In the 1960s a new breed of pioneers began arriving in Oregon’s Willamette Valley determined to grow Vitis vinifera, the fine wine grapes of Europe. They were told it couldn’t be done and were amply warned that Western Oregon was too cold and wet for vinifera to flourish.
But they came anyway with a dream of producing fine premium wines – in particular Pinot noir, made from the delicate red grape of Burgundy, France.
The pioneers’ risky experiment would create a new industry in Oregon and change the world of wine forever.
Many of the early pioneers settled in the northern Willamette Valley. They were engineers, philosophers, teachers and liberal arts graduates with little or no farming experience. But they had a passion for wine and had become convinced that the Willamette Valley was the perfect place to grow premium wine grapes that thrived in the cooler climates of France and Germany. And they were willing to risk everything to follow their dream.
Most were warned early on that the Willamette Valley was too cold and wet for vinifera to flourish. But armed with their own research and the energy and ‘audacity of youth,’ they came and established their vineyards and wineries where none existed.
The early pioneers planted several varieties including Riesling and Chardonnay but focused on Pinot noir, the delicate red grape of Burgundy, France. In post-prohibition America it was a wine most Americans hadn’t heard of and certainly didn’t buy.
Determined to succeed, the winegrowers collaborated early on — openly sharing new ideas information and knowledge with their fellow wine growers. Most say they didn’t come to make a lot of money. They came with a passion to make great wine. And they knew everyone needed to make great wine if their young industry was to survive.
They also knew they had the potential to create a brand new viticultural area in the world and they protected their growing industry fiercely. As one wine pioneer described it: “We were on a crusade for quality.”
Along the way, they learned how to make world-class wine, created a new Oregon industry and changed the world of wine forever. Today Oregon boasts more than 400 wineries and Pinot noir ranks as Oregon’s premier signature wine.
While filming Oregon Wine: Grapes of Place, Oregon Experience talked with many of the early wine pioneers, weaving together interviews with archival film and images to tell a story of perseverance, determination and passion.
Susan Sokol Blosser, At Home in the Vineyard, Cultivating a Winery, an Industry and a Life
Edited by Ted Casteel, Oregon Winegrape Grower’s Guide
Lisa Shara Hall, Wines of the Pacific Northwest
Jordan Mackay, Andrea Johnson & Robert Holmes, Passion for Pinot
Janis Miglavs, Oregon, The Taste of Wine
Paul Pintarich, The Boys Up North, Dick Erath and the early Oregon winemakers
Broadcast Date: May 08, 2012