The History of Oregon Wine
The state of Oregon has become known worldwide for its amazing ability to produce dry and sweet wines. However, the production of wine in Oregon did not kick off until the late 1970s. Oregon ranks third in wine production in the US after California and Washington. According to the Oregon Wine Board, there are more than 900 wineries, 1,200 vineyards, and 21 recognized American Viticultural Areas, also referred to as AVAs.
Did You Know: Dundee Hills is one of the most notable AVAs in the Willamette Valley, with producers such as Domaine Drouhin, The Eyrie Vineyards, and Sokol Blosser.
In 1847, a man named Henderson Luelling traveled and settled in Oregon with his family. Luelling is most famous for establishing the fruit industry for Oregonians. Luelling first planted grapes in 1847, which at the time, he didn’t realize would mark the beginning of the global domination of Oregon wines.
In 1950, shortly after Luelling began to establish the fruit industry, another influential pioneer contributed to the first discovery of Oregon wine named Peter Britt, who produced wine by growing table grapes on a slope. His first wine was created in 1958 in Jacksonville’s first Winery, known as Valley View Vineyard.
Did You Know: A report in the Jacksonville Review revealed Peter Britt sold as many as 3,000 gallons a year for 50 cents a gallon. That would be the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline today, costing close to $14.
As soon as the wine slowly began to gain a buzz around Oregon, things quickly came to a halt. All winemakers had to regretfully close their businesses due to the Oregon Enforcement Act in 1916. Fruit orchards replaced vineyards as the wine industry declined.
After just four years, America began prohibiting the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcohol in 1920 with its nationwide Constitutional ban. The campaign to ban alcohol culminated in decades of efforts by prohibitionists. But, once the Prohibition Era ended, wine production exploded quickly.
David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyard planted the first cuttings of Pinot Noir near Corvallis in 1965, which started a new wave. He carried out his mission by doing a lot of research which revealed Oregon’s Willamette Valley had a similar climate to Burgundy, France, and that Oregon could make better Burgundian-style wines than California.
Did You Know that many clones of Pinot Noir developed over the years due to the grape’s tendency to mutate? Pinot Noir is a grape variety that has over 1,000 different clones around the world.
More than 500 wineries have now been established in the state, making it the third-largest wine producer in the nation. The state continues to receive domestic and international accolades as well. Wine Spectator Magazine named Oregon the “Home of American Pinot Noir” in 2012.
Oregon’s Industry Today
The second generation of winemakers is slowly steering the modern Oregon wine industry in new directions as it enters its 50th year. Experiments with new varieties, new products, growing techniques, and even new packaging trends have created a buzz and excitement. Oregon’s continued evolution has developed into its full potential, as envisioned by the early wine pioneers. However, the real benefactors are the consumers. We should remember all the risk, hard work, and dedication that went into creating a glass of Oregon wine whenever we sip, swirl, and savor a drink.
Recommended reading if you are looking for books about Oregon wines and the history of Oregon:
Oregon: Northwest and Central Oregon by Lizan Dungan