Cool, green and misty, Oregon and its wine-centric Willamette Valley have earned a reputation as one of the world’s great places to grow the finicky, beloved grape called pinot noir.
The valley is a pretty place, 100 miles long, 60 miles wide, paralleling the Pacific coast 50 miles inland. It straddles the Willamette River as it flows south from the Columbia River into Oregon toward Eugene.
To the west, the valley is protected from Pacific storms by the Coast Range mountains; to the east, the Cascade Mountains are its boundary with the dryer, colder climate of eastern Oregon.
Willamette grows three quarters of Oregon’s grapes, with 19,000 acres, 694 vineyards and 507 wineries in a climate similar to that of France’s revered Burgundy vineyards.
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And pinot noir makes up three quarters of Willamette’s wines. The rest include pinot gris, chardonnay, riesling, pinot blanc, gewurztraminer, muller-thurgau and others.
Willamette pinot noirs are crisp, with heady, pure aromas and flavors of tart cranberries, plus delicate hints of earth. The valley makes less than 1 percent of the pinot noir produced in nearby California. But Oregon growers will tell you privately that it’s really too hot for pinot in California.
Oh, and it’s pronounced “will-A-mette.” With “A” as in “at.”
To mark the 50th anniversary of Willamette’s wine industry, let’s taste a few of its wines.
▪ 2012 Rex Hill Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Ore.: inky hue, concentrated aromas and flavors of black raspberries, tobacco and minerals, full body, lush, long, complex finish, age-worthy; $35.
▪ 2013 Amity Vineyards Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley: pale yellow, aromas and flavors of ripe apricots, melons and spice, light and crisp; $22.
▪ 2012 Chehalem Pinot Noir Reserve, Ridgecrest Vineyards, Ribbon Ridge AVA, Willamette Valley: dark purple hue, hint of oak, floral aromas, flavors of vanilla and black raspberries, firm tannins, long finish; $80.
▪ 2012 Erath Prince Hill Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Ore.: dark hue, aromas and flavors of black cherries and bittersweet chocolate, very smooth, long finish; $50.
▪ 2012 Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills: deep, dark hue, aromas and flavors of blueberries, cinnamon and earth, lush; $38.
▪ 2014 Elk Cove Vineyards Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley: pale yellow hue, aromas and flavors of ripe apricots, lemons and spice, light, lively and crisp; $19.
▪ 2012 Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: medium dark hue, hint of oak, aromas and flavors of tart strawberries and cloves, full body, long finish; $60.
▪ 2013 Broadley Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: dark hue, aromas and flavors of tart cherries and cinnamon, medium body, ripe tannins; $25.
▪ 2012 Lange Estate Pinot Noir Reserve, Willamette Valley: medium dark hue, aromas and flavors of black raspberries, dark chocolate and earth, full body; $35.
▪ 2012 Cooper Mountain Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley: dark purple hue, aromas and flavors of black raspberries, smooth, ripe tannins; $28.
▪ 2012 St. Innocent Winery Pinot Noir, Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley: deep dark hue, floral aromas, flavors of black cherries, cloves and earth; $42.