The West Coast of the United States is what people usually think of when daydreaming of wine country. California, naturally, but oh what wonderful vinous creations come from the terroir of Oregon and Washington, with an amazing array of red, white, sparkling, and rosé wines. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the wine scene in both states, and have been impressed!
The Washington wine scene is primarily in the southeastern part of the state with the wine regions of Yakima Valley, Walla Walla, Red Mountain, Rattlesnake Hills, Horse Heaven Hills, and Columbia Valley being the shining stars. This area is so different than the other side of the Cascade Mountains as it enjoys 17 hours of sun reliably during the summer. The continental climate has proved to be excellent for ripening fine wine grapes—it’s on the latitude between that of Bordeaux and Burgundy after all!
LESSONS LEARNED AT OREGON’S PINOT CAMP
Wine merchants, sommeliers, and restaurateurs from around the world convene in the Willamette Valley of Oregon to learn and taste the viniferous bounty of this state for what is fondly known as Pinot Camp. Although this is a tough business trip to explain to your spouse, it’s an opportunity for wine professionals from around the globe to talk about wine and meet some of Oregon’s best pinot noir (and other varietals) makers. You hear firsthand their insights on the technical and philosophical reasons for their passion in the Holy Grail on winemaking.
The daytime temperatures are enough to sufficiently ripen the fruit, but cool nights streaming in on ocean breezes allow for good acidity and complexity. The Cascade Range to the east protects the vineyards from the hot and cold extremes of the continental interior. That protection is necessary to produce premium cool climate varietals in Oregon, particularly pinot noir. Best practices that yield better wine in general include handpicking fruit in small containers, moving grapes on conveyor belts rather using augers, destemming while keeping each grape cluster whole rather than crushing, cold maceration, moving must and wine with gravity rather than pumps, and not filtering long before this practice was vogue.