Wednesday, November 25, 2015         


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Subregions diversify Willamette

By Todd Ashline


I lived in Portland, Ore., for a short time a few years back, and I loved day trips and weekend escapes to Willamette Valley -- wine country. My tasting companion was a longtime Marine Corps friend just starting to learn about wine. I have fond memories of those excursions; it's a beautiful place with warm people and great wines.

Willamette Valley runs from south of Portland, through Salem to just past Eugene. It is 100 miles long and 60 miles across at its widest point and is the coolest of Oregon's wine regions, which limits the grapes that can be grown there.

Three varieties dominate: pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot gris. In 1984, Willamette Valley was named an American Viticultural Area, a designation of a wine grape-growing region. Since then, six subregions have been added; from north to south they are Chehalem Mountains, Yamhill-Carlton District, Ribbon Ridge, Dundee Hills, McMinnville and Eola-Amity Hills District.

Chehalem Mountains AVA is southwest of Portland, about 45 miles east of the Pacific Ocean. Wine growing here is fairly new, dating just to 1968. Elevation varies from 200 to just over 1,600 feet, leading to different grape-ripening levels. Some of my favorite wineries here are Chehalem Cellars, Bergstroem, Rex Hill and Adelsheim Vineyards.

Yamhill-Carlton AVA is west of Chehalem and houses about 60 vineyards and 30 wineries. The area receives less annual rainfall than surrounding areas. Vines were first planted here in 1974 by Pat and Joe Campbell, who started Elk Cove Winery, a personal favorite. Other names to look out for are Ken Wright Cellars, Hamacher Wines and WillaKenzie Estate.

Ribbon Ridge AVA is on the border of Chehalem Mountains and Yamhill-Carlton. First planted in 1980, it's a small AVA with just 350 acres under vine, 20 vineyards and five wineries. The region is slightly warmer and drier than the surrounding areas and is home to three of my favorite wineries: Beaux Freres, Patricia Green and Brick House.

Below Ribbon Ridge is Dundee Hills, known for red volcanic Jory soils that provide excellent drainage and lead to superior grapes. Wineries of choice: Sokol Blosser, Archery Summit, Domaine Drouhin, Erath Vineyards and Domaine Serene.

Southwest of Dundee Hills is the McMinnville AVA, home of the International Pinot Noir Celebration (next scheduled for July 29-31). Winemaking in the area traces to the 1970s. There are about 750 acres under vine and 14 wineries.

Located northwest of Salem is the Eola-Amity Hills AVA. Here the soil is volcanic, rocky and well drained, meaning grapes are small and concentrated. The area is home to Cristom Vineyards, Amity Vineyards, Bryn Mawr Vineyards and Kristen Hill Winery.

Todd Ashline is sommelier and restaurant director at Chef Mavro. Contact him at 944-4714 or visit

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