Small But Mighty
How does wine from a state dominated by small, mostly family-run vineyards and producing merely 1% of the U.S. total become so highly acclaimed? How does a region growing grapes for barely 50 years become synonymous with one of most well-known varietals on the planet?
The answer can only be a combination of a deep understanding of the unique terroir of this nascent wine region and the application of proven, time-honored winemaking techniques. And it is during Oregon Wine Month that we celebrate not only the original Pinot pioneers of the mid-1960’s, but also the newest leaders in Oregon’s diverse wine scene.
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Known as “Papa Pinot,” David Lett and other wine pioneers in the mid-1960’s began crafting wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley emulating the iconic Pinot Noir of the Old World. But they did so while simultaneously respecting the region’s unique cool climate and soils.
His success was soon noticed in France by top Burgundy producer Maison Joseph Drouhin. Like the Oregonian trailblazers, Drouhin discovered the similarity between the terroir of Oregon and that of the best cru estates in Burgundy. He eventually established Domaine Drouhin in the Valley in 1988. The leap of faith by this Burgundian Pinot powerhouse propelled Oregon wine to the world stage and it’s how Oregon became the New World leader of Pinot Noir.
Somos Pinot y Mas
The Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA)–the largest in Oregon with 12,100 vineyard acres—produces the vast majority of wine in the state. As was the case in California, wineries and vineyard owners in the Willamette Valley and the rest of Oregon’s 21 AVAs relied upon largely Hispanic migrant workers to grow and harvest grapes. These skilled manual laborers have proven essential for making high-quality wine and have also become the new generation of winemakers in what’s becoming a very diverse Oregon viticultural scene. Oregon already leads the way in this arena, from increased winery and vineyard ownership, to leadership roles for Latinos.
Organizations such as AHIVOY—whose mission is to empower vineyard stewards through education—and Celebrating Hispanic Roots—which banded together Hispanics in Oregon’s wine industry for charitable causes–are helping reinforce the industry’s reputation for elevating the community, preserving winemaking traditions, and creating new pioneers for Oregon wine.
As we conclude our celebration of Oregon Wine Month let’s recognize not just the original Pinot pioneers, but also our Latinx wine leaders whose global experiences, innovative techniques, collaborative instincts continue to solidify Oregon as one of world’s most esteemed viticultural areas.