May is Oregon Wine Month! Roll up your sleeves and jump into the dirt of the Oregon wine industry. This April, our newsletter focuses on what makes Oregon wine special and the historical events that made the industry what it is today.
OREGON WINEMAKING HISTORY
Oregon’s winemaking history dates to 1847 when Peter Britt established the Northwest’s first winery. Modern history begins in 1961 when Richard Sommer started Oregon’s first post-prohibition winery in the Umpqua Valley. The Willamette Valley, arguably the most well-known winegrowing region in Oregon, got its start in 1965 when David Lett and Charles Coury separately made their way to Oregon to plant the first Pinot Noir grapes in the Willamette Valley.
SUSTAINABLE OREGON WINE
Since its inception, Oregon winemaking has prioritized sustainable viticulture. Oregon vintners came together in 1997 to create the eco-certification LIVE, which stands for Low Impact Viticulture and Enology and is one of the most authoritative sustainability accreditations in the wine world. Speaking of worldwide recognition, Oregon wine became hard to ignore after a Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley received the number two and number three spots on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines list in 2016.
There are 22 different American Viticulture Areas (AVA) in Oregon—with more seeking approval. Each of these AVAs is a unique geographical area that imparts different elements to a wine. The different climates and soil types develop terroir. The J. Christopher winery is in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, a sub-appellation of the Willamette Valley.
The Chehalem Mountains span a total of 62,500 acres, with roughly 2,700 acres planted to vine. Elevation in this AVA ranges from 200 to 1,633 feet, with the sweet spot for vineyards between 300 and 800 feet. Temperatures and rainfall can vary widely. Millions of years of soil accumulation have created a rich geological experiment in one tightly packed geographical area; the soils in this AVA are amazingly diverse, encompassing everything from sedimentary seabeds to red volcanic soils to glacial sediment. In the Appassionata estate vineyard, J. Christopher has counted 11 different soil types. With the variations in aspect and soil, there are at least 10 or 12 distinctly different terroir possibilities to work with. While there is no single character of wines from this diverse AVA, the basalt soils that are predominant in the Appassionata Vineyard tend to produce well-structured, mineral-focused, brighter-fruited Pinot Noirs.
J. Christopher is owned by Ernst “Erni” Loosen, the internationally acclaimed winemaker behind Germany’s Dr. Loosen and Villa Wolf Estates. Erni has a lifelong passion for Pinot Noir and recognized in the 1990s that there was something very special happening in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Erni was particularly drawn to the wines of J. Christopher because he saw New World wines being made in the unhurried Old-World style with finesse, clear terroir expression, and excellent aging potential. A collaboration wine soon followed and after a few vintages, Erni cemented his investment in Oregon winemaking when he purchased 40 acres of Chehalem Mountain in Newberg, planted the Appassionata Vineyard, and built the winery where J. Christopher wines are produced today.
The J. Christopher winemaking philosophy, “Great wines are grown before they are made,” is clearly seen through the patient, Old-World winemaking techniques that allow the wines to develop naturally at their own pace. There is minimum intervention in the vineyard and in the cellar, so the wines have a chance to develop balance, texture, and length rather than merely massive fruit. Not only do these wines develop the structure for great ageability, but most importantly, they really let you taste the differences in their terroir—and that’s what makes different wines so fun and interesting to drink.
Looking for more information about Oregon wine and Oregon Wine Month? Visit the Oregon Wine Board website here.
Fast Facts on the Oregon Wine Industry
Take a glimpse of the Oregon wine industry in this graphic!