Wine History Timeline of the Willamette Valley

Domaine Drouhin in the Dundee Hills AVA

After months of travel down the Oregon Trail, early settlers finally arrived at a big, verdant valley with dense forests and expansive meadows. This valley was blessed with good land, a temperate climate, and an abundance of water. The Willamette Valley is currently Oregon’s largest and most well-known wine-growing region. Here is a look at how the Willamette Valley became such an important American wine region.

1800
1800

VINES ARRIVED IN THE WILLAMETTE VALLEY

The mid-1800s saw the arrival of grapevines, but they were not Pinot Noir grapes for which the Willamette Valley is now famous; rather, they were table grapes farmed for fresh consumption.

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1847
1847
Pinot Noir grapes during Verasion

HENDERSON LUELLEN BECAME THE FIRST TO PLANT WINE GRAPES IN OREGON’S WILLAMETTE VALLEY

Henderson Luellen was the first to plant wine grapes in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1847, according to Paul Pintarich’s 1997 book, The Boys Up North. However, Luellen only grew grapes for his own wine production and consumption, thus the Willamette Valley didn’t start to see the emergence of a wine industry until the 1880s. Born …

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February 22, 1965
February 22, 1965

DAVID AND DIANNA LETT PLANT VINEYARDS IN WILLAMETTE VALLEY

David and his friend, Jono Howe began planting a vineyard in the Willamette Valley. This was the first plantings of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley, as well as the first Pinot Gris outside of Europe. A month and a half after planting began, Riesling and Muscat Ottonel were planted as …

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1965
1965

THREE UC DAVIS STUDENTS, DAVID LETT, CHARLES COURY, AND DICK ERATH, MOVED TO WILLAMETTE VALLEY

David Lett, Charles Coury, and Dick Erath, three UC Davis students, thought that the Willamette Valley was the ideal location for the cultivation of cool-climate grape varietals. They trusted their intuition and disregarded the counsel of their college friends who claimed that growing wine grapes in Oregon was virtually impossible. Between 1965 and 1968, the trio independently traveled to Northern Willamette Valley and established vineyards.

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1965
1965

THE BEGINNING OF WILLAMETTE VALLEY’S WINE INDUSTRY

Willamette Valley, Oregon contains the Willamette Valley AVA, an American Viticultural Area. It extends from the Oregon Coast Range in the west to the Cascade Mountains in the east, and from the Columbia River in the north to the Willamette Valley’s terminus just south of Eugene. It is the state’s largest AVA, covering 5,360 square miles (13,900 km2), and is home to the majority of the state’s wineries—908 as of 2021.

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1968
1968

DICK ERATH’S VINEYARD IN WILLAMETTE VALLEY

In 1969, Erath planted his first Pinot Noir vines in the Dundee Hills. This small region served as the beginning point for an experiment involving several generations. Erath and other modern winemakers persisted in gaining worldwide recognition for Pinot vintages. Throughout the 1980s, the Oregon wine industry experienced substantial growth.

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1970
1970

DICK AND NANCY PONZI IN WILLAMETTE VALLEY

Dick and Nancy Ponzi stumbled across a 20-acre farm in Beaverton that had a strawberry crop and a small cottage. They arrived in 1969 and started replanting the strawberry field with Pinot Noir creating Ponzi Vineyards, one of the original wineries in the Willamette Valley.

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1971
1971

BILL BLOSSER AND SUSAN SOKOL BLOSSER ESTABLISHED THEIR FIRST VINEYARD IN WILLAMETTE VALLEY

In an abandoned prune orchard they bought two weeks before the birth of their first child, Bill and Susan Sokol Blosser started growing their own vines. The Sokol Blosser Winery, which is located in the Red Hills of Dundee in Yamhill County, northeast of Dayton, Oregon, presently includes a winery, tasting facility, and vineyard. Sokol Blosser Winery is led by Alex and Alison Sokol Blosser, who are co-presidents in their second generation and the sixth-largest wine producers in Oregon. Sokol Blosser is a producer of a wide range of wines, including Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, exclusive blends of Evolution …

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1971
1971

DAVID AND GINNY ADELSHEIM ESTABLISHED THEIR FIRST VINEYARD

David and Ginny Adelsheim made the risky decision to spend their whole life savings on a stunning south-facing piece of land in Oregon’s North Willamette Valley. The Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard, Adelsheim’s first estate vineyard, was later built on this land. Looking back, the Adelsheim family was one of just ten families who produced wine from grapes grown on their land in that region before 1980.

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1980
1980

HARRY PETERSON-NEDRY’S FIRST VINES IN WILLAMETTE VALLEY

Harry Peterson-Nedry started making wine in 1980 and in 2001 he co-founded Ridgecrest Vineyards, the first vineyard in what would eventually become the Ribbon Ridge AVA. He acquired the site for Ridgecrest Vineyards in 1980. With fruit from the sixth harvest of the land, Harry founded the Chehalem enterprise in 1990. Within five years, he added Corral Creek Vineyards, which is close to the Newberg property, and Stoller Vineyards, which was started by his Chehalem partners Bill and Cathy Stoller and joined the winery in 1993. Stoller Vineyards is located in the Dundee Hills. In 2018, Harry sold his share …

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1988
1988

WILLAMETTE VALLEY VINEYARD STOCK BEGAN

The Willamette Valley Vineyard stock auction started in late 1988. In order to pay the startup expenditures of the winery, 1,200 investors from Oregon and Washington invested an average of $1,700 (or 1,000 shares) apiece by the end of June 1989, after Bernau had handled more than 2,000 phone calls. Bernau had to reimburse the money of roughly 200 potential investors since the stock offering was oversubscribed. More than 72% of the shares that were outstanding were still under his and Voorhies’ hands. By doing this, they created financial history in the US.

1989
1989

DICK SHEA ESTABLISHED HIS FIRST VINEYARD IN WILLAMETTE VALLEY

When you see Dick Shea strolling around his vineyard in a polo shirt and jeans, you would never suspect that this modest man spent years working as a trader on the floor of Wall Street. It’s a “quite a change” from the chaos of that setting to the peacefulness of the vineyard, as he puts it. Dick had made the decision to relocate his family to the West years earlier, and while looking for a suitable location in the Northwest, he experienced his wine epiphany—a bottle of Adelsheim Oregon Pinot Noir. He decided on Oregon as his destination, and in …

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1990
1990

MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND FESTIVAL IN WILLAMETTE VALLEY

The first Memorial Day weekend festival in wine country was launched as the Willamette Valley’s largest annual wine event. During this weekend many of the region’s wineries open their doors for tourists and visitors to taste and explore.

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