Is it possible to fully embrace tradition while still welcoming the next new, brilliant idea that comes our way? In Oregon, it’s not only possible — it is part and parcel of our unique winegrowing culture.
Retracing the steps of those we now call industry “veterans” takes us back mere decades rather than centuries. Just 50 years ago, Oregon’s modern day wine industry took root when Richard Sommer planted a smattering of wine grape varieties in the Umpqua Valley. Two years later, Dick Erath planted Pinot Noir vines in the Willamette Valley. The Ponzis, Mareshes, Sokol-Blossers, Adelsheims, Troons, and Knudsens all followed in rapid succession. By the late 1970s, vineyards were dotting the hillsides of Dundee, Newberg, Applegate, Eola, Forest Grove, and beyond. And while many consider this the “beginning” of the Oregon wine industry, nothing could be farther from the truth.
These brilliant Oregon luminaires, and the dozens of others who followed through the 1980s, were simply a new wave of winegrower — young upstarts in the eyes of history. The recorded history of wine vineyards in Oregon dates back to the 1840s, when horticulturalist Henderson Luelling established a vineyard in the Oregon Territory. French settlers soon established vineyards in the Willamette Valley in the 1850s. And in 1904, a winemaker from Forest Grove won a silver medal at the St. Louis World’s Fair. (Pinot Noir fans today recognize that area as David Hill.)
It makes sense then, that these modern day industry veterans have so warmly welcomed the current, third wave of Oregon winemakers, encouraging and guiding them along their way with an eye towards improving the quality and reputation of the state as a whole. (Our lovely state is very much a “rising tide” kind of place.) Minimal interventionist winemakers like Kelley Fox, urban wineries such as Division Wine Co., and groundbreaking viticulturists throughout Oregon who are busy planting the likes of cabernet franc, trousseau, tannat, and sylvaner — each has built upon the knowledge and reputation of the winegrowers and winemakers who came before them.
Fifty years down the road, one can only imagine the depth and breadth of Oregon wine we’ll be sipping from our stemware while toasting the bright minds, steady hands, and courageous hearts of the winegrowers who came before.