Wines of the Northwest USA
Washington State and Oregon make up the Northwest region of the United States. North of California, and her famous wine regions of Napa, Sonoma, Alexander, and Russian River Valleys, these two states produce fantastic wines that stand alone. During the day, the warm climate and longer days cultivates ripe fruit, while the cooler nights bring a unique flavor to the subsequent wines.
Washington and Oregon are known for four types of wines:
• Pinot Noir
• Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine drinkers are noticing Northwest wines' unique flavors, as the region's industry is growing in popularity. Together, Washington and Oregon hold 13 federally recognized American Viticultural Areas (AVA's).
Washington State Wineries
Washington has made a name for itself in the wine industry. It is the second-largest wine-producing state in the United States, just behind California. While there is diversity in the type of wine created, Washington still produces mostly white wine. The eastern region is home to the more high-quality wines, but the rest of the state still keeps up in flavor.
Washington's climate has generated the growth of unique-tasting fruits for the region's wines. In fact, there are multiple climates that the state has accustomed itself to. Towards the west, Washington has a warm and luscious environment. Meanwhile, the eastern climate is much drier with long daylight hours. As a result, vineyards must use irrigation techniques to ripen the grapes completely. In the end, though, this makes for unique flavors and delicious aromatics.
The History of Washington Wineries
The history of Washington state's wine began in 1825 when the Hudson's Bay Company planted the first grapes at Fort Vancouver. As immigrants and settlers took on more land, grapes became more populous cultivation. Some of the leading planters of grapes in the early days were German, Italian, and French immigrants.
Irrigation played a significant role in the development of the wine industry around the turn of the century. Melting snowcaps from the Cascade Mountains provided water necessary for grape production in the east. Cultivators unlocked the key to success with irrigation, thus sparking a fruitful future in the wine industry.
In 1910, the city of Kennewick held the first-ever Columbia Valley Grape Carnival. Ten years later, though, the Prohibition discouraged the growth of wine grapes. However, this inadvertently sparked home winemaking and led to the founding of the Northwest's first bonded winery. By 1938, 42 wineries existed statewide.
Today, Washington wine is an industry worth billions of dollars. Selling in every state and over 100 international markets, Washington wine has garnered significant fame. Despite its proximity to Canada, which typically has a cooler climate, Washington has been a namesake for producing world-class wine.
Oregon borders California, the state most notably known for wine production in the United States. However, this does not mean that Oregon grapes are of lesser quality. Oregon is well-known for its cultivation of Pinot Noir, which makes sense considering that more than half of the grapes produced in Oregon are Pinot Noir.
The climate of Oregon bears similarities to that of Washington's. Different climate zones affect wine grape production, their aroma, and their overall taste. The northwest section of the state has cooler temperatures, leading to popular grapes such as Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Chardonnay. The southern and eastern areas are much warmer and drier. Here, Pinot Noir grapes are largely cultivated.
The History of Oregon Wineries
Before even becoming a state in 1859, Oregon's wine industry thrived. The first grapes were planted around 1840, but since then, wine grape cultivation has undoubtedly expanded.
The oldest operating Oregon winery opened in 1933. After the 18th Amendment's repeal, which enforced the Prohibition, John Wood and Ron Honeyman became some of the first entrepreneurs to receive certification for a bonded winery. As a result, winemaking developed through the rest of the state.
By the 1960s, new grapes were introduced to the area by Richard Sommer. He planted all sorts from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to Riesling and Zinfandel. This was also the decade that Oregon started to become well-known for winemaking. Writer James Beard talks highly of the area in his published memoir.
Today, Oregon clocks in third for the state with the most wineries in the United States. With over 400 wineries, Oregon has put itself on the wine production map for its unique flavors and complex aromas.
Many people think of California for Chardonnay tastings, but the United States' Northwest region has some of the most unique flavors for this grape. In Oregon, the Chardonnays tend to have a fruity aroma, consisting of bosc pears and chamomile tea. Alongside this are lemon and honeysuckle flavors that tie the drink together.
Washington Chardonnay is similar in its acidity and mellowness. Due to the mixed climate having warm days and cooler nights, the grapes take on a complex flavor wherein the pleasant fruitiness shines.
Oregon's Pinot Noir
Oregon's Pinot Noir is a well-known wine within itself. When you think of Oregon wines, most people think of Pinot Noir. The delicate flavor is heightened with sweet mushrooms, cherries, and spices. As a result of the long, warm Oregon summers, the Pinot Noir's ingredients can ripen to perfection, making this an excellent selection for a tasting.
Washington Cabernet has the flavor to transport you from the California side of wines to the Northwest. Your taste buds go on a journey to dry cedary perfection with hints of oak and perfectly ripened grapes.
The Merlot in Washington has garnered respect from many wine tasters and captured the attention of those worldwide. Containing unique spices and dark fruits, a fine Washington Merlot lets you explore all the possibilities for a flavorful wine. Plus, there is a complex aroma that hints at the seductive fruity contents alongside the trace of chocolate.
Food Pairings for Northwest Wines
Chardonnay - This fruity white wine pairs best with lighter proteins, such as fish or chicken. Anything fried, though, can compete with the wine's flavors and make for an unpleasant marriage of flavors. Vegetable, pasta, and vegetable soups also match well with this elegant Northwestern wine.
Pinot Noir - The red Pinot Noir wine has two sides to it, an earthy and fruity. A good pairing depends entirely on the tones of the wine. If you have chosen a fruity Pinot Noir, then fish, chicken, and pasta match very elegantly. As for the earthier wines, duck, game birds, and casseroles combine perfectly for a lovely meal.
Cabernet Sauvignon - As an earthier option for wine, red meats usually pair the best to bring out the flavors in both food and drink. Steak, ribs, lamb, and pork all match beautifully. Grilled and smoked foods also make an appearance since the subtle flavors of the cab match well with the more flavorful entrees.
Merlot - The Northwest's Merlot and its mix of flavors make this wine a versatile one. The subtle acidity in the drink allows for an explosion of flavor to come from the food. Hamburgers, meatloaf, lamb, and pizza are some of the many food pairings that blend well with Merlot. Sausage, stew, and pizza also match well, making Merlot a fantastic match for comfort foods of all sorts.
The Pacific Northwest has made a name for itself and produces some of the most flavorful wines in the world.
The Willamette Valley
The stunning scenic beauty of the Willamette Valley makes it a perfect vacation destination. Wine tasting and adventure tours are filled with everything from mountain biking to white water rafting, horseback riding, hiking, kayaking, and other outdoor activities.
Tourists can find a variety of wineries along the two hiking trails, which wind through the North Willamette Valley between the Farms and Mount Hood Wine Country and onto the south side of the valley. Participating wineries provide wine tours with tastings.
The first tour, featuring Helvetia Wines, takes participants on a seven-mile walking tour around the historic Helvetia Vineyards and Cellars in Oregon. At every stop, visitors can sample some of the wines being harvested in the area. At each winery, they will be offered a free glass of wine, while the wineries themselves offer cheese, fruits, chocolate, and cheese platters.
The second tour, featuring Portland Wines, focuses on Oregon's wine industry as a whole. At each stop, guests will be offered a free glass of wine, while the wineries themselves offer cheeses, chocolate truffles, locally made baked goods, hot dogs, platters with vegetables, and desserts like pies, quiches, and ice cream. The third tour, featuring Tillamook Wines, focuses on the culture and lifestyle of Tillamook Indians who lives in the hills of Oregon's Willamette Valley.
Each of the seven itineraries in the Oregon Wine Trail tour offers a variety of experiences. On your way to the Willamette Valley Wineries, enjoy learning about Oregon's unique culture, while experiencing wineries along the way. At the Portland Wineries, you can taste chocolate, meet the local people, tour the vineyards, and shop for local arts and crafts.
There are many more reasons to travel the north Willamette valley wine trail. This area is one of the most scenic and culturally rich areas in all of Oregon. Its diverse ecosystem is a great place for families to get away from it all. You will not only experience the local flavor and music, you will see some of the finest Oregon vineyards as you travel along this route.