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Why Is Willamette Valley Unique?

Willamette valley

Why Is Willamette Valley Unique?

Whether you prefer red or white wine, Willamette Valley has an award-winning version of both. This lush valley, which surrounds the Willamette River and stretches roughly from Portland in the north to Eugene in the south, is known for its unique soils and climate perfect for growing Pinot Noir.

Aside from world-renowned wines, the Willamette Valley’s natural beauty lends itself to outdoor activities. Cycling, kayaking, hiking, waterfalls, wildflowers, and spectacular fall colors can complement a wine and beer tasting, shopping, and local gastronomy itinerary.

WillametteValleyVineyards1983, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Willamette Valley is famous for its Pinot Noir; the region’s climate is similar to that of Burgundy, France, the varietals home. Additionally, this American Viticultural Area (an officially recognized wine-growing region) excels at producing a variety of other cool-climate grapes such as Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Riesling. The Willamette Valley is divided into eleven sub-appellations or AVAs, each with its own distinct terroir.

The Willamette Valley AVA includes the Willamette River watershed. It stretches from the Columbia River in the north to Eugene in the south, and from the Oregon Coast Range in the west to the Cascade Mountains in the east.

It is the state’s largest AVA, covering 5,360 square miles, and is home to the majority of the state’s wineries. Of course, with nearly 900 wineries to visit, how do you choose where to go? Explore the wonderful wines of the Willamette Valley at one of these best wineries for newcomers, from hill views to valleys reminiscent of Tuscany.

Passion for Wine magazine named the Willamette Valley, Wine Region of the Year in 2016. Willamette Valley, as one of the world’s leading Pinot Noir producing regions, should be on your radar. This cool climate region not only produces award-winning Pinot Noir, but also exceptional Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc.


The Willamette Valley AVA is home to eleven sub-AVAs. These smaller AVAs recognize areas within the larger Willamette Valley AVA that have a distinct climate, soil, elevation, or other physical characteristics that make them particularly suitable for wine production.

Chehalem Mountains AVA

The Chehalem Mountains AVA, established in 2006, stretches 20 miles from Wilsonville to Forest Grove in the southeast. Ribbon Ridge, Parrett Mountain, and Bald Peak are all part of the Chehalem Mountains. David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard spearheaded the petition process for the creation of the AVA in 2001.

Dundee Hills AVA

The Dundee Hills AVA in the hills north and west of Dundee. The land area is 6,940 acres in total area, with 1,300 acres planted with grapes. More than 25 independent wineries and vineyards in this region produce more than 44,000 cases of wine. The region is particularly known for its Pinot Noir; several AVA wineries have gained international recognition for their wines.

Eola-Amity Hills AVA

The Eola-Amity Hills AVA stretches from Amity in the north to Salem in the south. The hills stretch for about 15 miles west of the Willamette River and are 6 miles wide.

The Eola-Amity Hills neighborhood benefits from consistent offshore winds from the Pacific Ocean that reach the Willamette Valley via the Van Duzer Corridor, a gap in Oregon’s Coast Range that helps to moderate summer temperatures. The name Eola is a tribute to the region’s windy conditions, and it is derived from Aeolus, the Greek god of wind.

Laurelwood District AVA

The Laurelwood District AVA is located west of Portland and has been entirely within the Willamette Valley and Chehalem Mountains AVAs since the TTB’s inception in May 2020. It encompasses approximately 33,600 acres and contains 25 wineries as well as approximately 70 commercially producing vineyards totaling approximately 975 acres.

McMinnville AVA

The McMinnville AVA was established in 2005 in the hills southwest of McMinnville, roughly running from McMinnville to Sheridan. The AVA includes 14 wineries and 523 acres of vineyards, with elevations ranging from 200 to 1,000 feet.

Ribbon Ridge AVA

The Ribbon Ridge AVA, located between Newberg and Gaston, is an oceanic sediment uplift ridge. It’s at 45° 21′ N, 123° 04′ W, at the northwest corner of the Chehalem Mountains. The name dates back to the nineteenth century. The ridge is about 0.25 mile wide and 3.50 miles long, with an area of 3,350 acres, 500 of which are planted in 20 vineyards. It is estimated that 1,000 to 1,400 acres of land in the area are suitable for planting.

Tualatin Hills AVA

The Tualatin Hills AVA was established in May 2020 and is located in the upland hills of the Tualatin River watershed, with elevations ranging from 200 to 1,000 feet. The Chehalem Mountains to the south and southeast, with elevations of over 1,000 feet, are considered a separate landform from the Tualatin Hills.

The AVA encompasses approximately 144,000 acres, with 33 commercially producing vineyards totaling 860.5 acres and 21 wineries. The soils, elevation, and climate of the Tualatin Hills are what set them apart.

Van Duzer Corridor AVA

The Van Duzer Corridor AVA, established in 2019, and covers approximately 59,871 acres, is located just west of the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. The Van Duzer Corridor is known for its low elevations and gently rolling hills, cool Pacific Ocean breezes, and soils that are primarily uplifted marine sedimentary silts and alluvial silts.

Yamhill-Carlton District AVA

The Yamhill-Carlton District AVA, established in 2005, encompasses the towns of Yamhill and Carlton. Only grapes grown at elevations ranging from 200 to 1,000 feet can be used to make wines bearing the appellation’s name on their labels. The AVA encompasses over 1,200 acres of vineyard, and the region is located in the shadow of Oregon’s Coast Mountains at 3,500 feet to the east and west.

Click here to plan your Willamette Valley Wine Tours.

Go Deeper: Willamette Valley Sparkling Wines

M.O. Stevens, CC BY 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Want to read more about Willamette Valley? Try out these books!

The Wines and Wineries of Oregon's Willamette Valley- From Pinot Noir to Chardonnay Lonely Planet Pocket Portland & the Willamette Valley 1 (Pocket Guide)

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