Next to California, Oregon and Washington are probably the best known states for wine in the U.S. Washington is the country’s second largest producer and Oregon is not far behind. Known for some of the best Pinot Noirs in the world, the wine regions in these states have developed just since the 1960’s and are growing daily. The regions in the two states have vastly different climates, thus producing a variety of wines. We’ll be featuring grapes from the Great Northwest at our next Wine Down Wednesday, so in preparation for your exploration of these fabulous states…
Oregon’s wine regions are primarily located in the valleys between the Cascade Mountains and the Coastal Range. The Williamette Valley, where the largest concentration of Oregon wineries are located, is a cool climate region with high annual rain fall. Pinot Noir grapes grow very well in the cool, damp climate here and it is flagship wine of the state. The 2002 vintage of Oregon Pinots is considered the state’s best vintage yet – and that’s saying something considering the 2000’s and 2001’s are superb. Other cool climate grape varieties such as Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay also thrive here. Williamette Valley Pinot Gris is generally medium-bodied with aromas of pears and apples with surprising depth and complexity… and it’s usually only around $15 a bottle for a great wine! The Umpqua Valley , Applegate Valley, Rogue Valley, Walla Walla and Columbia Gorge regions feature warmer, drier climates, and the grapes grown here reflect this. They include Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Semillon, Cab Franc and Syrah. Microclimates in these regions are capable of producing high quality Pinots and Chardonnays, as well.
Washington’s wine regions have a very different climate from Oregon’s regions. Located mainly east of the Cascade Mountains, the wineries in Washington are in a climate with hot, very dry summers and cold winters. But, winemakers here have found that with irrigation, the extra hours of summer sunlight the grapes receive here than in California allows them to grow some fabulous Bordeaux variety grapes, including Merlot, Cab, Cab Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, as well as Chardonnay and Syrah. The regions are particularly known for Merlot.
The Yakima Valley and Red Mountain wine regions, which many consider the next Napa Valley, are part of the Columbia Valley appellation. More wineries are located here than in the larger Columbia Valley region. The Walla Walla region , which extends over the border into Oregon is a fast growing region home to some of the state’s premium wineries. The Columbia Gorge region (green), also extends into Oregon. The region is, literally, a gorge for the Columbia River and is a spectacular area. The climate here is cooler than the Columbia Valley region and features some of the state’s best wineries. Finally, the Puget Sound wine region, Washington’s only region west of the Cascade range, grows only about 2% of the state’s grapes, but more than 50 wineries are located here (probably because it’s a really stunning geographical area).
Washington and Oregon are clearly producing some wines to be tasted, savored and saved. Join us at Opus One on August 25 for a exploration of the wines of this region and a kickoff for our Detroit Uncorked tasting event!