Oregon is the pinnacle of Pinot noir.
The state is trumped in acreage by California and in reputation by France, yet still claims some of the highest-rated Pinot noirs in the world.
Ever since David Lett’s Oregon Pinot noir placed third in a tasting in Paris in 1979, the world has thirsted for New World wines made from the hard-to-grow, cool-climate grape. Lett and other early Oregon Pinot pioneers produced wines with delicate perfumed profiles and characteristics other domestic producers weren’t replicating.
“At the time, Oregon emerged as a leader because California wasn’t very good at making Pinot noirs,” says Harvey Steiman, editor at large for Wine Spectator. “Ever since then, Pinot noir has been Oregon’s defining grape.” Tastes shifted after the 1970s, and many of the burgeoning Oregon Pinot producers opted to make fuller-bodied, riper wines, especially during the 1990s. Steiman observes that some of the best Oregon Pinot noirs still land on the lighter, more delicate end of the spectrum.
These days, Oregon grows about 12,000 acres of Pinot noir grapes, 60 percent of all wine acres in the state. The acreage nearly matches the amount of Pinot plantings in the Côte d’Or region of Burgundy. California, on the other hand, grows about 36,000 acres, though Oregon receives a lion’s share of the critical acclaim. Some of Steiman’s top Oregon picks include wines from Adelsheim Vineyard, Bergström Wines, Chehalem Wines, Penner Ash, Soter Vineyards, Ken Wright Cellars and St. Innocent Winery.