As the region’s acclaim grows, Yamhill Valley vineyards are beginning to grow grapes of a different color.
When Wine Spectator, in its 2015 annual list, names a pinot noir from the Yamhill Valley as the third best wine in the world, you can see why people go on pinot pilgrimages to that part of the Willamette Valley. Just a decade after the first planting of pinot noir grapes in the valley, The Eyrie Vineyards wines showed powerfully in a blind tasting in France against top-level Burgundies. Since then, wineries have grown explosively among the hills, just about all of them aiming to write their names in Oregon’s premier red wine.
Now, the International Pinot Noir Celebration, held each July at Linfield College in McMinnville–it may already be sold out–draws professionals and enthusiasts from all over the world, and some of them stay. Wine producers from California and Europe have been buying land and planting pinot noir in the neighborhood. The appeal is clear; good Oregon pinots are particularly subtle and elegant, embracing food rather than overwhelming it.
But there’s more than one color in the Yamhill Valley picture. Vineyards were making white wines here in the 1880s, long before Prohibition shut everything down. After the rebirth of the Oregon wine industry, the valley became one of the first places to plant pinot gris, a crisp white seemingly created with salmon and oysters in mind.
And more varietals are sprouting. “Chardonnay is becoming much more prominent,” said Wayne Bailey, winemaker at Youngberg Hill. “Ten years from now, chardonnay could be as prominent as pinot noir today.” After all, he notes, just as pinot noir is the basic red of Burgundy, chardonnay is the basic white.
The winemaking skills of the valley look beyond the state’s borders and bring in other grapes. Natalie’s Estate in Newberg brings in grapes from the Columbia and Yakima Valleys in Washington to produce out-of-region varietals such as cabernet sauvignon and syrah, as well as growing its own crop of pinot noir.
Yamhill Valley is known around the world for its pinot noir, and it’s clear that in the grand scheme of things, this is just the beginning.