Silver Lining?

They say that to produce a great wine, first the grapes must suffer. Well, the Midwest has certainly suffered this year. In areas more known for producing corn and soybeans as far as the eye can see (and beyond. It’s flat out here, people) there has been a terrible drought. So far 1,692 counties in 36 states have been listed as disaster areas with crops so parched that they look burned. It is believed that the drought will increase prices for virtually every type of food product and probably fuel too.

The silver lining?

Apparently the wine grape harvest is looking to be spectacular. Yes, it will be 1/3 smaller than in previous years, but quality wise, it should be tops and the vines have been safe from many of the diseases that are commonly caused by moisture.

And Midwestern winemakers have seen a trend in longer sunny days and higher temperatures… perhaps returning Missouri, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan to where it used to be before Prohibition. Or it might be climate change messing up our well established agricultural patterns.

map of drought conditions in the US

Map of US drought conditions at of August 14, 2012 by Richard Heim, NOAA/NESDIS/NCDC and is in the public domain was made as part of his official duties for the NOAA.

Red Hill Douglas County, Oregon AVA

This appellation is unique for the state in that encompasses a single vineyard. Located near the town of Yoncalla, in the Umpqua Valley and home to Sienna Ridge Estate. The first vineyard was planted in Yoncalla in 1876 by the Applegate family. Sienna Ridge was settled by the Long Family in 1849 and was planted with vines in 2002 when Wayne Hitchings purchased part of the property.

The vineyard grows Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir in its well drained Jory soils. The official soil of the State of Oregon (every state has one… who knew?!), which are made of deep, well drained soils made of igneous rocks. Additionally, the vineyard is characterized by wildly fluctuating daily temperatures allows the grapes to develop intense flavors.

Oh, and the explanation for the super long appellation name?  By being so specific it was unlikely to confused for Washington’s Red Mountain or California’s Red Hills Lake County AVAs.


Sienna Ridge Estate
1876 John Long Rd
Oakland, OR 97462

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Mad, Hot Wine Tasting Skillz!

That is my explanation and I am sticking to it.

Yes, I am working slightly backwards, but that is the nature of my brain at the moment.

Yes, I have returned from Portland, Oregon and the 2012 Wine Bloggers’s Conference. Yes, I saw old friends, made new friends, made Kevin observe me in my natural environment…. oops. That sounded dirty. The point is that I am telling this tale out of order.

So last part first is this. At the end of each conference there is the introduction of the venue for the next event. Kind of like at the closing ceremony at the Olympics where England turned the stadium over to Rio de Janeiro.. In this case, it was Portland making a little room for Penticton, British Columbia. Now imagine that Rio brought wine. Now you are getting the idea.

Penticton is in the Okanagan region of British Columbia. Now, I have been to Canada before. I grew up on the border near Niagara Falls. And due to Kevin’s work schedule, I got to spend some spectacular times in Winnepeg, Manitoba and Edmonton, Alberta. We vacationed at Lake Louise in Banff and another vacation in Vancouver and Vancouver Island. And yes, I am looking forward to my visit next spring (making a mental note to get my passport renewed…).

But back to the wine tasting.

As an introduction to our conference next year, the folks from Penticton brought Okanagan wine… and gave us a blind tasting. With a challenge. Each table got a red and white and we had to figure out what they were. Generally speaking I hate doing this. I am typically pretty bad at it unless it is pretty obvious. In this case, I knew that they were from the Okanagan, so that gave us lots of hints. Pretty quickly Kevin and I and our table mates, Robin Ross of Underground Cellar, Glynis Hill of Vino-Noire and Julie Crafton from Napa Valley Vintners quickly narrowed down the red to a Pinot Noir and the white to a Pinot Gris. We narrowed down the year for each and then of course, we knew it was to the Okanagan. Then we got chatting… just as we needed to turn in our entry I scribbled down a couple of sub-appellations that we had chatted about but never really agreed upon.

Amazingly enough. We scored a perfect score.

Pure skill.

That is my excuse, and I am sticking with it.

More WBC12 stories to come.

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

McMinnville AVA

Located within Oregon’s Willamette (dammit) Valley and AVA, McMinnville is located west of the city of the same name and has had a two hundred year history of agriculture. In 1970, viticulture began in the appellation when David Lett opened a winery and has hosted an International Pinot Noir Competition every July since 1987. The Appellation is based upon both location along the eastern and southeastern slopes of the foots hills of the Coast Range and elevation between 200 and 1000 feet. The soils are primarily marine soils with intrusions of basalt which provide the grapes with a distinctive flavor. The climate stays cool from ocean breezes that enter the area through the Van Duzer corridor and helps maintain a higher acidity in the grapes.

McMinnville contains 14 wineries and produces Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling varietals.

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Eola-Amity Hills AVA

Northwest of Oregon’s capitol, Salem, the Eola-Amity Hills are cooler and moister than the viticultural areas previously discussed. Pacific winds blowing through the Van Duzer corridor allow for moderated summer temperatures and increased cold season precipitation. The soils are a mixture of basalt (as the Pacific Northwest is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire), marine sediments and alluvial soils from the ice-aged Missoula Floods.

Viticulture in the appellation began in the 1850s but became much more common in the 1970s. Like other cool climate regions, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot are common plantings.

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Dundee Hills AVA

The Dundee Hills are located within Willamette Valley and largely encompass the land above the 200 foot elevation mark surrounding the Red Hills of Dundee. The area is isolated from the extreme precipitation of the coast by the coastal range and the coolest temperatures by the Chehalem mountains and are known for warmer evenings and less fog that some of the surrounding appellations.  The soils are a distinctive red from rion deposits are are known as Jory soils made up of basalt, a volcanic rock mixed with loam, clay and silt.  The soils are up to six feet deep allowing for excellent drainage.

Viticulture didn’t come to the Dundee Hills until the late 1960s but it has quickly become known for cooler climate varietals such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, with vineyards such as Domaine Drouhin, Erath and Eeyrie and Sokol-Blosser leading the way.  The area  is home to 25 wineries and 50 vineyards.

Gretchen Neuman

Columbia Valley AVA

The Columbia Valley is another border hopping appellation in the Pacific Northwest, the majority of which is in the State of Washington and includes eleven millions acres of land that include multiple micro-climates in appellations.  The area encompasses the river valleys of the Columbia and Yakima rivers and is bordered to the west by the Cascades Range.  Despite the varieties of growing environments the appellation is mostly known for its high desert climate and well drained soils formed from ice age floods known as the Missoula Floods.

Viticulture on the Oregon side has existed for over 100 years and began with Zinfandel in an area referred to as the Pines near the Dalles (which sounds like how old ladies in my home town describe locations) about a century ago.  Because of the even climate and temperatures and increased sunlight (an average of 2 hours longer than in California) the are is able to support a wide variety of varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewurtztraminer Merlot, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Syrah.

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Columbia Gorge

Oregon shares a couple of viticulture areas with the great state of Washington and the Columbia Gorge is one of them. As you might guess, this area is a gorge on the Columbia River.  It is also the only sea level break in the Cascade Range from Canada to California. That is a long way without a break.  From the west the Gorge has mild ocean temperatures and a rainy climate.  As you head east the winds pick up to form a wind tunnel in the narrowest part of the passage and continues through the Cascades into what is called the rain shadow.  Rain falls plentifully to the west of the mountains but is exhausted on the eastern plateaus.  The soils are volcanic and mixed with alluvial deposits and wind blown silts.

Wine production in the appellation dates back to the 1880s when the Jewitt family settled and planted vines brought with them from Illinois but have become more abundant with modern viticultural practices.  Currently there are 50 vineyards of which 26 are in Oregon and 31 wineries of which 18 are located in state.  Grape varietals produced include Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Riesling.

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Chehalem Mountains

Next up alphabetically speaking are the Chehalem Mountains.  This appellation snakes around the town of Newburg and the Willamette (dammit) River in northwestern Oregon just southwest of Portland.  The area has grown from a few vineyards in the late 1960s to 100 vineyards and 31 wineries currently.  The mountains are the highest in the valley and contain soils of basalt, eolian silt and ocean sediments.  Along with being the highest land within the Valley, the weather is the most varied allowing for multiple micro-climates at elevations that range from 200- 1,633 feet.  Grapes produced in the region include Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and Riesling.


Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Portland, Here We Come!

It is summer, the weather has been miserable here in the midwest so it is time to decamp to more favorable climes. And what place is the best to take off for when you are looking for cooler weather? The Pacific Northwest, of course!

Actually, it is time for this year’s Wine Bloggers’ Conference and this year it will be in breezy Portland, Oregon. Well, in Portland Oregon, anyway. Apparently the temperatures will be not so breezy, but rather about 102. Hahah. The jokes on me!

So I am busily re-arranging my wardrobe for the trip and thought I would start showing off my maps of Oregon viticultural areas.

There are about 16 different AVAs in Oregon, so I am going to tackle them alphabetically (‘ya gotta chose something!). This means that we will start with the Applegate Valley AVA.

Located in southern Oregon and part of the Southern Oregon AVA and Rogue Valley AVA, this appellation is relatively small with only about 400 acres planted in vines. Historically, it is important as it is where some of the earliest vineyards in the state were planted and home to the first commercial winery there. It is currently home to six wineries and is planted mainly with Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah.

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor