Drinks Atlas: Willamette Valley, Oregon - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Drinks Atlas: Willamette Valley, Oregon

A series of massive floods tore down the Columbia River 12,000 years ago, reshaping the topography, depositing sediments and, ultimately, laying the foundation for the Willamette Valley’s first grape vines. And although those didn’t take root till the early 1960s, the region’s wines—specifically its Pinot Noirs—have since earned international acclaim and recognition.

Situated between the Oregon Coast Range and the Cascade Range at 45 degrees latitude, the Willamette Valley experiences a wealth of daytime warmth and cooling nighttime temperatures. This creates a diurnal shift ideal for Pinot Noir and other varieties commonly grown in Burgundy—a region with similar growing conditions to the valley. “Pinot Noir is our calling card because of the climate,” says Jessica Mozeico, owner of Et Fille Wines, and whose co-founding father grew Pinot during the 1980s with cuttings descended from the first-ever Willamette Valley vines planted by UC Davis alum David Lett in 1965. “It’s perfect for making wines that have a fruit-forward intensity, and also some really nice acidity and tannin development, so they’re very complex wines that have an intense sense of place.”

The Willamette Valley’s three primary soil types, combined with its rainy winters and long, dry summers, contribute to the region’s distinct terroir. Marine sedimentary, volcanic basalt, and loess (wind-blown silt) can diversify the outcomes of a single Pinot Noir varietal, further amplifying the grape’s complex capabilities. “A volcanic-soil Pinot Noir from the Dundee Hills will likely have bright red-fruit characteristics and a high degree of minerality and earthiness, whereas a Pinot from Yamhill-Carlton district, on marine sedimentary, will be a more intense black fruit-driven wine,” Mozeico explains.

As the Willamette Valley’s Pinot increasingly enjoys the spotlight, today’s collaborative community solidifies its status as an enduring winemaking region. “There’s a quest for always elevating the quality level that is part of our culture,” says Mozeico. “We have a collaborative culture that’s based on the premise that a rising tide lifts all boats.”

5 to Try

Eola-Amity Pinot Noir, Matzinger Davies

Matzinger Davies sources grapes from the Valley’s Eola-Amity Hills and Chehalem Mountains AVAs for small-lot Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their Pinot Noir combines grapes from vineyards situated at 700 feet elevation with stony, volcanic soils. “They have a sense of place, and a sense of purity,” says Mozeico. “They’re just really complex and well-balanced Pinot Noirs.” $50, matzingerdavies.com

Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir, Et Fille

Et Fille ferments both single-vineyard and Pinot Noir blends. The Kalita Vineyard Pinot has grown with complexity each year since they started sourcing from these Willamette Valley growers in 2004. With intense notes of cola and black fruit, the wine is “representative of the marine sedimentary soils in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA,” Mozeico says. $65, etfillewines.com

Winderlea Sparkling Brut

Winderlea produces a sparkling brut using grape varieties that may change from year to year, and typically aged for seven months in neutral French oak with two years of tirage. The result is a balanced blend of brioche on the nose and citrus on the palate, a wine that Mozeico says has “such a lively and rich intensity.” $70, winderlea.com

Bethel Heights Chardonnay

Whole cluster–pressed and fermented for 35-40 days, Bethel Height’s 2021 Estate edition Chardonnay is aged on the lees for 12 months in French oak, then transferred to stainless steel for another four months. Full of citrusy freshness, the light-bodied wine exhibits a silky mouthfeel; Mozeico describes it as having a “richness and beautiful texture.” $32, bethelheights.com

Division Gamay Noir “Lutte”

“Division Winemaking Company has been at the forefront of advocating for how beautifully Gamay can be grown in the Willamette Valley,” says Mozeico. Their take on the Pinot cousin is fermented via carbonic maceration and aged in a combination of concrete, stainless steel, and neutral barrels for eight months before bottling. The vineyard sourcing varies between vintages, but consistently bursts with bright red fruits and an earthy, crunchy mouthfeel. $30, divisionwineco.com

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