AVA GLOSSARY – Oregon

AVA GLOSSARY – Oregon

Willamette Valley

The Willamette Valley AVA is recognised as one of the premier wine-producing regions in the world. Established in 1983, it runs 240 kilometres north to south from the Columbia River through Salem to just outside Eugene and spans 97 kilometres east to west – making it Oregon’s largest AVA.

To the west lies the Coast Range which provides protection from cool Pacific breezes and rain. To the east lies the Cascade Mountains which provide protection from the more desert-like climate of eastern Oregon, and the Willamette River runs through the centre of the Valley itself. Most of the vineyards lie on the slopes of the Coast Range, facing east. On the Valley floor the soils are rich, fertile and alluvial, making them largely unsuitable for premium wine production. Therefore, most of the vineyards are planted at 60 metres elevation or higher where the soils are volcanic, marine sedimentary or wind-blown loess.

The Willamette Valley has cool, wet winters and summers are generally warm and dry with temperatures moderated, in varying degrees, by the cooling effects of the Pacific. During the growing season, the region enjoys a great diurnal range with warm days, cool nights and high sunshine hours, pivotal for even ripening, long and slow development of flavour and retention of natural acidities. These moderate, maritime conditions make the Willamette Valley ideal for cool climate varieties; Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Gamay to name just a few.

Dundee Hills

The Dundee Hills is a sub-AVA of the Willamette Valley, located 45 kilometres southwest of Portland and 60 kilometres inland from the Pacific Ocean. The surface area of the AVA is 5,100 hectares, with just 900 of those planted to vines. Its appellation status was recognised in 2004, but it was in these hills that David Lett (founder of The Eyrie Vineyards) planted the first Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris vines in the Willamette Valley in 1966.

Conditions in this nested AVA can be a touch warmer as it is nestled between the Coastal Mountain Range and the Chehalem Mountains which provide protection from the cooling effects of the ocean winds and fog. Most of the AVA lies with an easterly aspect, providing early morning sun exposure and contributing to the wide diurnal range. Elevations in the Dundee Hills can range from 60 metres to 325 metres.

Dundee Hills is home to the famous red Jory soils – rich in volcanic basalt and prized for its excellent drainage capabilities. The region has a well-established reputation for high-quality Pinot Noir, and though vintage conditions can vary, you can expect a typical style of bright, red-fruited and earthy Pinot Noirs with silky, elegant structures.

Eyrie - Dundee Hills

Tualatin Hills

The Tualatin Hills gained AVA status in 2020. It is located in the north-western corner of the Valley, west of Portland, at the eastern edge of the Coast Range and northwest of the Chehalem Mountains. The AVA land mass covers over 55,000 hectares, but just 395 of those are planted to vines.

Elevations can range from 60 metres to 310 metres, and this elevation, along with the AVAs proximity to the Coast Range means it's a region that can be influenced by the rainfall and winds of the Pacific Ocean. Ripening tends to be later than other northern AVAs and most of the vineyards are located near forests which can aid in tempering the oceanic influence, as well as providing shade.

The Tualatin Hills AVA is particularly noteworthy for its Laurelwood soils, consisting of fine silty loess over an ancient basalt bedrock, formed by the erosion of basaltic and volcanic rocks by glaciers during the last ice age. The typical Pinot Noir style from the Tualatin Hills can be more structured in style than its more southerly counterparts – higher tannins and acidities.

Yamhill-Carlton

The Yamhill-Carlton region gained AVA status in 2005 and is located 56 kilometres southwest of Portland and 64 kilometres east of the Pacific Ocean. It spans 23,500 hectares, with just 970 of those planted to vines. To the west, it’s bordered by the Coast Range, to the north are the Chehalem Mountains and to the west lie the Dundee Hills; buffering the region from more extreme weather conditions and providing warm temperatures for the growing season.

This region has the earliest harvest dates in the Willamette Valley, and creates Pinot Noirs of power, depth and spice. The Yamhill-Carlton AVA boasts the oldest soil material in the Valley – Willakenzie Series. It's a soil comprised of coarse-grained, ancient marine sediments that provide excellent drainage.

Montinore Estate, Yamhill-Carlton

McMinnville

The McMinnville AVA, established in 2005, sits in the foothills of the Coast Range in the Willamette Valley, just west of the city of the same name and 65 kilometres southwest of Portland. It’s planted to 300 hectares of vines on predominantly marine and volcanic soils.

Extending west of the city, to the foothills of the mountains, is a 600 metre bedrock formation (Nestucca Formation) of weathered sedimentary and volcanic soils atop a marine bedrock. This is the most distinctive feauture of the AVA. It’s one of the coolest an driest of the AVAs and the majority of the vineyards sit at high elevations (300m or so).

Winds from the Van Duzer corridor have a cooling effect on the more southerly sites. The Eyrie Vineyard winery is located here and the annual International Pinot Noir Celebration is also held in this AVA.

Ribbon Ridge

Ribbon Ridge is a nested AVA in the Chehalem Mountains AVA and was established in 2005. It’s a 16-kilometre squared ridge located 35 kilometres southwest of Portland and 65 kilometres east of the Pacific Ocean and sits at 200 metres above the valley floor. There are 260 hectares planted under vine.

The soils are predominantly Willakenzie (sedimentary) and are low in fertility, deep and very well drained. It lies lower than many of the surrounding AVAs so is slightly warmer with lower rainfall.

Chehalem Mountains

The Chehalem Mountains AVA is within the broader Willamette Valley AVA and was recognized in 2006. It lies 30 kilometres southwest of Portland and 70 kilometres east of the Pacific Ocean. Hectares under vine is just over 1000. Soils are marine, volcanic and loess and elevations range from 60-300 metres.

The Chehalem Mountains consists of several hills and ridges, and is just shy of 500 metres elevation at its tallest point. Thanks to the mountainous location, vineyards within this AVA enjoy protection from the southerly Columbia Gorge winds. 

Eola Amity Hills

Northwest of Salem lies the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, established in 2006. Hectares under vine is just over 3000.The majority of the vineyards lie at elevation between 75 and 220 metres. The AVA is comprised of a main north-south running ridge with several ridges east-west running ridges on either side.

It's due east of the Van Duzer Corridor which allows the cool Pacific air to flow through the AVA providing a wide diurnal range. Soils are predominantly volcanic basalt and marine with some heavier alluvial presence in the lower lying areas. 

Van Duzer Corridor

Named after a gap in the Coast Range that allows winds from the Pacific to infiltrate the area, this AVA was recognized in just 2019. It lies 80 kilometres southwest of Portland and 65 kilometres east of the Pacific Ocean.

Located immediately to the east of the gap, the aspect provides cooling conditions, wide diurnal ranges and long growing season for the AVA. The soils are mainly marine sedimentary and total land under vine is just over 400 hectares.

Laurelwood District

Nested within the Chehalem Mountains, the Laurelwood District AVA, is one of Oregon's newest, recognized only in 2020. The distinctive Laurelwood soils (basalt base with loess top layer) that give the AVA its name can be found on the east and north facing slopes of the mountain range. The end of this soil also marks the boundary of the AVA. It’s home to the highest elevation in the valley (485 metres) and it’s home to 390 hectares of vines.

Southern Oregon

The Southern Oregon AVA is home to the earliest plantings in the state, although the region’s produce is largely consumed locally. Nested AVAs include Umpqua Valley, Elkton, Rogue Valley, Applegate Valley and Red Hills Douglas County. This part of Oregon is also perfect for growing hops and supports a thriving artisanal beer industry.

Oregon AVAs Shared with Washington:

Columbia Gorge, Columbia Valley, Walla Walla Valley, and The Rocks of Milton-Freewater

These four AVAs are home to Cabernet plus Syrah, Grenache and other Rhône varieties that are rarely associated with Oregon, rather more commonly associated with Washington. However, some of the most famous vineyards and producers within these regions are actually within the Oregon state lines (e.g. Cayuse in The Rocks of Milton Freewater).

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