A Guide to Oregon

Bordeaux Index

5 March 2024

There is no place like Oregon. With its sprawling deserts, lofty mountain ranges, dramatic valleys and the maritime climate, Oregon viticulture and winemaking are as varied and exciting as the landscape from which it is cultivated.

The History of Winemaking in Oregon

It was in 1847 that the yet-to-be Oregon (Oregon was only established as a US state in 1859) had its first grape plantings when Oregon Trial pioneer Henderson Luelling travelled from Iowa with his family to Oregon with a selection of fruit plantings. 5 years later the Northwest’s first winery was established in Valley View, Jacksonville by the Swiss immigrant Peter Britt who later came to be known as the ‘father of the Southern Oregon fruit industry’.

By the 1870s Oregon had become home to over 200 European and American experimental varieties. But it was David Lett and Charles Coury in the 1960s who changed the future of Oregon wine by choosing to plant Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. Now Pinot Noir is Oregon’s most planted and most loved variety. During the 60s, Lett and Coury also planted Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Semillon and Sylvaner among others, which has led to a thriving diversity of styles and a real sense of open-mindedness within the Oregon winemaking community.

Bordeaux Index Oregon Fine Wine
A mural about the settling of Henderson Luelling

The Wine Regions of Oregon

There are currently 22 certified winemaking regions in Oregon, or American Viticultural Associations (AVAs) as they are known. The planted vines span over 16,000 hectares of Oregon land where 72 different varietals are grown. Since 2005 the number of vineyards has almost doubled, yet 70% of wineries produce fewer than 5000 cases a year. Located north of California and south of Washington, Oregon sits on the 45th parallel, on the same latitude as Bordeaux. This means that during the growing season vines can receive more than 15 hours of daylight.

Willamette Valley

The Willamette Valley is Oregon’s oldest wine making region and is home to more than 700 wineries and 11 AVAs:

- Eola-Amity Hills

- Chehalem Mountains

- Dundee Hills

- Laurelwood District

- Lower Long Tom

- Mount Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon

- McMinnville

- Tualatin Hills

- Ribbon Ridge

- Yamhill-Carlton

- Van Duzer Corridor

For over 100 miles, the Willamette Valley follows the Willamette River, starting from the Columbia River near Portland to the South of Eugene. At its broadest the valley stretches out over 60 miles.

The valley is protected from the colder ocean air and rainstorms blowing in from the Pacific by the Coast Range mountains on its left.

The average growing season temperature in the Willamette Valley is between 14.7-15.1 Celsius, which is just slightly cooler than Burgundy with an average of 15.2 Celsius.

Bordeaux Index Oregon Fine Wine
The Willamette Valley

Warm days are tempered by cool nights with a diurnal swig of between 16.5 and 22 Celsius during the growing season.

The long, warm sunny days and cool nights as well as the northerly latitude and cooling influence of the Pacific make this one of the most exciting areas for cool climate varieties anywhere in the world!

Walla Walla Valley

Situated between the Blue Mountains in the southeast and the Palouse in the north, the Walla Walla Vallery AVA stretches across northeast Oregon and southeast Washington. A notably warmer climate, far away from any Pacific influences, the valley holds more than 100 wineries.

The foundations of the Walla Walla valley were laid down 15 million years ago and is now a bedrock of fractured basalt layered with soils filled with sand and gravel deposited by ancient floods and topped with wind-stirred silts.

The dry months of July and August endow an inherent ripeness in the grapes which is followed by a chillier September which adds acidity to the berries, creating excellent wines.


Portland is a unique region brimming with artisan makers, restaurants, coffee roasters, and of course, Oregon wine. Portland is unusual in the fact that it is a city and is not your usual place for winemaking. Many winemakers source their grapes from over 15 Oregon AVAs, creating wines from almost every variety grown in the region.

Bordeaux Index Oregon Fine Wine
Division Winemaking Company in Portland

Columbia Gorge

Located 60 miles east of Portland, this transitional climate AVA spans the Columbia River that traces the borders of Oregon and Washington. This is an AVA with a marine-influenced climate with rainfalls of 36 inches a year. In the Gorge itself, the elevation of the vineyards varies drastically with some situated at sea level and others reaching 2,000 feet. This broad range effects temperatures massively during the growing season. Because of the varying climate, the Columbia Gorge is able to successfully produce a large range of grape varieties, however the end product tends to be riper than the cooler western regions in Oregon, and the wines are more structured with higher acidity than the warmer AVAs in the east.

Rogue Valley

The sunny and fertile Rogue Valley in the South is made up of three valleys which have increasingly warmer micro-climates creating a haven for both cool and warm climate varieties. There are over 70 grape varieties planted here.

Situated 50 miles from Crater Lake, Oregon’s only national park, and 75 miles from the Oregon coast, Rogue Valley is as wild as its name suggests. The union of the Coastal, Cascade, and Siskiyou mountain ranges, and the proximity to the Rogue Rivers tributaries result in extreme diurnal shifts. The drop in temperature at night preserves the grape’s acidity and slows the ripening greater wines with greater depth and flavour.

Rogue Valley also houses Oregon’s first official winery which was founded in 1873 by Peter Britt. Britt was one of the earlier gold rush settlers and began to grow grapes as early as 1852. This led to the opening of his Vallery View Winery shortly afterwards. The precise location of the winery is unknown, but it is thought to have been in Jacksonville. The area now honours the pioneering winemaker with it’s annual Britt Music & Arts Festival over the summer months.

Bordeaux Index Oregon Fine Wine
Del Rio vineyards in Rogue Valley

Umpqua Valley

A complex region, Umpqua Valley is the result of the close proximity of three mountain ranges: The Coast Range, the Klamath Mountains and the Cascades. The AVA is found below the northern Willamette Vallery, between the Cascade Range in the east and Coast Range in the west, and by the Rogue Valley to the south.

Umpqua Valley has an interesting history with the first vineyards planted in the 1880s by German immigrants. However, it was the planting of the region’s first Pinot Noir in 1961 by Richard Sommer in the northern area of Elkton that changed the prospects of winemaking in the region. It is an area in which Pinot noir thrives, as well as other cool-climate varieties. Warmer climate varieties like Tempranillo, Syrah and Merlot are better suited in the warmer southern area of Roseburg.

The Top Producers in Oregon

Rose & Arrow

The Rose & Arrow wines since their debut release in 2016 have become the reference point for Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, Oregon. Founded by Mark Tarlov, an ex-Hollywood producer and Burgundy fanatic who passed away in 2021, was influential at the start of a great number of projects including Lavinea, Lingua Franca, 00 Wines, Alit as well as projects in the Sta Rita Hills such as Domaine de la Cote.

After leaving Evening Landing, which demonstrated the exceptional quality of Willamette Chardonnay, Tarlov founded Chapter 24 in 2011 to focus on Pinot Noir. With Liger-Belair as consultant small lots were made from a huge number of different sites across the Willamette Valley.

From 2015, Tarlov hired Pedro Parra and Felipe Ramirez to join the project which in 2016 led to the start of Rose & Arrow. Pedro Parra is the soil expert par excellence. He has helped transform the work of vintners from Comando G in Gredos to Quintessa in Napa. The team began an unprecedented project which combined electro-conductivity mapping and digging through layer upon layer of ancient soils to discern the most exciting ribbons beneath. Ramirez had been making wine at the Bouchon Family estate in Chile, but also worked at Liger-Belair following his master’s degree in viticulture and oenology in Montpellier.

Bordeaux Index Oregon Fine Wine
In the vineyards of Rose & Arrow

Beaux Frères

Beaux Frères began as a family road trip to Oregon in 1986 after Michael G. Etzel, a wine salesman from Colorado Springs, read a review of a 1983 Pinot noir from the Willamette that was so exciting that he wanted to explore the area. One detour later and the family was enchanted by a closed down 88-acre pig farm situated nearby, which is where Beaux Frères is located today.

Beaux Frères gets its name from the French idiom for ‘brother-in-law’ after wine critic Robert Parker Jr, the wife of Michael’s sister Pat, invested in the winery. Planting began in 1988 when Michael began to plant only Pinot Noir over 5 acres of vines of about 2,200 plants to the acre.

Three generations of the Etzel family now live on the Ribbon Ridge and the winery is now led by Mike D. Etzel, Michael’s middle child, although Michael continues to overseea the day to day running of the business, assisted by some very long-standing employees. Although Beaux Frères first release was in 1991, their philosophy remains the same: ‘to produce world class wine that represents the uncompromised essence of Mother Nature.”

Domaine Serene

Grace and Ken Evenstad first arrived and settled in the Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley in 1989 at a time before the real craze of Oregon Pinot Noir had properly started. When the time came to pursue their longtime dream of growing and producing world-class Pinot Noir, they invested in a 42-acre hilltop estate that had just been logged in the beautiful Dundee Hills of Oregon. They named the winery after their daughter, Serene, and their first vineyard on the estate was named after their son, Mark Bradford Evenstad. Today, Domaine Serene produces wines from six individual vineyard estates, planted exclusively to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Each estate offers a diversity of soils, clones, rootstocks, microclimates, slopes and elevations that add distinguishing complexity and elegance to the wines.

The Dundee Hills AVA was created in 2005 almost exclusively with basaltic terroir running north to south from the Chehalem Valley to the north and the Willamette River to the south. Since the first vintage in 1990, Domaine Serene has produced award-winning wines, including Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir, recognized as the World’s #3 Wine of 2013 by Wine Spectator Magazine. In addition, the 2012 Winery Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir was named the Top Pinot Noir in the World by Decanter magazine in 2016.

Bordeaux Index Oregon Fine Wine
Domaine Serene


Pierre-Henry Gagey, President of Louis Jadot has written, ‘with Résonance Vineyard, we realised Willamette Valley is to the New World what Burgundy is to the Old World. There is a feeling, a spirit, an energy – a ‘somewhereness’ that tells us this place can produce expressive wines with an identity and personality.’ Coming from a Burgundian with such a family history, this is praise indeed.

It was in 2013 that the Gagey family discovered the famous Résonance vineyard, nestled in the coastal range near Carlton and instantly saw the potential of this area. The family also bought the Découverte vineyard shortly after, which is an 18-acre property in the Dundee Hills just 10 miles from the original Résonance vineyard. The family have continued to invest in land and in 2019 bought the famous Koosah Vineyard, one of the highest elevation sites in the Eola-Amity Hills.

Winemaking comes with all the Jadot expertise and is lead by Guillaume Large who had been making wine in Burgundy with Jadot with the steady hand of Jacques Lardière, as consultant following his impressive 42 vintages at the helm of Jadot. The winemaking approach has simplicity at its heart – natural fermentations, vinification plot by plot, and slow élevage that lets the terroir shine through. This is the heart of the Résonance philosophy.

Nicholas Jay

Burgundian winemaker Jean-Nicolas Méo, of Domaine Méo-Camuzet in Vosne-Romanée, and music entrepreneur Jay Boberg’s mutual love of Pinot Noir, and desire to create something lasting together, drew them to the North Willamette Valley of Oregon’s wine country. Jean-Nicolas and Jay became friends in 1988, when Jean-Nicolas was studying abroad in the United States. The two found that they shared similar philosophies about life, music, wine, and friendship.

After nearly a quarter century of making wine at Meo-Camuzet, Jean-Nicolas was excited by the idea of taking what he’s learned from the grands and premiers crus of Burgundy, and applying it to a new region, a new climate, new soils and new vineyards.

Thus, Nicolas Jay was established in 2013 when the pair had the chance to purchase a vineyard they had fallen in love with – Bishop Creek – a 7 hectare, organically farmed vineyard in Yamhill Carlton. They also source from nearby, top quality vineyards, and have also purchased more land and planted in the area.

In 2021 the new winery was finished in time for the new vintage. The wines are made with typical Burgundian finesse, with minimal extraction, full destemmed and aged in around a third new French oak with no fining or filtration. While always showing an immediate charm these wines will repay careful cellaring.

Bordeaux Index Oregon Fine Wine
Jean-Nicolas Méo and Jay Boberg of Nicholas Jay

Domaine Drouhin Oregon

Fourth generation winemaker Véronique Boss-Drouhin saw the potential of the Willamette Valley early on, establishing her Oregon project back in 1989, after working a harvest with the Letts of Eyrie Vineyard, the Casteels of Bethal Heights, and the Adelsheims of Adelsheim Vineyards. In fact, the Drouhin’s journey into Oregon started a generation before when Robert Drouhin ventured out to the region for the first time in 1961 and then again during tastings held in Burgundy and Paris in 1979 and 1980 which put this region on the map for quality Pinot Noir.

The estate, high up in the Dundee Hills, now has 130 acres of vineyards planted to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the gently sloping hillside sites, using Burgundian clonal material. They built a landmark gravity flow winery over four floors to craft wines with the most delicate treatment and minimal intervention.

Fermentations are made in a style way to the Burgundian house, with long, careful fermentations, light extraction, and ageing around 20% new French oak barrels of the same quality used in Burgundy.


Cristom Vineyards are at the top of their game when it comes to supremely nuanced, age-worthy Pinots and Chardonnays from the Eola-Amity Hills in the Willamette Valley. Founded in 1992 by the Gerrie family, this is a family estate that now spans 240 acres in total, with 90 acres under vine. Using a multitude of winegrowing techniques – organic & biodynamic farming principles, agro-ecology, permaculture – the focus is on generating healthier ecosystems for the biology in the soil, as well as greater vitality and diversity of life to enhance plant health. The estate call this their 100-year vision.

The Eola-Amity Hills AVA is an independent volcanic island chain in the centre of the Willamette Valley. Located at the end of the Van Duzer Corridor, which allows the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean further inland, it means a slightly longer growing season and more tension and complexity in the grapes. The soils are dynamic and varied – largely volcanic basalt combined with marine sedimentary rocks and alluvial deposits - and the winds can be fierce helping to minimise fungal pressure and helping to concentrate flavours. The 90 acres (36.4ha) of vines are largely east-facing and rise from 200 feet (61 metres) to more than 790 feet (241 metres). The estate is planted to 76 acres (30.8 hectares) of Pinot Noir, and just over 9 acres (3.7 hectares) of Chardonnay.

The winemaking style of Cristom is very classical. Whole bunches are a key feature of the style, as are natural ferments, and large open-topped fermenters. Steve Doerner, the original winemaker at Cristom, spent time with Dujac and much of the style is influenced by the techniques of Jacques Seysses.

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The Cristom vineyards

Lingua Franca

The highly sought after site in the Eola-Amity Hills finally became Master Sommelier Larry Stone’s in 2012. Joined by David Honig and Dominique Lafon, hailed as one of the top Burgundian winemakers, the three embarked on a new winemaking journey in the beautiful Oregon hills. Lafon’s protégé Thomas Savre was also recruited as winemaker and the four set about creating wines made of exceptional fruit with purity and elegance, employing their knowledge of Burgundy to the Oregon terroir.

At Lingua Franca the upmost effort is taken to preserve vine health and boost biodiversity in the vineyards. The winery takes an organic and biodynamic approach to winemaking and in its management. Unusually, and very traditionally, pigéage (punching down) is carried out by foot in the winery as Thomas believes that the process gives more authentic and better results than using machinery.

The wines of Lingua Franca are classically Oregon but are elevated with a sense of place through the meticulous winemaking.

Eyrie Vineyards

The story of Eyrie Vineyards is a truly inspiring one, and it goes something like this - at the tender age of 24, with a degree in viticulture, another in philosophy, and eight months of intensive research in European wine regions behind him, David Lett headed for Oregon. He left California with little more than 3000 grape cuttings and a firm conviction that Oregon’s Willamette Valley would be the best home for Pinot noir and Chardonnay outside of Burgundy.

On February 22, 1965, David established the modern era of winegrowing in the Willamette Valley when he planted his first vines. David was soon joined by his new wife Diana, and together they planted and expanded their estate on a former orchard in the Dundee Hills. Their plantings focused on the first Pinot noir and Chardonnay in the Willamette Valley, but also the first Pinot gris commercially planted outside of Europe, and other cool climate varieties. In planting their Dundee Hills estate, David and Diana not only identified the right climatic zone for Pinot Noir, they also selected it’s most iconic soil: Jory, now Oregon’s state soil. This was a true eureka moment in the beginning of the story of quality, cool-climate varieties in the Willamette Valley.

The quality and success of this vision came quickly. After the first vintage in 1970, the now legendary 1975 Pinot Noir South Block Reserve triumphed in a tasting in Paris of worldwide Pinots organised by Gault-Millau in 1979.

Bordeaux Index Oregon Fine Wine
Jason Lett in the Eyrie vineyards

David Lett passed away in 2008, but his son Jason continues the family’s vision and philosophy with great success. The Eyrie estate now comprises five individual blocks of vineyard, all 60 acres located in the same part of the Dundee Hills. The vines were established with no-tilling without any use of herbicides, insecticides or systemic chemicals and that practice continues today. The wines are certified organic, and the estate has been awarded the Robert Parker Green Emblem in 2021. The vineyard practices, soil health, and biodiversity achieved at Eyrie is hugely exciting to see. Over 90% of the original plantings – on their own rootstocks – survive to this day. There is no irrigation. In the cellar, the same philosophy prevails. The wines are fermented and aged with patience, using wild yeasts and neutral oak barrels. Only 15% of the barrels are less than 5 vintages old and a dozen of the original barrels used in 1970 are still in use today.

Bergström Wines

Headed by Josh and Caroline Bergström, the family originated from Sweden where Josh’s father, John Bergström moved from a tiny logging village to pursue his education leading him to Oregon where he became an accomplished surgeon in Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Born in Portland, Josh’s commitment to producing world-class wines had built Bergström Wines into one of Oregon’s most successful producers. Josh’s wife Caroline is a talented winemaker herself, having worked in the famed Hospice de Beaune in Burgundy and studied alongside Josh at Lycée Viticole, where they met. They later returned to Oregon in 1999 to create their first vintage.

At Bergström, biodiversity and regenerative agricultural practises are key to the winemaking process. Based in the centre of the Willamette Valley, the region provides the perfect conditions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which are both planted at Bergström, to thrive. Stylistically, the wines are full of juice with fruity aromas and rich, earthy undertones with a saline core.

Top Grape Varieties in Oregon

You can find over 100 different grape varieties in the thousands of vineyards planted across Oregon. The region has many micro-climates and soil types which enable the multitude of varietals to thrive. Six of these stand out from the group and are most commonly used in Oregon winemaking.

Pinot Noir

Largely found in the Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon, Pinot Noir is probably Oregon’s best-known variety, accounting for 59% of Oregon’s acres of vineyards. This is a thin-skinned grape which prefers the cooler areas of the region. Pinot noir usually has a slight spiciness of cinnamon or mint and is rounded with full flavours of red and black fruits. The Pinot Noirs of Oregon tend to have deep fruity notes and are fresher, with higher acidity.

Bordeaux Index Oregon Fine Wine
Southwind Vineyards in Oregon

Pinot Gris

Oregon Pinot Gris tend to create complex wines that age well and use an Alsatian style of vinification. These grapes are most likely to be found in Southern Oregon and in the Willamette Valley, making up 14% of Oregon’s vineyards. Pinot Gris provide flavours of citrus, can be slightly floral and are usually fragrant. The wines tend to be rich, expressive, and full bodied.


Chardonnay is increasingly popular in Oregon and produces wines that span a whole variety of flavours and textures. Common notes found in Oregon Chardonnay include apples, tropical fruits, peaches, and lemons. Chardonnay produced in Oregon can range from being creamy, to fresh and acidic.

Bordeaux Index Oregon Fine Wine
Chardonnay grapes growing in Oregon


Syrahs from Oregon are incredibly dark in colour with an intense richness and a chewy texture. Sometimes fruity, Oregon Syrah tends to be spicier in aroma. Usually a warm climate variety, Syrah grown in Oregon’s milder climate is more balanced in depth and complexity.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Most commonly planted in the Rogue Valley, Columbia Valley, and the Snake River Valley, these moderate to warmer regions lend the thick-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon structure and ageability. Often blended with lower tannin grapes to round out the mid-palate, this variety is aromatic and bold.


Flavours of apple, pear and peach can be found in Oregon Riesling and the wines can be characterised by a recognisable floral apple aroma. Representing 1% of Oregon’s planted acres, the variety can be found in the Willamette Valley, Rogue Valley, Columbia Vallery, and Snake River Valley. This grape tends to be dry and usually mixes in mineral elements from its vineyard location.

Bordeaux Index Oregon Fine Wine
Snake River Valley

Discover our extensive selection of Oregon wines and taste these spectacular wines from one of the world’s top producers yourself here.