Even within the United States it is overshadowed by giant California and does not receive quite the recognition it deserves. Like South Tyrol (Alto Adige), Oregon is also one of the very few regions of the world in which Pinot Noir thrives and feels comfortable outside its old home in Burgundy, France. 60% of Oregon’s vineyard area is planted with Pinot Noir, and 17% is Pinot Gris. Chardonnay and Riesling (among others) play important supporting roles.
The outstanding quality of many of the Oregon Pinots first won my enthusiasm more than 20 years ago, during my initial invitation to the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC). For the fifth time I once again had the great honour to be invited to the IPNC this year from the 25th to the 27th of July. The participating wine producers at the IPNC are a “Who’s Who” list in the international Pinot scene that includes numerous producers from Oregon as well as many colleagues from all continents.
The development that can be observed in Oregon’s relatively new 50-year-old history is impressive. It was initially a handful of pioneers – David Lett (Eyrie Vineyards), Dick Ponzi (Ponzi Vineyards), Dick Erath (Erath) Myron Redford (Amity Vineyards), and David Adelsheim (Adelsheim Vineyards) that recognized the viticultural potential of the hilly landscape south of Portland. They were ridiculed early on, but achieved success through hardwork and relentless collaboration.
In 1987, one of the great names from Burgundy, Maison Joseph Drouhin, became the first Burgundy house to invest outside of the region when it established an estate in Oregon. Now other leading Burgundians, including Lafon, Meo, Jadot and Ligier-Belair, are establishing projects in Oregon.
Oregon’s vineyard area is accurately demarcated in wine-growing regions according to terroir. The Willamette Valley includes some of the most famous American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): Dundee Hills, Eola Amity Hills, Yamhill-Carlton District, Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge, and McMinnville.
Each of these terroirs leaves a unique stamp on its wines, and the wine producers of Oregon never fail to highlight these inherent attributes.
The demarcation of vineyard area into individual terroirs has been an important factor in the awareness of great growths in Burgundy for nearly 1,000 years. The origin of grapes plays one of the most significant roles in the production of fine wine. This fact was recognized early in Oregon and producers proudly put the focus on their single vineyard wines.
South Tyrol also possesses superb terroir in which certain indigenous grape varieties excel. Exceptional Lagrein grows near Bolzano and the best Pinot Blanc of South Tyrol thrives in the vineyards above the village of Eppan (Appiano). Pinot Noir calls Mazon home and Gewürztraminer finds optimal preconditions on the slopes of Tramin.
Yet, does South Tyrol do enough to protect these terroirs and ensure that they get the recognition that they deserve? Are estate names, single vineyards and parcels merely mentioned on labels and fancy brochures – is not the origin and traceability of the grapes actually documented in cellar ledgers? These critical questions are justified, then the wine producers of South Tyrol are do not identify strong enough with their single vineyards, their soils, and their historic estates.
We should learn from the wine producers of Oregon who have already done more in their mere fifty-year history for the care and recognition of terroir than we have in South Tyrol, where we have produced wine for more than 2000 years.
Our time is now!
Martin Foradori Hofstätter
Many of the wines that particularly enthused me during the IPNC 2014 can be viewed in the photo gallery: 1993 Adelsheim, 1988 Eyrie, Westrey 2010, Bergström 2012, Domaine Drouhin Oregon 2012 and a horizontal tasting from J. Christopher, the Mosel vintner Ernie Loosen’s venture in Oregon. The specialty was a Lagrein 2011 from Remy Drabkin, who cultivates this tipical Alto Adige variety with success.