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Oregon Wine Month: What is Oregon Wine?

Updated: Oct 27, 2021

Oregon wines are a National Treasure, yet only a fraction of the wine-consuming public knows much about them. These small-production wines, hailing from primarily family-owned wineries, show incredible value and offer true varietal character. Most consumers have lots of questions about these wines because they are not seen as much as their California counterparts.

  • When did they start making wine?

  • What are the best grape varieties that grow there?

  • How are they different from California wines?

Let’s dig in and clear some things up…

Oregon is a premier wine-producing area in the United States

The state is ranked 4th in total production behind California, Washington and New York State. In general, Oregon producers make a limited amount of quality wine that show intense varietal character and a true sense of place.

When did they start making wine?

The state’s winemaking history stretches back to the pioneering days of the 1840s, yet modern commercial wineries did not become established until the 1960s (100+ years before California’s first commercial winery, Buena Vista Winery est. 1857). The first Oregon commercial wineries were founded by UC Davis graduates between 1965 and 1968. These ‘founding fathers’ were David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards, Charles Coury of Charles Coury Winery, and Dick Erath of Erath Winery.

What are the best grape varieties that grow there?

Oregon is further away from the equator than California and its average temperatures are therefore cooler. Some of the grapes that excel in this cooler climate are Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay. David Lett planted the very first American Pinot Gris vines in 1965. In addition, the cooler climate is ideal for the production of sparkling wines.

How are they different from California wines?

The wines made in Oregon are different than those from California primarily due to the cooler climate. Less heat produces less sugar in the grapes (and higher acidity) and longer hangtime on the vine produces grapes with more depth of flavor. The wines made in a climate like this are slightly less fruit-forward than California as well as slightly earthier. These wines also tend to have a brighter acidity and typically lower alcohol levels. With less intense ripeness, winemaking practices tend to be more subtle not to overwhelm the fruit.

Oregon Wine Labeling differences

Oregon wine labeling is similar to other states except for one small difference. While in California and other states 75% is the minimum varietal content requirement for labeling (exceptions do exist for Native American varieties), Oregon requires 90% minimum on three different core varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay.

Many wine professionals over the years describe the style of Oregon wines as having one foot in the New World and the other foot in the Old World. This means that while there is New World fruit ripeness in these wines, there is also Old World elegance and structure. Perhaps an oversimplification but nonetheless accurate.

To learn more about Oregon Wine visit and be on the lookout for our next post about Oregon’s Top AVAs & Growing Regions.

This year as a part of Oregon Wine Month, select wineries have partnered with Republic National Distributing Company and a portion of sales will be donated to the James Beard Foundation’s “Open for Good” campaign to help rebuild the restaurant industry. To shop these participating wineries, visit the Oregon Wine Month explore tile on Wondering if eRNDC is available in your market? Click here to see if eRNDC is available in your state.


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