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Willamette Valley AVA Turns 40: The Spots Moving the Wine Region Forward

Willamette Valley AVA—the 100 mile-plus stretch of vineyards that sprawls from below Eugene, past Portland and all the way to the banks of the Columbia River—turns 40 this year. Often, those of us who spend too much time writing about wine (and certainly too much time drinking it) like to give credit to the soil, weather and annual rainfall. Looking around Willamette Valley’s lush rolling hills framed by evergreens in this saber-toothed patch of Western Oregon, it’s easy to think, “Obviously great wines come from here.”

But ask the area’s veteran winemakers about how they turned it into one of the new world’s most treasured AVAs, and you’ll hear one word time and time again: collaboration.

“The Willamette Valley developed a culture of collaboration right from the beginning,” says Jason Lett, second-generation winemaker of legendary Eyrie Vineyard. “Advancements like catch wires to train the canopy and the introduction of new clones straight from French breeding programs all happened by relationships fostered by Willamette growers with each other and the world.”

Officially established as an appellation on December 1, 1983, the Willamette Valley AVA is massive. It encompasses 3.5 million acres—roughly the size of Montenegro—with 11 nested AVAs and over 700 wineries. Best known for producing some of the new world’s finest Pinot Noir, the Valley’s volcanic soil and cool climate also lend well to Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling.

But even as the region swells in popularity, a new generation of winemakers is striving to maintain the AVA’s “keep it weird” spirit, welcoming uncommon grapes like Gamay Noir, and Aligoté as well as novel initiatives, such as sparkling wines. (This year, Corollary Wines will be the Valley’s first sparkling-only estate.)

“The thing that excites me is there are new people making wine here every year,” says David Adelsheim, founding father of the AVA designation and Adelsheim Vineyard. “It’s difficult in most parts of the world to start making wine without major bucks—but not here.” That’s just part of the “anyone can” ethos in the Willamette Valley wine region, which also features a large number of female winemakers, biodynamically-farmed vineyards and mom-and-pop wineries.

If you’re trying to narrow down what wines to taste and where to visit in Willamette Valley, here are some picks from local experts. These are the spots, both established and new, moving the AVA forward into the next 40 years.

Résonance Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon
Résonance Vineyard / Image Courtesy of Johnshon Photography

Résonance Vineyard

Carlton and Dundee Hills

Résonance Vineyard is the first U.S. endeavor for behemoth Burgundian winemaker Maison Louis Jadot. He opened his second tasting room this May in the Dundee Hills—home to some of Willamette Valley’s toniest wineries, including Domaine Serene, Archery Summit and Sokol Blosser.

“I absolutely love [winemaker] Guillaume Large’s unique style of winemaking at Résonance Wines—heavily terroir-influenced with subtle changes based on vintages,” says Thomas Ghinazzi, chef and owner of the upscale, locally-inspired Earth and Sea restaurant in Carlton, Oregon. “He’s one of the new star winemakers in the Valley.”

In addition to expanding the French quotient in the valley (there are now seven wineries helmed by French nationals in the AVA), Résonance is pushing the limits of single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir by acquiring new vineyard lands to showcase these unique, micro terroirs.

Must-try: Ghinazzi recommends the 2017 Decouverte Chardonnay and the 2014 Résonance Vineyard Pinot Noir—both are on his wine menu.

Insider tip: To experience the huge influence terroir has on the same grape, book a French Connection flight ($95 per person). The tasting includes Maison Louis Jadot and Résonance wines poured in tandem. Both tasting rooms are open daily; reservations are highly recommended via the Résonance website.

Cramoisi Vineyard
Cramoisi Vineyard / Image Courtesy of Ingrid Franz Moriarty

Cramoisi Vineyard

Dundee Hills

“[Owner] Sophia Torres makes her own wine and usually handles the tasting in her tiny, quintessentially Oregonian tasting room,” says Remy Drabkin, McMinnville mayor, Queer Wine Fest founder and owner-winemaker of Remy Wines.

The operation uses biodynamic and organic farming techniques to create its boutique wines. Drabkin adds that Torres is focused on Pinot Noir—something already great—and making it better.

Plus, Torres, who is originally from Mexico City, also started the non-profit AHIVOY, an organization that offers education and opportunities to Latinx and Hispanic vineyard workers.

Must try: 2021 Sophia’s Block and 2017 Syrah Estate Reserve

Insider tips: Tastings are $40, but the fee is waived with a two-bottle purchase. Tastings are available in Spanish and English, by appointment only.

Anacreon Winery
Anacreon Winery / Image Courtesy of Carolyn Wells Kramer

Anacréon Winery


Named after the Greek poet and located in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, Anacréon Winery debuted its food-and-wine pairing program in 2022.

“The menu by up-and-coming chef Erick Caballero changes seasonally, and the garden setting is simply beautiful,” says Stefan Czarnecki, owner of Black Tie Tours, a local wine and truffle tour company. The elegant luncheons are hosted by Anacréon owners Danell and Kipp Myers and feature six wines, which each highlight a unique dish. Think Pacific cod tart paired with Epicure 2020 Chardonnay or ribeye with Mine Yours and Ours 2020 Pinot Noir.

Must try: 2020 Anacréon Deep End Pinot Noir Chehalem Mountains (grapes were harvested before the 2020 wildfires) and 2021 Epicure Chardonnay Chehalem Mountains.

Insider tips: Food and wine tastings are $95 per person, Wednesday to Monday at 11 a.m. or 2 p.m. Reservations are required at least 48 hours in advance. Check their website for additional events.

Rose and Arrow Estate
Rose and Arrow Estate / Image Courtesy of Rose and Arrow Estate

Rose & Arrow Estate


Although not a newcomer, Rose & Arrow Estate has flown under the radar since its 2016 inception. “Hands down, [it produces] some of the most breathtaking and ambitious wines being made in the U.S. today—maybe the world,” says Andrew Turner, purveyor for nearly a decade at Newberg’s Valley Wine Merchants, which features over 200 local wines, most of them hard-to-find beauties that rarely make it out of the region.

In addition to consulting by Burgundy legend Louis-Michel Liger-Belair (of Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair) and the talents of longtime winemaker Felipe Ramirez, Rose & Arrow’s secret sauce comes down to sourcing grapes from seven micro-climates.

Must try: 2018 Worden Hill Pinot Noir and 2019 Highland Close Pinot Noir.

Insider tips: There are two tasting options: a five-wine tasting ($75 per person) at the Alit Tasting Room in Dundee or a vineyard tour and tasting (price varies based on which wines you want to try) with the winemaker at their winery in McMinnville. Reservations are required.

Hundred Suns Tasting
Hundred Suns Tasting / Image Courtesy of Hundred Suns Wine

Hundred Suns Winery


A project by husband-wife team Grant Coulter (former Beaux Freres head winemaker) and Renée Saint-Amour, Hundred Suns excels at playful and texturally compelling wines.

“Tastings are hosted by Renee and Grant personally, often with their little ones roller skating in the background,” Turner says. “It’s the epitome of what makes the Willamette Valley so special right now—you’re often tasting with the very people who made the wine.”

Coulter plays around with various fermentation and aging vessels, always keeping an open mind with pump-overs versus punch-downs and playing with whole bunch fermentations and carbonic maceration, says Turner. “That’s why I think he’s one of the most intuitive winemakers on the scene and it’s always fun to keep up on their wines,” he adds.

Must try: Marianas Chardonnay, Old Eight Cut Pinot (if you can find it; it’s unbeatable value) and Bednarik Pinot Noir.

Insider tips: Tastings are $30 per person or included with a three-bottle purchase. Book a “garagiste-style” tasting in their industrial warehouse space at least two weeks in advance. Tastings, depending on timing, include barrel and amphora sampling. Also, McMinnville’s Atticus Hotel serves their wine at Cypress, the hotel’s new restaurant.

Wildsound Wine
Wildsound Wine / Image Courtesy of Wildsound Wine

Wildsound Wine


Wildsound founders John and Megan Adams purposely chose their organic vineyard’s site for its high elevation, roughly 800 feet above sea level, and volcanic soil. Due to the cooler temperatures and moisture-retaining soil, the grapes are on the vine longer in the fall, producing more complex, robust wines.

“Their Gamay Pinot is a killer wine. It stuck with me,” says winemaker Tahmiene Momtazi of biodynamic Maysara Winery. “I’ve been thinking about it since I tasted it—and that was two months ago.”

Must try: The 2022 Gamay-Pinot Noir was bottled this fall and co-fermented and aged in neutral oak. It’s Wildsound’s debut wine from their boutique vineyard, located in McMinnville’s coastal range. In 2024, expect four new single-vineyard wines, such as a Gamay-Trousseau blend, a Chardonnay and a rosé Pinot Noir.

Insider tips: If you’re in the McMinnville area, contact John or Megan via email for a vineyard tour and private tasting.

Niew Vineyard
Niew Vineyard / Image Courtesy of Niew Vineyard

Niew Vineyard


Owner Tai-Ran Niew, a former U.K. investment banker raised in Singapore, started planting Chardonnay grapes in the Willamette Valley in 2015. Niew follows the Fukuoka farming approach, which stipulates no tilling, fertilizing or additional watering, among other restrictions. Niew is the Valley’s first British-Singaporean winemaker and one of the few—if not only—strictly adhering to this Mother Nature-driven principle.

“If people are after genuinely pure wines that truly show terroir, this project seems like a safe bet,” says wine writer Mark Stock. “He uses nothing more than air, rain and sun in growing his fruit.” That’s an extremely minimalist approach, even compared to organic and biodynamic viticulture, according to Stock.

Must-try: 2021 Niew Vineyard Chardonnay (the winery’s inaugural release).

Insider tips: Due to the winery’s infancy, no on-site tours or tastings are available right now. However, Portland’s E&R Wine Shop sells its wines and offers tastings occasionally. Also, check the Niew Vineyard Shop page for restaurants that pour it.

Know Before You Go

First time traveling to the Willamette Valley? Czarnecki shares the region’s go-to wine tips.

  1. Don’t rely on ride share. You may be able to catch a ride to a remote winery, but finding an Uber back isn’t likely. Arrange for one of your travel companions to be the designated driver for your rental car or make reservations in advance with a wine touring company.
  2. Book reservations at well-known restaurants two to three months in advance—especially during the high season or summer months.
  3. Don’t be scared to try wines that don’t have vineyard tasting rooms, like Retour or Violin. These are excellent winemakers with in-town tasting rooms.