Going on wine tasting tours to Oregon wineries has become a popular thing to do for both Oregonians and tourists. In the last 30 years the winemaking industry has bloomed or should I say boomed and Oregon is now the fourth largest wine producing state in the United States.
Most Oregon wineries are located in the northern Willamette Valley and most people think that is where Oregon's wine industry started. However, it started in southern Oregon in the 1960's with Richard Sommer with his Riesling near Roseburg. In the early 1970's, as restaurant owners, we wanted to put an Oregon wine on our wine list and my husband visited Richard at his winery. It was a very small operation and we didn't put his Reisling on our list. I don't remember why but I think it was more a problem of getting it delivered than it was the quality of the wine.
Actually the wine making in Oregon started much earlier than that. Peter Britt, a Swiss immigrant arrived in Jacksonville, Oregon during the gold rush. He became a wealthy man, not from gold mining but through his camera inventions, photography, and eventually wine making. During my teenage years we lived one block below the Britt estate in Jacksonville. At that time the victorian house was still there but Peter Britt's daughter, Molly, had passed on. There was a care taker on the property and one time he gave me a tour of the house including the cellar where the huge wine casks were located. The whole cellar smelled of vinegar.
Across the street from our house was vacant land--about 10 acres. It was all planted in grapes which hadn't been tended in years. As kids, we loved exploring around this land. Under the grape vines, blackberry vines, and weeds were brick structures of some kind which were crumbling. There were huge cast iron pots scattered around which we thought looked like witches pots. I have often wished I had taken pictures.Peter Britt died in 1905 and I think his winery pretty much died with him.
There was another winemaker in Forest Grove at this time. Ernest Reuter won a silver medal at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair.
The next entry into Oregon wineries history was David Lett who planted his Pinot Noir grapevines in 1966 near Dundee, Oregon. It was David Lett and his Eryie Vineyards Pinot Noir which knocked the socks off the wine world and gave the French a big scare in the Olympics of the Wines of the World tasting held in France in 1979. The Eryie Vineyards Pinot Noir came in first. The French wine industry was so astounded that they held a rematch the following year in 1980. This time David Lett's pinot noir came in second. The Burgundy region of France must have been reeling.
The winemakers of Burgundy sat up and took notice and in 1987 Robert Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin who had taken first place in the 1980 tasting purchased land near Eyrie Vineyards and established the Domaine Drouhin Oregon winery.
Today there are 15 registered wine regions in Oregon, over 300 wineries and over 700 vineyards. The top five grape varieties grown are Pino Noir, Pino Gris, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Riesling. Wines grown in Oregon must be named after the grape variety it is made from and 90 per cent of the wine must be of that variety.
Take one of these Oregon Wine Tasting Tours and leave the work of planning and driving to someone else.
Wine tasting on the Oregon Coast.
It doesn't matter where you are in Oregon, you most likely will find a winery nearby. While most of the wineries are located in the northern Willamette Valley, there are wineries in the Columbia River Gorge, Eastern Oregon, and Southern Oregon.