A Class of Its Own
Oregon graduates into its own unique world-class wine region.
By Dewey Weddington
This year, I attended my South Salem High School 30th class reunion. As with all such gatherings, it was a chance to see old friends, share memories and create new ones. On Saturday, I arranged visits to two wineries for those interested, and about 20 people enjoyed the afternoon sipping, learning and catching up. If someone, back in 1984, had told us that we’d all be gathering at a world-class winery, we would have assumed they were talking about France or Italy. Had they said it would be the hills West of Salem, we would have laughed and grabbed another premium California Cooler from the ice chest — our tastes back then were on the fruit-forward side to say the least.
A lot has changed with my classmates, yet, unlike Oregon wine, in many ways we’ve stayed the same. As anyone reading this knows, many of our wineries fall into the world-class category and more prove it every year. Oregon is about quality, a trait that comes with age and knowledge, and it is truly amazing how far we have come over the past three decades.
The rise of the Willamette Valley, and an increasing number of sibling AVAs, a resurgence of Southern Oregon producers, expansion of the Columbia Gorge and even more unbelievable, vineyards and wineries near Bend. The entire state now presents an ever-changing landscape based on a global reputation. Sadly, for some of my old friends, the same time period saw the fall of the beloved cooler.
What I couldn’t easily share with my friends is the breadth of great wine made locally and around the state. Sure we sipped Pinot Noir, Gris, Chardonnay and Riesling, but they missed out on the stellar Syrah, Tempranillo, Viognier, Merlot and our growing list of other varietals. They certainly missed the wonderful esoteric orange wines that are increasingly among my favorites, and, sadly, there were no toasts of sparkling selections.
The magic of Facebook keeps old friends connected, and with this, I find increasing requests for wine recommendations. Of course, I direct them to brands they should be able to find near their home but also to websites and online retailers. More importantly, I simply encourage them to buy Oregon because in this day and age, you can’t go wrong. Oregon wine, from the least expensive to the most, has never been better. And it doesn’t have to be Pinot Noir. For perhaps, the first time in 30 years, we, the industry and consumers, can reach for pretty much any bottle, any varietal, from Oregon and trust it will be a solid wine.
As for my old friends, I will be sending out a list of suggestions for enjoying Oregon through the holiday season. It is important for them to know that whether they want a hearty red (maybe a Quady North or Cowhorn Syrah), a crisp, layered Riesling (say Brooks or Chehalem maybe), a Viognier to please (Del Rio, Illahe), a mind-altering Chardonnay (say Antica Terra and Ponzi), a classic Tempranillo (Abacela or maybe Dominio IV), Pinot Gris (Elk Cove and King Estate), Sangiovese (Remy or Cliff Creek) or a sparkling (Argyle, Soter, Maysara). OK, enough, I know. The point is, if they want diverse varietals of quality, they can find them all from Oregon wineries.
While I work to be sure my friends are buying Oregon, I hope to see my winery friends being creative in their outreach to email lists, tasting room guests and key trade buyers to remind them of Oregon’s diversity and quality. I hope to hear recommendations from winemakers who have tasted something special that needs to be shared. And, what I hope to have for the ensuing marathon of holidays is the time to enjoy a glass with all of my friends.
Of course, my wife, Donele, and I will be out seeking new wineries, varietals and winemaking approaches. We’re happy to do the hard work for our friends, especially knowing we can’t lose. As for my classmates who still miss their wine coolers, I can offer something similar but much better — Portland Sangria from Enso Winery, which is lightly sweet, decadent and delicious hot or cold for the holidays. Yes, indeed, a wine for every need.