Texas isn’t the only state with a burgeoning wine region. In Oregon, the Willamette Valley makes arguably some of America’s best pinot noir — as well as other wines that have the world’s wine experts excited about the Pacific Northwest.
On Thursday, more than 60 of the Willamette Valley’s winemakers will be at Pinot in the City, a 6 p.m. tasting that will showcase their pinot noir, as well as other top grapes like pinot gris, chardonnay and pinot blanc. The winemakers, along with winery owners and other notable people in the industry, will pour their wines to introduce local oenophiles to a place that Wine Enthusiast recently named as the Wine Region of the Year.
About an hour south of Portland, the hilly region is relatively young, having gotten officially approved as an American Viticultural Area in 1983, but already, “Willamette Valley Pinot Noir can challenge Burgundy in its ability to capture the nuance and power of the grape,” according to Wine Enthusiast’s article about the honor.
That’s no surprise for people like David Millman. He’s the general manager of winery Domaine Drouhin, which has made a name for itself with a philosophy of “French soul, Oregon soil” and specializes in — you guessed it — pinot noir.
Having lived in Oregon for 12 and a half years, he’s noticed that many wine lovers are still learning about Willamette Valley wines but love them once they do.
“There is still this sense of discovery about Oregon wine,” he said. “Oregon feels like this exciting place because it is, and there’s a lot of energy reflected in the wines and the range of wines that we make. For people raised on certain styles of wines, they suddenly have a huge diversity of often elegant, earthy, place-driven wines to dive into that are beautiful, that they can connect with, and they do.”
Like Texas, a majority of Willamette Valley wineries (total, there are about 530 of them) are family-owned to this day and making 5,000 cases or less, Millman said. The goal for them in making wine is to celebrate the lush, fertile land and cool climate that has rewarded grape growers there with a flourishing crop. Oregon winemakers are collaborative, “just alive with curiosity and passion, and there’s still a pioneering spirit,” he said.
The pinot noir, you’ll find, is the best of both Burgundy and California: balancing the minerality and higher acidity of Burgundy pinot with the brighter, more fruit-forward profile of California pinot.
“Pinot noir is almost synonymous with Oregon,” Millman said.
Become enchanted with Willamette Valley wines — from wineries including Erath Winery, King Estate Winery and Moffett Vineyards — starting at 6 p.m. Thursday with $75 general admission. Pinot in the City will take place at the J.W. Marriott at 110 E. Second St. and will have pinot-friendly appetizers and hors d’oeuvres to pair with the wines.
A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Austin Food & Wine Alliance.