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Visiting Oregon Wine Country

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The Willamette Valley in Oregon
picture of David Hill Winery in the Willamette Valley

David Hill Winery in the Willamette Valley

Photo by Alison Stein Wellner
At Oregon’s north is the Willamette Valley, the largest wine producing area in Oregon, and the most familiar AVA for travelers. (Pronunciation tip: Willamette rhymes with “Damn-DAMN-it”, or, for more delicate sensibilities, “Jan-JAN-it”.)

Established as an AVA in 1983, the Willamette Valley extends southward from Portland, and starts just east of the coastal range of mountains which border the Pacific Ocean. This is a cool-climate area, and it specializes in the wines of Burgundy and also Alsace. Pinot noir is the varietal that the area has built its reputation around, as well as pinot gris. (Not to be confused with pinot grigio, which is an Italian varietal made from the same grape but in a different style.) Other cool weather varietals in this area: riesling, pinot blanc, chardonnay and gewürztraminer.

The Willamette Valley includes six sub-appellations: Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, Eola-Amity Hills, McMinnville, Ribbon Ridge, and the Yamhill Carlton District. For travelers it’s probably more convenient to think of the valley by its towns and their surrounds. Of particular note for foodies are the small towns of Carlton and McMinnville, both of which offer well-regarded restaurants and gourmet shopping.

The Willamette Valley ends about 25 miles below the city of Eugene, and everything to its south is considered the Southern Oregon AVA.

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