Purple Hands winemaker Cody Wright pour his wife, Marque, a glass of Pinot Noir at the Dundee tasting room on Highway 99W.  ##Photo by Andrea Johnson

Hats Off, Glass Full

Defining the spirit of Oregon wine

By Mark Stock

We celebrate the promise of Oregon wine every May. It buds in vineyard rows, fills barrel rooms and pours into eager glasses at restaurants and tasting rooms throughout the state.

Oregon Wine Month, like the industry in general, means many things to many people. On the surface, it’s a chance to raise a glass to an impressive mix of knowhow, commitment, experimentation and beauty. A deeper dig recognizes idyllic winegrowing conditions, tireless vineyard crews and multiple generations of talent. The reasons to honor and support Oregon wine remain countless.

Cody Wright of Purple Hands in Dundee has always been around Oregon wine. “There’s no part of my life that Oregon wine doesn’t touch. I was raised in it. It defines the essence of home. And it brings me joy to know that one day I’ll be able to pass along this same feeling of home to my kids.”

A second-generation winemaker, Wright takes wine seriously and to heart. From a very young age, he’s seen firsthand how much work it takes to become a success in the wine business. He also appreciates the solid foundation the previous generations have built. “So much work has gone into creating a vibrant industry around this craft. I’m humbled to call Oregon wine my life’s work.”

For longtime winemaker Laurent Montalieu, it’s all about the one-of-a-kind environment. He’s logged many vintages in the Dundee Hills for NW Wine Company and Soléna Estate, among others. “Oregon is an incredibly unique place that I’ve had the pleasure of watching change and grow the past three decades,” he says.

“It’s a little representative of the Wild West in that you have this fresh, mostly untapped region where there really aren’t any rules, so people have been planting like crazy, trying new things, ripping out what’s been put in and putting in new varietals and always trying to get the most out of this incredibly geologically diverse land,” Montalieu adds. “It’s also a place where people are incredibly open and supportive of one another. Through all the chaos, you have people who want to see their neighbor succeed, and there may not be any stronger of example of that in the entire wine world.”

Ed King ##Photo by Andrea Johnson

Rollin Soles of ROCO Winery shares a similar extended stay in the Willamette Valley. But the winemaker and sparkling wine specialist knows craft and quality extend beyond the I-5 corridor. “I think it’s time to recognize what the wine regions of Oregon have to offer. Each is so very unique,” he says.

“For example, wine consumers know the quality implications of California Pinot Noir versus Sonoma Pinot versus Santa Rita Pinot... Also, for example, if I want a fantastic Oregon Merlot, I’d buy a Walla Walla Merlot from the Oregon side. For Oregon Riesling or Tempranillo, I’d go for Umpqua, etc.” he adds. “This state honors diversity in so many ways; let’s start doing the same for our wonderful wine regions.”

Of course, Soles can’t hide his love for the appellation he knows best. “For Willamette Valley, the exciting thing for me is that we’re basically growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as far north as our area as allows,” he says. “This leads to wines of unique character and wines that challenge me as a grapegrower and winemaker. Hats off to elegance and vibrancy in wines!”

Carrie Wynkoop runs Cellar 503. Her wine club spotlights wine from all over Oregon. She sees the many wines as extensions of the many personalities out there. “Oregon wine is passion, creativity and originality!” she says. “I am constantly amazed at the stories behind each bottle of wine I taste. People from all walks of life have dedicated their lives to pursuing their passion and showcasing Oregon’s unique place in the world of wine.”

In the southern reaches of the lengthy Willamette Valley, Danuta Pfeiffer is the owner and vintner of her eponymous label, Pfeiffer Winery. The former television personality and book author can’t help but see the romantic side of it all. “Oregon wine is all about authenticity. When I sip an Oregon wine, I don’t just taste it, I experience it. I feel it,” she says.

Wayne Bailey ##Photo by Rusty Rae

“I smell the earth the grapes are grown on, and I bask in the warm glance of the sun off the hillsides,” Pfeiffer continues. “My senses capture Oregon’s pure authenticity in every glass, from the love affair with land and vines to the small family producers who plod the ground in boots — and not in suits — to the wineries and tasting rooms that range from re-converted barns and modest log cabins to the rustic elegance of grand estates.”

At King Estate, Ed King and his team continue to define what it means to be a larger producer in Oregon. The label has shown great commitment to sustainability since its founding in 1991, working from within its own organic southern Willamette Valley estate.  “Oregon wine means integrity, authenticity, craftspersonship,” King says. “Oregon is one of the few bastions left in the wine world.”

Wayne Bailey stresses sustainability as well, viewing wine as the farmed product that it is. “Oregon wine means celebrating the fact that wine is an agricultural product that we are growing in a very diverse agricultural environment and that our wine community is very conscious of environmental impacts,” he says. Bailey owns and makes wine for Youngberg Hill in rural McMinnville. The label was originally launched in 1989.

Oregon’s many outstanding restaurants share in the seasonal joy. Kimberly Paley, co-owner of Paley’s Place, Imperial, The Crown, Headwaters and Rosa Rosa, has championed areas wines for some time.

Kimberly Paley ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser

“We started embracing Oregon wines more than 20 years ago, when we first opened Paley’s Place,” she says. “Perhaps more than any other place in the country, Oregon reminded us of France — where Vitaly and I lived and worked for a time — especially when we started tasting the Pinot Noirs here. This familiarity clinched our move here. As time went on, ‘local’ and ‘sustainable’ moved to the center of our mission, and promoting the wines from Oregon was part of that commitment.”

Part of Paley’s attraction to the industry is its continued accessibility. It’s something industry folk still talk about, albeit a bit less given the tremendous growth of late.

“Now, any time we embark on a new venture, Oregon wines are still a big part of the conversation,” she says. “There’s the added benefit that they go so well with food, but it’s also because of the relationships we have cultivated over time with winemakers and growers. These relationships are at the core of our success and the longevity of our industry. The wines have, over time, pushed us all to be our best.”

There are enough great Oregon wine stories to fill a library. The last year alone has gifted us tales of selfless collaborative labels like Oregon Solidarity Wines, the triumphant return of Chardonnay and record-breaking auctions. Another story involves Dr. Mauricio Collada Jr., president of Cubanísimo Vineyards in Salem.

Collada was born in Cuba. He and his four siblings moved to the U.S. when he was a kid. Ultimately, Collada went into neurosurgery, learning to appreciate local wine culture in between his studies. “Wine, in particular Pinot Noir, was a passion of mine throughout my training, and from the moment I arrived, and became aware of the climate, the soils and the quality of Pinot Noir this area produced,” he says. “I was hooked.” 

He immersed himself in the scene, enrolling in classes relating to vineyard management, marketing and winemaking. “The level of camaraderie and the collaboration between the players in the Oregon wine industry also became a draw,” he adds.

Collada refers to his role in the Oregon wine scene as his “balancing ballast,” and a far cry from his other profession. “As a neurosurgeon, I work hard to bring people back to health. As a winery owner, I celebrate their health and add to their life joys by producing and sharing with them our excellent wines.”

The label is known for its Cuban flair and Collada likes to express his heritage though his wine and hospitality. “Oregon wine has meant for me an endless opportunity to make new friends, connect with old friends, and advance the bonds that make us all one family,” he adds.

 May Is Oregon Wine Month

Oregon Wine Month is here and will be celebrated at locations throughout the state and beyond all May long. Now in its eighth year, Oregon Wine Month, organized by the Oregon Wine Board, is dedicated to developing more Oregon wine fans across the U.S. May is a beautiful time of year to visit Oregon wine country, and perfect for those wanting to take advantage of hundreds of wine events and promotions at tasting rooms, restaurants and retailers across the state.

From beginning to end, May is filled with a number of special events, and not just in the Beaver State. On May 6, the OWB is hitting the trail with 60 Oregon wineries and a handful of friends for a grand tasting in New York City. Spreading the gospel of Oregon wine, the tour includes a trade master class and tastings — one for trade and media, the other for consumers. Here in Oregon, and marking the finale of the month-long celebration, consumers can attend the Oregon Winegrowers Association’s first-ever consumer tasting, Crush on Oregon, at Castaway in Portland on June 2. Local wine lovers can taste through more than 80 wines from more than 40 Oregon producers.

Other calendar highlights include: Walla Walla Valley Spring Release Weekend (May 3–5), Portland’s I Love Gamay (May 3–6), Taste. Learn. Celebrate! with Cascade Foothills Winegrowers (May 4), Umpqua Valley Winegrowers Barrel Tour (May 4), Roam the Rogue (May 4) and Applegate Valley Uncorked Barrel Tour (May 18). The month also offers up extended experiences, including Passion for Ribbon Ridge: AVA Passport Tasting and touring the Bear Creek Wine Trail. For more events visit or see OWP’s calendar of events in the back of this magazine.

Visitors to the Oregon Wine Month website also will discover wine-friendly recipes and suggested pairings, including spring pea pasta with bay shrimp and ham by Chef Jason French of Ned Ludd, and the highly popular recipe for Bananas Foster by Chef Adele Nofield of Wilfs.

Restaurants are celebrating Oregon Wine Month in more ways than one. Select sommeliers and wine directors are creating flights of unusual varieties, vintage verticals, single-vineyard comparisons, unexpected food pairings and more. For example, at Bread & Ink Café in Portland, diners can order a Pinot Gris flight (Lange, Adelsheim and VanDuzer) or a trio of Pinot Noir (Domaine Drouhin, Ponzi and Cooper Mountain). Wine shops are also in on the fun. Portland’s Oregon Wines on Broadway is offering a rosé flight showcasing Stoller, Ponzi and Sokol Blosser. Promos are planned outside the Rose City, too. Prospect Historic Hotel Dinner House in Southern Oregon will present a special compilation of Southern Oregon wines, and, in Eastern Oregon, The Palm Court at the Geiser Grand in Baker City will pour a flight spotlighting WillaKenzie Pinot Blanc, Eola Hills Sauvignon Blanc and Copper Belt Ranchers White. These specials represent only a handful of the many opportunities throughout the state.

Major area retailers, including New Seasons, Costco, Safeway and Fred Meyer, will be honoring Oregon Wine Month with featured bottles for sale, case discounts and in-store tastings.

In honor of Oregon Wine Month, OWB is offering the Garagistes & Gourmands Sweepstakes, a chance to win a truly grand prize: four days and three nights for two, exploring Portland’s wineries and culinary scene before spending a day in Willamette Valley wine country. Partners covering accommodations for this trip include three nights at The Duniway (a Hilton Hotel), dinner and wine pairing at Oui! Wine Bar + Restaurant at Southeast Wine Collective, wine tasting with bites at Jan-Marc Wine Cellars/Garagiste PDX, Willamette Valley winery tour with Cellar Door Wine Tours and round-trip tickets on Alaska Airlines.

To enter the contest and for Oregon Wine Month information, visit

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