High demand for Pinot Noir has spurred continued investment in the Beaver State, where sustainability converges with an emerging identity, by Angel Antin, MarketWatch (Feb. 2016)
“Oregon wine is compelling and thought-provoking,” says Stacey Gibson, wine director and general manager of The Woodsman Tavern in Portland, Oregon. Gibson left a sommelier job at Corkbuzz in New York City to follow her dream and join the Oregon wine scene. “Every Pinot Noir reflects its vintage and vineyard, and Oregon’s cooler climate produces excellent acidity, even in a ripe vintage,” she adds.
Wine production in Oregon rose from 1.6 million nine-liter cases in 2004 to 2.8 million cases in 2014, according to the Oregon Wine Board. The last few years have been marked by increasing optimism and investment in the state. That trend has been bolstered by ongoing consumer interest in the state’s top varietals—Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris—fueled by exceptional harvests in 2014 and 2015. And an increasing number of out-of-state winemakers are carving out their place in the country’s third-largest wine-producing state.
“The recent investments by major players nod to the state’s potential,” says Ryan Harms, owner and winemaker at Union Wine Co. in Tualatin, Oregon. “These large players can also help tell the Oregon story, and that will raise awareness.”
Companies located outside of Oregon have made headlines with substantial investments in the state since 2013. Firms that have expanded their vineyard holdings in recent years include Woodinville, Washington–based Ste. Michelle Wine Estates for its Erath brand in Dundee, Oregon; Domaine Drouhin Oregon in the Dundee Hills region of the Willamette Valley; and Seattle-based Precept Wine for Primarius and Battle Creek Vineyards’ Unconditional, both sourced from the Willamette Valley.
In addition, Santa Rosa, California’s Jackson Family Wines purchased a winery and vineyards in Oregon, adding several Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs to its La Crema line. Burgundy’s Maison Louis Jadot acquired a vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton region of the Willamette Valley and unveiled Résonance Pinot Noir, the company’s first venture outside of France. Joe Wagner’s Copper Cane Wines & Provisions—based in Rutherford, California and known for launching the Meiomi label, now owned by Constellation Brands—debuted the Oregon-sourced wine Elouan. Healdsburg, California’s Foley Family Wines acquired The Four Graces in the Willamette Valley, and Judy Jordan—founder and former owner of Russian River Valley’s J Vineyards—purchased Willamette Valley vineyards for her new Santa Rosa, California–based The Capra Co. As the supply of land shrinks, Oregon-based wineries are also snapping up vineyards.
Like Washington, Oregon is already known for some allocated cult wines, and the arrival of sommeliers-turned-winemakers brings additional prestige to the state. In 2014, sommelier Rajat Parr and winemaker Sashi Moorman partnered with investor Charles Banks on highly rated Evening Land Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills region of the Willamette Valley. Sommelier Larry Stone—formerly of Rubicon Estates and Evening Land Vineyards—also purchased land in Eola-Amity Hills in 2013 and released the first wines for his startup Lingua Franca brand last year…
…When consumers think of Oregon, they think of Pinot Noir. “Just as New Zealand is known for Sauvignon Blanc and Argentina is known for Malbec, Oregon is known for Pinot Noir,” says Precept Wine CEO Andrew Browne. “Oregon has carved a niche, and that focus helps it get onto wine lists and retail shelves.” He adds that most sommeliers strive to feature a range of Oregon Pinot Noirs on their lists.