vineyard was first planted by Jim Maresh Sr. in 1970 on a hillside in the Dundee Hills. The vineyard produced its first vintage in 1978, and the Maresh family has since established a reputation for producing highly-regarded Pinot Noirs.
The vineyard was planted in 1970. Ponzi relocated his family to the Willamette Valley and bought 20 acres of land southwest of Portland, Oregon, in 1969 following multiple research trips to Burgundy. He founded Ponzi Vineyards with his wife Nancy in 1970. There were only four other wineries in the state at the time. Given that Portland was anticipated to be their primary market, its proximity to the city was crucial.
When David and Ginny Adelsheim traveled to Europe for the summer of 1970, they dreamed about starting a vineyard in Oregon. They cultivated 15 acres of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Riesling in the Chehalem Mountains in 1971 with the aid of friends and family. This is how Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard came to be.
Cal and Julia Lee Knudsen planted their vineyard in 1971 on a hillside in the Dundee Hills. The vineyard produced its first vintage in 1976 and quickly became known for high-quality Pinot Noirs. Today, Knudsen Vineyards is still family-owned and produces a range of wines.
In 1971, Bill and Susan Sokol Blosser planted a vineyard on a hillside near Dayton. They produced their first vintage in 1977 and established Sokol Blosser Winery, one of the oldest and most well-respected wineries in the Willamette Valley.
Did you know? Oregon’s wine industry has grown significantly since its inception in the 1960s. Today, there are over 700 wineries in the state, producing a wide variety of wines.
Amity Vineyards was established in 1974 by Myron Redford, his wife Vicki Wetle, and business partner Janis Checchia. Owning an Oregon vineyard was not on Redford’s list of career goals when he was young. After earning his degree from Ohio’s Antioch College, he returned to his hometown of Seattle. However, he caught the wine bug in 1966 while touring Europe. So, in 1974, he relocated to Oregon and bought an existing vineyard established in the Amity Hills in 1971 by Jerry & Ann Preston.
Elk Cove Vineyards was established by Pat and Joe Campbell in 1974 in the foothills of the Coast Range. The vineyard produced its first vintage in 1977, and the Campbell family has since expanded their operations to include multiple vineyards in the Willamette Valley.
These vineyards were instrumental in establishing the Willamette Valley as a premier wine-producing region. Today, the region is home to over 500 wineries and continues to be a leader in producing high-quality Pinot Noirs and other varietals.
Ted Casteel and his brother Terry established Bethel Heights Vineyard in 1977 on a hillside in the Eola-Amity Hills. The vineyard produced its first vintage in 1984 and quickly gained a reputation for producing high-quality Pinot Noirs.
In 1979, “Chateau Benoit” was established by Dr. Fred and Mary Benoit after they acquired 60 acres close to McMinnville. They built a house, a winery, and medical facilities. They planted vineyards, well-known for their sparkling wines and Muller Thurgau.
In 1980, Harry Peterson-Nedry started his wine business after buying the land to launch Ridgecrest Vineyards, the first vineyard in what would eventually become the Ribbon Ridge AVA. Harry planted his first vineyards, becoming one of the first wineries in the area. In 1990, with fruit from the sixth harvest of the farm, he founded the Chehalem enterprise. Within five years, he added Corral Creek Vineyards, which is next to the Newberg property, and Stoller Vineyards in the Dundee Hills, both of which were started by his Chehalem partners Bill and Cathy Stoller, who joined the winery in 1993.
Dennis Devine planted his vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills in 1982. To further exploit the property’s full potential, the vineyard recently underwent a deliberate rehabilitation that included substantial replanting and the adoption of organic farming techniques. With its primarily east-facing orientation, elevation up to 600+ feet, and a variety of suitable soil types, including a wealth of jory and nekia basalt-based soils at the mid and higher slopes, the vineyard is perfectly positioned as a leader in the region in terms of wine production.
Did you know?
Oregon’s wine industry has a strong focus on sustainability and environmental stewardship. Many of the state’s wineries use organic or biodynamic farming practices, and there is a growing trend toward regenerative agriculture. For example, The Eyrie Vineyards uses cover crops to promote soil health and attract beneficial insects, while Amity Vineyards was the first winery in the state to be certified organic.
In reaction to phylloxera, Dick Shea carefully replanted the original 100-acre vineyard with grafted vines in the following years. The original 100-acre vineyard was planted on its roots in 1988 and 1989. On a 200-acre farm in Yamhill County, Dick Shea produced grapes for more than ten years, providing fruit to some of the top wineries, including Ken Wright Cellars, Beaux Freres, Patricia Green Cellars, and others.
- The area covers 100 miles long and 60 miles at its widest point. It is approximately 3.4 million acres.
- First Pinot Noir planted in 1965 by David Lett
- Distance to the Pacific Ocean is 50 miles
- Total number of vineyards: 931
- Number of wineries: 736
- Area planted: 27,202
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“Discover.” n.d. Benton-Lane Winery. Accessed June 3, 2023. https://benton-lane.com/discover/.
“History.” 2023. Elk Cove Vineyards. June 11, 2023. https://elkcove.com/about-us/history/.
“Our Story.” n.d. Cristom Vineyards. Accessed June 3, 2023. https://cristomvineyards.com/stories/.
“The Eyrie Vineyards – Grapegrowing.” n.d. Eyrievineyards.com. Accessed June 3, 2023. https://eyrievineyards.com/grapegrowing.shtml.
“The Vineyard.” n.d. Amity Vineyards. Accessed June 3, 2023. https://amityvineyards.com/pages/the-vineyard.