A group of Oregon winemakers is working to create a seventh American Viticultural Area (AVA) for the Willamette Valley.
The view from Johan Vineyards towards the Eola Amity Hills
“We’re currently working on creating our own AVA,” confirmed Norwegian-born Dag Johan Sundby, who set up Johan Vineyards in 2002 in a hilly outcrop which looks towards the Eola-Amity Hills. At present, his wines fall under the larger scale Willamette Valley AVA.
For the moment, he admitted, “we’re not sure what we’re going to call it,” but a 12-strong group of wineries is busy gathering weather data and soil analysis to support their belief in the region’s distinct character.
In particular Sundby pointed to the cooling impact of the Van Duzer corridor through the Coastal Range, as well as the area’s granitic, shallow soil brought in by the Missoula Flood at the end of the last ice age.
Although the Oregon wine industry began to establish itself in the 1960s, the Willamette Valley, where the majority of the state’s wine is produced, only applied for official appellations 10 years ago.
Explaining why it took until 2002 for the first applications to be submitted, Harry Peterson-Nedry, owner of Chehalem and the first to plant vines in what is now the Ribbon Ridge AVA, explained: “People thought that trying to define AVAs might become divisive; we pride ourselves on being a family.”
In the end, each region agreed to send off their application forms together, with approval coming back in 2005 and, reported Peterson-Nedry, “We’ve found since then that we all still work very well together.”
This evolution marked an important phase in Oregon’s ongoing work to define an identity for its wines, especially the Pinot Noir on which the state’s reputation is founded.
“Until we have quantitative data this quickly devolves to a marketing conversation,” observed David Adelsheim, co-owner of Adelsheim Vineyards, who highlighted the value of events such as the trade’s annual Oregon Pinot Camp for advancing this discussion.
This year saw a further boost to Oregon’s refinement of its identity with the arrival at Oregon State University of Dr Elisabeth Tomasino, who has previously carried out research into the sensory differences of regional New Zealand Pinot Noir.