Compared to Napa, Oregon’s Willamette Valley feels like true farming country. Driving through the valley is to drive through agricultural fields, with sporadic timber framed buildings and rusting farm machinery behind white picket fenced yards. It was and still is Mennonite land and was only officially recognised as an AVA in 1983.
The hills, unsurprisingly are where the vineyards are planted, and these are still to an extent being discovered, mapped and truly understood. There are hundreds of wineries, most of them pretty small in scale, and myriad vineyards ranging in elevation from 300-1000ft with every aspect imaginable. Soil types range from Basalt, uplifted marine sedimentary soils to windblown loess. Many of the very finest spots are only now being discovered.
Pinot Noir is what the region is famous for, but as Walter Scott are demonstrating, Chardonnay is increasingly proving itself capable of greatness. Pinot Gris here, as in the hands of the Eyrie Vineyards, can also be fascinating. In weather terms the there’s far more winter rain than in California, while summers tend to be warm and dry. The valley is bounded by the Cascade Mountains to the east, protecting the valley from the worst of the desert heat, and the Coastal Range to the west, moderating rainfall and holding the worst of the cold pacific weather fronts at bay. Also notable is a low point in the coastal range known as the Van Duzer corridor which funnels cool air into the valley, drawn in by the warmer inland temperatures. This air-conditioning effect generates cooling afternoon breezes and regular evening fog, a real boon for maintaining good acidities in great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
There are 6 recognised AVAs within the larger Willamette Valley AVA, each with its own set of characteristics, detailed below. Approval for all of them happened as recently as between 2004 and 2006. Travelling roughly clockwise from the North East of the Valley, closest to Portland, they run from Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Yamhill Carlton, and Ribbon Ridge.