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Newer History and Developments of Willamette Valley

Oregon's Willamette Valley vine

Savor the Newer Wineries of Iconic Willamette Valley

Oregon’s Willamette Valley is one of the top wine regions in the world, renowned for its terroir-driven Pinot Noir and other high-quality grape varieties. Over the years, this dynamic region has undergone many changes and transformations, shaped by a host of iconic figures in the wine industry. The newer wineries of Willamette Valley are setting trends in many new and exciting ways.

History of Winemaking in the Willamette Valley

Lingua Franca Winery in Eola-Amity AVA
Lingua Franca winery: The view of purity and grace

We’ve written before about the history of winemaking in the Willamette Valley – from its early pioneers to the establishment of prominent wine estates and vineyards, to the rise of modern viticulture practices. But it was not until the 1980s that this region truly came into its own when a group of early wine pioneers banded together to form what would eventually be known as the Willamette Valley Wineries Association.

Through the support and guidance of this association, winemakers in the Willamette Valley were able to improve their craft and gain recognition for their wines. Soon, they were producing world-class Pinot Noir that rivaled those of more established wine regions like Burgundy and Napa Valley.

When the WVWA was founded in 1986, the Oregon wine industry was still in its infancy. But the founding members – Dick Erath, Bill Blosser, and David Lett – were already visionaries, seeing the potential for Oregon to become a world-class wine region. They gathered together 11 of the earliest Willamette Valley wineries and set about promoting the state’s wines. What originally began as the Yamhill County Wineries Association, the WVWA has greatly expanded both in terms of its membership and scope. However, the guiding principles that inspired the founding members have remained the same – to promote high-quality wines and educate consumers about Oregon’s unique wine culture.

Recent developments

From its world-class air and water quality to its pioneering land use policies, Oregon has long been at the forefront of efforts to protect and preserve the natural world. The state’s wine industry is no exception, with wineries and vineyards across Oregon committed to sustainable farming and winemaking practices. Let’s look at a few notable recent developments in the Willamette Valley that reflect this sustainable ethos:

LIVE Certification

In 1997, the WVWA established industry-leading measures to ensure its members were practicing environmentally-conscious winemaking. The creation of the Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) certification program represented a major step forward in the industry’s sustainability initiatives, and it has since become a model for other wineries around the world. Today, LIVE is now certified internationally by the International Organization for Biological Control (IOBC). The IOBC sets an international standard for sustainable farming practices, making LIVE certification the gold standard in the industry. The LIVE certification process is a three-year process and requires vineyards and wineries to meet strict standards of sustainable growing practices, water management, and biodiversity. LIVE certification remains integral to ensuring that the wine industry is doing its part to protect the environment and promote social responsibility.

Regenerative Tourism in the Willamette

Due to its striking natural beauty, world-class wines, and unparalleled culinary experiences, the Willamette Valley has long been a popular destination for tourists and travelers from around the world. Recently, the local wine industry has begun embracing regenerative tourism and agrotourism, which seeks to reduce environmental impact while providing a more authentic travel experience for tourists. Regenerative tourism focuses on building mutually beneficial relationships between travelers, local communities, and the natural environment, with an aim to create more sustainable economic growth.

The Willamette Valley Visitors Association (WVVA) is leading the way in sustainable tourism practices with its recent adoption of the Regenerative Places program. By working with local partners and using principles of regenerative tourism, the WVVA is ensuring that the Willamette Valley will be a thriving destination for years to come. In a world where the negative impacts of tourism are all too often felt by communities, the WVVA’s commitment to regeneration is a much-needed breath of fresh air.

vintage map of the newer wine regions Willamette Valley

Notable Willamette Valley Identities

Whenever visitors come to the Willamette Valley, they are met with a remarkable amount of talent and expertise across several fields. And many walk away remarking on how unique the people who make up this region are. From growers and winemakers to chefs, artists, and spiritual leaders, the Willamette Valley has given rise to a number of notable figures that have helped shape its vibrant wine culture. Some of these individuals include:

Jim Prosser

Jim Prosser has been a key driver of the Willamette Valley wine industry since the late ’90s and has played a key role in shaping the region’s distinctive wine culture. As the owner of the renowned winery J.K. Carriere, Jim Prosser has emerged as a powerful voice in the wine world and is known for his innovative winemaking techniques and sustainable approach to growing grapes. It is Jim’s guiding philosophy about winemaking that makes him such a respected and important contributor to the Willamette Valley wine scene. Always quick with a gem of wisdom, Jim is well-known for his musings, such as: “How a person makes wine depends on a question. What do you believe about the world? I want to make wines that will play, that will play with the best in the world.” –Jim Prosser.

Ken Wright

It was 1986 when Ken packed up his family and headed west to McMinnville, Oregon. With a vision for creating exceptional Oregon Pinot Noir, he founded Panther Creek Cellars. In subsequent years, his efforts were instrumental in helping to create six new American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the Northern Willamette Valley. He also wrote the Yamhill-Carlton AVA’s proposition and served as its first President. Today, you will find Ken at the winery which bears his name, Ken Wright Cellars. A wealth of knowledge on the history of the region, Ken is a huge believer in letting the grapes express terroir and is often quoted saying, “Pinot noir has the ability to connect us to place unlike anything else we drink or eat. It is like a blank canvas that is painted with the unique aromas and flavors of its location.” – Ken Wright.

Mike Etzel

Mike Etzel is a visionary winemaker who has helped shape the Willamette Valley wine industry. His innovative winemaking style in the late 1980s quickly established him as one of the premier producers in Oregon. The wines of his Sequitur winery are a reflection of Etzel’s unrivaled experience and expertise, and they offer an excellent glimpse into the unique terroir of the Willamette Valley. Known for his passion and dedication to the craft, Mike is quoted saying, “The vineyard follows our personal and professional passages through life; it follows a lifelong passion for wine; it follows family; it follows new love and new land, and it follows the influence of each particular element of the growing season.”

The Best New Willamette Valley Wineries to Visit

Domain Divio—the Homegrown French / American Winery

Domain Divio, one of Willamette Valley’s newest wineries, is a prime example of Oregonian ingenuity thriving in harmony with French tradition. Their vision is to craft wine that is as unique and captivating as the landscape of Oregon. Situated in the heart of the Ribbon Ridge AVA, the Domain Divio vineyard employs biodynamic farming methods to ensure the highest quality of fruit for their wines. The winemakers here bring a fresh perspective on Oregon wine-making, fusing Burgundian-style winemaking with Oregon innovation to produce distinctively Oregonian wines that pay homage to the French tradition.

Resonance—a French Newcomer in the Willamette Valley

Résonance is one of Willamette Valley’s newest and most exciting wineries, capturing the Burgundian spirit through an intriguing lineup of expressive single-vineyard Pinot Noir wines. Résonance’s French founders believe it to be the New World’s answer to Burgundy—a place alive with authentic character and energy that lends itself to producing wines imbued with an undeniable identity and soulful personality. When asked why Résonance set roots in Willamette Valley they answered: “Oregon is the perfect transition from Burgundy. The longitude is exactly the same, and like Burgundy, the Willamette Valley is populated with small towns, has incredible gastronomy, and is full of friendly people.” The remarkable wines produced by Résonance prove how powerful a blend of passion, vision, and terroir can be.

Flâneur—A Legendary Winemaker crossed with Our Favorite Branding

Flâneur’s team of skilled oenologists have come from every corner of the country with a shared goal to craft premier wines without compromise. Their methods are rooted in an organic, sustainable spirit, and their wines are made with reverence for the land. Flâneur’s philosophy is to let nature lead the way, and their winemaking is centered around showcasing each vintage’s unique identity without interference. Flâneur revels in the complexities offered by the ever-changing Willamette Valley climate, using these natural variations to enhance the final taste of their exceptional wines. Each bottle of Flâneur is a celebration of the region, and a reminder that great things can come from embracing the unknown.

Final Thoughts on Newer Developments 

The recent history and developments, notable personalities, and unique qualities of the Willamette Valley continue to make it one of the world’s top wine regions. With an approach to tourism and winemaking that is focused on sustainability, regeneration, and a commitment to the region’s unique cultural heritage, it is clear that this vibrant wine culture will continue to thrive for years to come.

Willamette Valley tours offer a truly remarkable experience, and an opportunity to dive deep into the heart of this dynamic wine region. Whether you are a wine connoisseur, an aspiring winemaker, or simply a lover of all things viticultural, the Willamette Valley is the ideal location to explore and discover all that the wine world has to offer.

At Wine History Tours, we specialize in providing visitors with an unforgettable private tour experience in which you will explore, experience, and appreciate the distinctive history and culture of the Willamette Valley wine scene. Joining a great Oregon wine tour led by Wine History Tours gives you a chance to not only indulge in wine tasting and enjoy some of the most renowned and award-winning wines in the world but also to learn from passionate winemakers and wine experts who are dedicated to sharing their knowledge of this storied region. So what are you waiting for? Come explore the Willamette Valley wine scene with us today!

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Want to read more? Try these books!

The Wines and Wineries of Oregon's Willamette Valley- From Pinot Noir to Chardonnay Winemakers of the Willamette Valley Pioneering Vintners from Oregon's Wine Country

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