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Willamette Valley comes into its own

April 28, 2012

The Willamette Valley, the historical heart of the Oregon wine industry, was once thought to be too cool for grape growing, and ever since those earliest days, its climate has been its defining feature — wines known for finesse, even when notions of finesse went underappreciated. But critical attitudes are moving away from the "bigger is better" mind set, and the last two vintages, 2010 and 2011, among the coolest climate years on record, are likely to yield some of the valley's most ethereal reds.

Some winemakers, such as Josh Bergstrom of Bergstrom Winery in Newberg, believe that wines from these vintages may define the valley's wines for the next 45 years. "These are the wines I've waited my entire career to make. They demonstrate what cool climate American wines can achieve."

Like the rest of the domestic wine industry, Oregon has contended with a 20-year period when the biggest, flashiest, most powerful wines were frequently given the highest scores or the most attention in the press. In the Willamette Valley such efforts seemed forced, and those who pursued the style were often thought of, somewhat unflatteringly, as "Californian."

Some wineries, such as Eyrie, Domaine Drouhin and Adelsheim, avoided that route and have managed considerable success working outside the critical frame. David Adelsheim feels that the pressure to be "Californian" has receded somewhat. "Now we have the luxury of saying, 'Yes, but that's not who we are,'" he says. "'We're Oregon, and here's how we're different.'"

—Patrick Comiskey

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