A Primer on Willamette Valley AVA and Vintages

We enjoy relatively earthy, less fruit-forward Willamette Valley wines. But we did not know enough about the region, not to mention the roughly dozen different AVAs, to understand why. And which wines were we most likely to enjoy? This blog is an attempt to decipher some of the mysteries of Oregon wines.

Willamette Valley AVAs

We visited some of the largest, most known AVAs:

  • Dundee Hills is generally characterized by red volcanic (Jory) soil which holds heat, resulting in deep, red cherry and plum-based fruit-focused wines with iron-based minerality and spices such as cinnamon, clove, and cardamom.
  • Newberg, by contrast, typically has brown, loamy, sedimentary (Willakenzie) soil that drains better than volcanic soil, resulting in more intense, earthier, darker fruit flavors, with floral elements and subtle tannins and baking spices
  • Yamhill-Carlton also has sedimentary soil and, since it is in a rain shadow, has a drier climate, resulting in dark fruited wines that are relatively floral and spicy.
  • Eola-Amity Hills Jory basalt soils, overlaid with Nekia red clay, combined with the area’s particularly cool afternoon breezes, help produce bigger, darker wines with darker fruits.

Weather, of course, is also a huge factor in the ways in which wines turn out. Each of the three primary vintages represented in our tastings had very different weather. In general:

  • 2011 had wetter, cooler weather, resulting in leaner wines whose acidity will allow them to age well.
  • 2012 was hot, resulting in deeper flavors, rounder textures, somewhat higher alcohol levels and wines that drink well now, but will not age as well. Even so, the conditions were so good that winemakers would have to really work to produce bad wine.
  • 2013 was harmed by late-season rains that ravaged grapes, slashed yields, and will prove to be a test of winemakers’ skill and adaptability.

So, with this context, we visited wineries from each of the three primary, and a few small neighboring AVAs. And, since we had to take at least some time out of wine tasting to eat, we visited four of the most highly recommended of local restaurants.  The following posts provide brief overviews of some of our favorite Willamette Valley wineries, wines, and restaurants.

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