The founders of Oregon’s wine industry were onto something. The rich, volcanic soil, the mountain-cloaked hills, the moderate temperatures and long growing season make this Pacific Northwest state a winemaker’s Eden. The sustainability of the region’s natural growing conditions doesn’t hurt, either.
Amid all this, Oregonian wine often goes underappreciated — and even neglected. We’re here to change that, celebrating the best wine regions of Oregon’s vibrant, eclectic wine repertoire.
Oregon State Wine Regions: Map Overview
Oregon contains 19 official wine-growing regions, or appellations. Tucked within these 19 appellations are over 750 wineries producing 72 distinct grape varietals annually.
As a whole, Oregon’s cooler climate brings temperate days and crisp nights, letting grapes mature longer on the vines and retaining their signature acidity. However, there are crucial distinctions across its 19 major appellations. From rainfall amounts and soil composition to topography, each Oregonian winery’s outputs reflect of these unique conditions. The result is an array of flavor profiles, palates, bodies and textures.
Explore these top five major wine-growing regions in Oregon to begin discovering all the state has to offer.
- Columbia Gorge: The 40-mile Columbia Gorge AVA straddles the Oregon-Washington border and boasts being “America’s most unique wine region.” It certainly is a distinct one. With vines tracing the cold Columbia River and shadowed between Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood, Columbia Gorge produces expressively fruity, light and bright varietals due to its alpine-like terroir.
- Portland-area wineries: Portland is a trendsetter for many reasons, including its urban winery scene. The city contains 15 official wineries sourcing varietals from across the state, yet blending and bottling within the City of Roses. Its burgeoning wine scene comes on the heels of the city’s wider foodie renaissance, making Portland a premier destination for hungry, curious tourists to wine connoisseurs seeking niche favorites.
- Southern Oregon: Oregon’s Southern AVA threads the mighty Cascade Mountains, starting at the base of Eugene and reaching down to Oregon’s southwest corner. It is the state’s warmest AVA, with more arid growing conditions compared to the rest of Oregon. The Southern Oregon AVA is also distinct for its highly sedimentary soil and vineyard positionings along high points of its rolling mountainside valleys, allowing vines to capture and retain ripening moisture.
- Walla Walla Valley: Fun to say and even more fun to explore, Walla Walla Valley’s wines come from a 2,000-acre spread of loess and basalt bedrock sitting in the shadows of the Palouse and Blue Mountains. Wines here balance vibrant berry notes with tart, tongue-tickling acidity, coaxed during the region’s warm summers followed by heavy annual rainfalls.
- Willamette Valley: The largest of Oregon’s wine AVAs, Willamette Valley is home the highest concentration of wineries in the entire state. It sits perfectly positioned for cool-climate grape outputs, producing some of Oregon’s best pinot noirs. This grape varietal, in particular, benefits greatly from Willamette Valley’s coastal marine characteristics, mild-temperature wet winters, sunny, gentle summers and naturally well-draining soil.
Best Oregon Wine Regions
Wines from Oregon are finally receiving the praise they deserve. Lush, bright and often balancing berry fruit notes with fresh bursts of acidity, the state’s top varietals include pinot noirs, pinot gris and merlot — though why stop there?
Explore some of Oregon’s major wine subregions producing some of the highest-quality red and white wines in the U.S.
1. Applegate Valley
Tucked neatly in a 50-mile spread between the California border and Rogue River’s Grant’s Pass, Applegate Valley represents Oregon’s wine history itself.
Not only is it where Oregon’s very first official winery, Valley View, opened in 1873. Applegate Valley also cultivates one of the most extensive range of grape varietals in its home state, including warm-weather varietals like Syrah and Rhone-style red blends difficult to master in Oregon’s cooler northern AVAs.
Other noted Applegate Valley varietals include snappy zinfandels, medium-bodied malbecs and rather jammy cabernet sauvignons. Many of these grapes grow on vines perched on higher elevations, sometimes nearly 2,000 feet above sea level, hugged by the region’s notably dryer air. Many Applegate Valley vineyards harness natural topological elements like alluvial fans or the region’s stream terraces to help trap and flush moisture, creating a granite-based loamy soil perfect for vine drainage.
Today’s Applegate Valley wineries carry on the legacy of grape diversity and distinction. Many are family-run, and you can visit most of them on an official or self-paced tour along Applegate Wine Trail.
2. Chehalem Mountains
The Chehalem Mountains, located in the expansive Willamette Valley AVA, rose to fame in the late 1970s after a blossoming of noted wine pioneers purchased plots near its namesake mountain range. They quickly took to embracing the region’s highly variable temperatures and winter rainfalls. Weather conditions are so variable throughout the Chehalems that some vineyards only a few miles apart will experience weeks-long differences in the ripening of their grapes, leading to significant tasting and olfactory differences.
Pinot noir reigns supreme in the Chehalem Mountain subregion. That’s because pinot noir grapes, perhaps more than any other wine varietal, ripen quickly when exposed to too much heat. Aggravated ripening leads to immature, sharp and flat wines worsened by a pinot noir’s preference for soft, supple soil. Together, these conditions cut pinot noir from the list of many other region’s favored plantings — but make it perfect for Chehalem.
Travel along its 20-mile-long, only five-mile-wide border, and you’ll encounter some of the New World’s finest pinot noir varieties. You’ll pick up fragrant and delicate variations in oak aging and fermentation techniques harmonized by the varietal’s medium tannins and elegant, silky finish.
3. Columbia Gorge
Roughly an hour’s drive outside Portland sits the Columbia Gorge, one of Oregon’s oldest and finest subregions.
Don’t let its size fool you. While Columbia Gorge’s regional border is barely 40 miles in total, its winemakers cultivate an incredible number of high-quality varietals from its mountainous terrain, developing some prolific cool-climate varietals starting to turn heads in the wine world.