When I was young, I consumed my epiphany wine – a 1955 Pio Cesare Barolo from Piedmont, Italy. After that ﬁrst sip, my ear-to-ear grin told the story to everyone in the room; I was bitten by the oenology bug and nothing short of going to where the wine was made would satiate my curiosity. It was that moment when my quest to become a sommelier began.
Why Wine Enthusiasts Are Flocking To Oregon
26 December 2019
Read Time: 3.8 mins
Maybe your own epiphany wine will be a local Australian drop. Otherwise it could be a crisp Sonoma County chardonnay, or a luscious pinot noir from the Willamette Valley, Oregon. It’s not common knowledge that all 50 states in America grow grapes and produce wine. All you need to remember is my golden rule: if you like it, then it’s good.
Yes, wine is produced beyond California’s Napa Valley and Sonoma County. If you fancy a bold cabernet or a luscious riesling like I do, they are available in many places, but actually arriving at the vineyards might require a long and arduous journey.
Moving to Oregon, and particularly Portland, I quickly realised warmer dry weather to the east suited the Bordeaux grapes, and the cool, wet climate to the south is nurturing to pinot noir and other cool climate grapes. Despite being home to 702 wineries, Oregon produces only one per cent of the nation’s wine. Most Oregon wineries produce less than 5,000 cases a year, and much of it is organically grown. Small production generally makes for higher quality.
Having spent the better part of my life studying oenology, I can see why ambitious viticulturists are drawn to Oregon: its geography and climate make it a perfect place to grow grapes. Straddling approximately the same latitudes as Burgundy and Bordeaux between 44 and 47 degrees north, the Willamette and Columbia Valleys duplicate the growing conditions of the two most famous wine regions in the world. This is the reason the winemakers are so excited about the potential here. Well that, and the fact that commercial agriculture has only existed in the Paciﬁc Northwest for 200 years. Compare that to the 26 centuries of grape growing in France. Yes, they’ve been doing it longer, but the fresh and fertile soil in Oregon yields a vast variety of pristine fruit.
Both red and white wine grapes thrive here and they make award-winning still wines, as well as sparklers and fortiﬁed sticky wines.
According to the USA Wine Spectator magazine, the 2015 and 2016 Oregon vintage produced 20 per cent of the highest-rated wines in the United States. Due to this rapid rise in popularity, all my sommelier friends from Oslo to Singapore are recommending Paciﬁc Northwest wines and oﬀering them on their wine lists.
Talented sommeliers are ﬂocking to Portland because we have so many successful and gifted celebrity chefs, such as Gabriel Rucker, Gregory Gourdet, John Gorham, Greg Denton, Naomi Pomeroy and Gabrielle Quiñónez, just to name a few, whose restaurants have been catapulted onto the world stage for their innovative and often eclectic menus. My experiences at these chefs’ restaurants always become memorable moments of lasting pleasure.
Upon arrival into Portland airport, I recommend jumping on the TriMet MAX train located right outside baggage claim. It’s a quick 30-minute trip to downtown Portland. I often use Uber and Lyft as alternate transportation and then, of course, you could rent a car. Portland is easy to navigate and this option suits those who like to take charge of their own adventures.
Also accessible by public transport is the city of McMinnville, located less than 50km away, and it’s the epicentre of Willamette Valley wine production. If you decide to venture here, I recommend visiting the renowned Eyrie Vineyards at 935 NE 10th Avenue, or my personal favourite, Elizabeth Chambers Cellar at 455 NE Irvine Street. Nearby are Nick’s Italian Cafe (a local favourite) and The Painted Lady Restaurant. The fabulous indigenous cuisine I’ve devoured at these eateries has always been delicious, especially when paired with Willamette Valley wines.