In the late1960s 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 warned 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 next episode of Oregon Experience delves into how these pioneers’ risky experiment created a new industry in Oregon and changed the wine world forever. Tune in to the stations of OPB TV on Tuesday, May 8 at 8pm.

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 were convinced that the Willamette Valley was the perfect place to grow the premium wine grapes that thrived in the cooler climates of France and Germany. And they were willing to risk everything to follow their dream.

They 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 grape 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 they all 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 the documentary, Oregon Experience spoke with many of the early wine pioneers, weaving together interviews with archival film and images to tell a story of perseverance, determination and passion.

Watch Oregon Wine: Grapes of Place an Oregon Experience online anytime after the broadcast at


Oregon Experience is an exciting history series on OPB TV that brings to life fascinating stories that help us understand who we are and that reinforce our shared identity as Oregonians. The series, co-produced by the Oregon Historical Society and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), takes advantage of the extensive film, video and stills from the archives of OHS and OPB, and draws upon the expertise of OHS researchers and historians. Each half-hour show features captivating characters – both familiar and forgotten – who have played key roles in building our state into the unique place we call home. Funding for Oregon Experience is provided in part by the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation and Oregon Cultural Trust.

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