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Oregon’s Wine Reputation Continues to Grow!

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The History

Since I am relatively new to the Willamette Valley, I spend my down time researching the history of the Oregon wine industry so I can better educate our tour guests about this unique wine region. I just finished reading “Pinot Girl” by Anne Maria Ponzi, published in 2020. Upon reading, I was surprised at the tenacity and faith her parents,Dick & Nancy Ponzi, had in moving to the Willamette Valley in November 1968, leaving behind a comfortable life in Los Gatos, CA to grow Pinot Noir. They were one of the true pioneers who believed our valley would be ideal for growing this temperamental grape in the style of Burgundy Pinot Noir, where it was perfected and is internationally revered. They arrived not long after Charles and Shirley Coury (Charles Coury Vineyards now David Hill),  David and Diana Lett (The Eyrie Winery) and Dick Erath (Erath Winery)1. Ponzi Vineyard’s first vintage was made in 1974 and first sold in 1976, eight years after they moved to Oregon and planted their first vines.2

Can you imagine uprooting your family, finding local work to pay the bills and starting a family business in your free time? Then, after starting the news business, waiting 8 years to make your first dime off this new, radical industry that all the local farmers considered a pipe dream? Well these pioneers, including Susan Sokol and Bill Blosser, David and Ginny Adelsheim, Myron Redford and more, did just that. 

Lucky for us, the wine consumers, who now enjoy the many fruits of their labors and all who have followed, there are now over 700 strong just in the Willamette Valley. Several events followed that put Oregon on the world wine map:

  • 1979 when David Lett’s The Eyrie 1975 South Block Pinot Noir scored 3rd in French food & wine magazine Gault-Millau’s Wine Olympiad against the famed chateaux of Burgundy in a blind tasting. One year later in 1980, a rematch, organized by Robert Drouhin, improved the standings for Oregon when David Lett’s Pinot Noir ranked second3.
  • 1987 when the prestigious Drouhin Family of Burgundy, recognizing the potential of Oregon Pinot Noir, established their vineyard here in the Dundee Hills, just a few miles from David Lett’s vineyard. Known as Domaine Drouhin Oregon, their wines are often recognized in international wine competitions.
  • 1989 Ken and Grace Evenstad established Domaine Serene in the Dundee Hills and in 2015 became the first Willamette Valley winery to purchase a Burgundy property: Chateaux de la Cree4.


The Awards

Enough history, let’s discuss current standings for Oregon’s wines. Just in 2022 the following accolades have been heaped on our wines:

  • James Suckling released his lists of top 100 wines around the world5. In the top 100 wines in the US nine (7 Pinot Noirs and 2 Chardonnays) Willamette Valley wines ranked: 
    • #9 Christom 2018 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir Jessie Vineyard-99 points
    • #13 Antica Terra 2018 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir Antikythera-99 points
    • #37 00 Wines 2018 Eola-Amity Hills Chardonnay Freya Hermann Cuvee-98 points
    • #38 Antica Terra 2018 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir Botanica-98 points
    • #62 Christom 2019 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir Mt Jefferson Cuvee-97 points
    • #73 Bergstrom 2019 Eola Amity Hills Pinot Noir Temperance Hill-97 points
    • #75 00 Wines 2018 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir Richard Hermann Cuvee-97 points
    • #76 Domaine Drouhin 2019 Eola-Amity Hills Pinot Noir Roserock Zephirine-97 points
    • #83 Domaine Serene 2017 Dundee Hills Chardonnay Recolte Grand Cru-97 points


Food and Wine Magazine called out these wineries in an article: How to find the best wines in Oregon: Argyle, Domaine Drouhin, Domaine Serene, Evening Land, Gran Moraine, J Wright Vintners, Raptor Ridge, Soter Vineyards, Stag Hollow, SOM, Lange Estate6 (October 2022)


Wine Enthusiast ranked Domaine Divio 2020 Willamette Valley Chardonnay ($55) among the top Chardonnays over $50, on par with French Chablis’ at over $150. (June 2022)


Wine Spectator Magazine highlighted 7 expressive Oregon chardonnays including Rex Hill’s Seven Soils and A to Z Wineworks 7 (August 2022)


Wine Enthusiast magazine discussed the value of buying ethically sourced, sustainable, biodynamically grown wines such as those made by Sokol-Blosser, Rex Hill/A to Z (B Corporations)8 which also include Brooks Wine. Oregon is a leader in Demeter/Biodynamic Certified wineries (May 2022)


The Takeaway

Oregon’s modern wine industry started in earnest in the 1960’s when a handful of winemakers with a passion for Pinot Noir landed in the Willamette Valley. It is astounding how, in just over 50 years, these winemakers and those that followed have created an industry rivaling the quality of regions with hundreds of years more experience. Interested in planning a wine vacation to sample some of the best wines in the world? Portland and the Willamette Valley is your answer and Triangle Wine Country Tours can be your guide. If you know where you want to visit, or want us to curate a tour for you, leave the driving, planning and teaching to us!