Oregon winegrowers produce grapes like no other region in the world. The state's climate has prompted a meteoric rise in grape quality and an explosion of top-notch wineries.
The grape tonnage of most of the area's vineyards is vastly lower than the average California vineyard. Combine that with the finicky and sensitive nature of the Pinot Noir grape, and what's left are wines that are just above that "everyday" price point.
However, one sip of wine from Oregon's Willamette Valley is enough to hook a wine lover for life, forcing them to search out the best wines Oregon has to offer. The stylistic spectrum that Willamette Valley vintners offer swings from subtly elegant to rich and concentrated. But there is a distinctive earthy component throughout them all.
This summer I had the pleasure of experiencing three beautiful days immersed in the Oregon Pinot Camp. This "summer camp for wine lovers" is a trade-only event designed to spread the gospel of Oregon wine.
"Oregon Pinot Camp is beneficial, because it's a 'for the people, by the people' event," says Barbara Gross, director of marketing for Cooper Mountain Winery. "For the past 10 years, the Oregon wine industry has banded together to tell our story through educators from retail shops and restaurants across the globe."
Aside from the wine itself, I found a continuous thread running throughout the Willamette Valley. "At our winery, our philosophy is family, which by our definition extends wholeheartedly into our vineyards," Gross continues. "Our vines have been part of our family since 1978, and they are in fact the 'superstars' at Cooper Mountain. Through our vineyard manager, who has been at Cooper Mountain since I was 4 years old, and his crew, we are able to nurture and respect our vines, soils, and terroir through each vintage."
The grape growers and winemakers of Oregon realize more than many that they are stewards of the land. They protect it and nurture it as an extended part of their family. "Organic and biodynamic philosophies coincide and intertwine with our overall winery mindset," Gross says. "It is important for us to preserve our soils."
At the Oregon Pinot Camp, I crawled through vineyard trenches and tasted a selection of Pinot Noirs grown on two different soil types. There was a distinctiveness in every glass of wine I tasted, and the soil seemed to be expressed in every sip. This distinctiveness, along with the extreme level of cooperation between different wineries in Willamette Valley, gave me a notion that something truly special is occurring here.
"I think at this moment in the Oregon wine story, what makes us so special are the many examples of our cooperation and achieving successes together," Gross says. "I hear this motto on a weekly basis: What's good for Oregon is good for us."
Cooper Mountain Winery Tocai Friulano 2007 $15.99 Cooper Mountain Winery Pinot Gris 2007 $16.99 Cooper Mountain Winery "Cooper Hill" Pinot Noir
2008 $19.99 Cooper Mountain Winery Pinot Noir Reserve
2007 $25.99 Cooper Mountain Winery Mountain Terroir 5 Elements Series Pinot Noir 2007 $32.99