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Overview of Mount Pisgah AVA Wine Region

Background

Some of the best grapes in Oregon are grown in Mount Pisgah in Polk County, which is perfectly positioned for grape growing. The mountain was created as a sea floor volcano 65 million years ago, and it has since been forced up out of the ocean and coated with marine silt. In their shallow soils, the grapes are able to develop a deep complexity because of their peculiar geology.

Mount Pisgah is the 23rd AVA in the state and the 11th nested inside the broader Willamette Valley AVA, which is close to Dallas. But at 5,530 acres, it is the second-smallest in the state in terms of area. Barely more than 10% of the AVA perimeter is planted, with 584 acres under vine. Ford points out that seventy percent of the plantings among the ten vineyards are Oregon’s most well-known red grape. Chardonnay and Pinot Gris make up 20% of the blend, with Viognier, Grüner Veltliner, and Tempranillo following closely behind.

Mount Pisgah AVA Wine
Mount Pisgah AVA | Source

Date and process for when it became official AVA

The about 5,850-acre “Mount Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon” viticultural area was established by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) in July 5th 2022[1]. The representatives of the vineyards and wineries in the proposed AVA submitted a petition to TTB with the goal of creating the “Mount Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon” AVA[2]. Situated wholly within the present Willamette Valley AVA, the proposed AVA is situated in Polk County, Oregon. A total of 10 commercial vines covering roughly 531 acres and 2 wineries were located inside the 5,850-acre proposed AVA. According to the petition, there were plans for the proprietors of the vineyards to add 164 acres to four of the current vines. The proposed Mount Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon AVA is unique due to its topography, climate, geology.

On October 1, 2020 (85 FR 61907), TTB published Notice No. 193, which proposed the creation of the Mount Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon AVA, in the Federal Register. TTB provided an overview of the petition’s evidence in the notice with respect to the proposed AVA’s name, boundaries, and unique characteristics.

Nineteen comments were sent to TTB in response to Notice No. 193[3]. Local winemakers, vineyard managers, and owners of vineyards and wineries made comments. The creation of the proposed Mount Pisgah, Polk County, and Oregon AVA was endorsed in all 19 of the comments. After proper reviews, TTB decided to establish the AVA.

Climate

Compared to the valley level around it, the Mount Pisgah-Polk County AVA is little colder. Mount Pisgah has an average annual growing degree day (GDD) total of 2,543. The adjacent areas have GDD totals of 2,661 (in the town of McMinnville, to the south) and 2,903 (in the town of Salem, to the east).

Soil types

The Mount Pisgah-Polk County AVA’s predominant soil type is sedimentary, containing sandstone and siltstone, much like the surrounding terrain. Only 2.1% of the AVA’s land is influenced by soils that were generated from the Missoula Floods, compared to a significant amount of the remaining Willamette Valley AVA. Instead, a large portion of the volcanic rocks those once made up the old seabed are present in the soils of the Mount Pisgah-Polk County AVA because of the area’s higher elevation. The Mount Pisgah region is the only place in the Willamette Valley where sedimentary soils are combined with such old parent material. These rocks are some of the oldest in the valley.

Key wineries in the region

Illahe vineyards

In 2006, Illahe produced only a few hundred cases of its inaugural vintage. They are producing 10,000 cases of wine at the moment. Handcrafted pinot noir and white wines are Illahe’s specialty, and sustainability and longevity are at the core of what they do.

Illahe vineyards
Illahe vineyards | Source

Why you should visit the winery

Compared to many Willamette Valley vineyards, Illahe receives slightly earlier flowering due to its warm location. Even in colder vintages, the moderate height and southerly aspect of the vineyard allow grapes to reach maturity.

Open Claim Vineyards

Open Claim Vineyards
Open Claim Vineyards | Source

Open Claim Vineyards was founded in 2012 by Brett and Marnie Wall with the goal of producing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their 21-acre vineyard is located close to Dallas, Oregon, southwest of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. It has provided grapes to Joel Gott Wines, WildAire Cellars, Broadley Vineyards, and Dobbes Family Estate[4]. There are several vineyards in the area, including Freedom Hill, Illahe, Amalie Robert, Croft, and Erratic Oaks. The region is included in the Mount Pisgah AVA proposal, which is located west of Salem.

For more than two decades, Marnie’s family has owned the land.  Eight clones of Pinot Noir, including “Coury,” La Tache selections, Pommard, Wädenswil, 115, 667, 777, and 943 clones, are planted in the vineyard, along with clones 76 and 95 of Chardonnay.

Conclusion

Despite being considered one of the smallest AVAs in the region, the fact remains that Mount Pisgah AVA tops the list when it comes to the production of the best Pinot Noir, Chardonnay among other varieties. Its soil and climate is favorable for the varieties while the wineries offer the best experience for wine tourists.

Quick facts:

  • The AVA was created in 2022
  • It has 2 major wineries, 3 tasting rooms and 10 vineyards.
  • Total Area: 5,530 acres
  • Planted Area: 684 acres
  • Most common grape varieties: Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Chardonnay, Tempranillo

This Day in History

  • June 3, 2022: On this day, the AVA was officially recognized.
  • July 5, 2022: On this day, the final ruling was effective, making Mount Pisgah AVA an official AVA.

Read More:

https://thisdayinwinehistory.com/willamette-valley-wine-avas/

Map

Mount Pisgah Polk Map
Mount Pisgah Polk Map | Source

References

[1] MICHELE FRANCISCO, “Rooted in Ancient Soil: Mount Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon, becomes the state’s 23rd AVA,” (July 1, 2022), https://www.oregonwinepress.com/article?articleTitle=rooted-in-ancient-soil–1659643274–3475–news

[2] Federal Register, “Establishment of the Mount Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon Viticultural Area,” (June 3rd 2022), https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2022/06/03/2022-11715/establishment-of-the-mount-pisgah-polk-county-oregon-viticultural-area

[3] Ibid

[4] Rusty Gaffney MD, “Open Claim Vineyards,” https://www.princeofpinot.com/winery/2932/#:~:text=Brett%20and%20Marnie%20Wall%20established,Gott%20Wines%20and%20WildAire%20Cellars.

Want to read more? Try these books!

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