Willamette Damn It

October 12, 2019


This past week my wife and I visited the Willamette Valley in the state of Oregon.  (By the way, it’s Will-am-met or as the locals say—Willamette Damn It.)  We had never been to Oregon but by the end of the very first day we knew we had selected one of the most beautiful states in the U.S for our visit.  The time of year was excellent also.  Weather was beautiful; mid-sixties, clear blue skies, fluffy white clouds.  You get the picture.

 Let’s do some homework first then we will take a pictorial trip into the Willamette Valley wine country.  The map you see below is courtesy of the Willamette Valley Wine Association and indicates the length and width of the wine-growing area within the valley itself.

MAP OF VALLEY AND GEOGRAPHY

The Willamette Valley is a one hundred and fifty (150) -mile long valley in Oregon. A state, as you know, located in the Pacific Northwest. The Willamette River flows the entire length of the valley, and is surrounded by mountains on three sides – the Cascade Range to the east, the Oregon Coast Range to the west, and the Calapooya Mountains to the south.  The geography; i.e. mountains protecting the valley below, etc. is the main reason wine-growing is possible and plentiful.  We were told the winds blowing west to east from the coast provide much-needed moisture during dryer seasons. 

The valley is synonymous with the cultural and political heart of Oregon, and is home to approximately seventy (70%) percent of its populationincluding the six largest cities in the state: Portland, Eugene, Salem, Gresham, Hillsboro and Beaverton.   Eight of Oregon’s top ten most populated cities, and sixteen (16) of its top twenty (20) – are located in the Willamette Valley.

The valley’s numerous waterways, particularly the Willamette River, are vital to the economy of Oregon, as they continuously deposit highly fertile alluvial soils across its broad, flat plain. From observation, we noticed the soil being as black as pitch indicating a very desirable condition for growing just about anything.   A massively productive agricultural area, the valley was widely publicized in the 1820s as a “promised land of flowing milk and honey”. Throughout the 19th century it was the destination of choice for the oxen-drawn wagon-trains of emigrants who made the perilous journey along the Oregon Trail.

Today the valley is often considered synonymous with “Oregon Wine Country”, as it contains more than nineteen thousand (19,000) acres of vineyards and over five hundred wineries.  The climate of the Willamette Valley is Mediterranean with oceanic features. This climate is characterized by very dry and mostly cloudless summers, ranging from warm to occasionally very hot, followed by cool, rainy, and consistently cloudy winters. The precipitation pattern is distinctly Mediterranean, with little to no rainfall occurring during the summer months and over half of annual precipitation falling between November and February.  In other words, ideal for agriculture including wine-growing.  We also noticed the acre after acre of hazelnut trees. 

PICTORIAL TOUR:

Now that we know a little bit about the geography and location, let’s take a digital tour of the valley, the vineyards, and a few of the wineries.  As mentioned, there are over five hundred so obviously we only toured those being more prominent and having wine-tasting facilities.  Apparently, there is a considerable difference between the grapes, consequently the wine, grown in the valley as opposed to the hills surrounding the valley.  You will notice the rolling countryside and the acres of vines planted.  In the higher elevations, it was harvest time.  In the valley, the harvest had already been completed. When I talk about hills, the elevations are generally under one thousand feet but that certainly does make a difference in the quality and type of grapes grown. 

 One issue this year was the number of pickers available for harvest.  They are paid by the bucket which I thought was very interesting although I do not know how else that could be done.  In every case, the harvesting was accomplished by hand and no automatic equipment was used.  The picking is contracted using companies responsible for hiring temporary workers—mostly Hispanic.  When the harvest is completed, they move on to other areas of our country. 

The most beautiful vineyards were at elevation and not on the valley floor.  For this reason, most of the pictures I took are in the hills.  Let’s take a look.  You will notice the rolling countryside and neatly planted rows of vineyards.

COUNTRYSIDE:

There were some non-paved roads in the higher elevations requiring four-wheel drive.  This really surprised me but that’s just the way it is.  Notice the gently sloping elevation changes.  All of the vines are accessible even though the elevation changes.

The picture below is one of the most beautiful landscapes we came across.  I have no idea as to what flowers these were. 

As mentioned earlier, the harvest in the valley was complete but not in the hills.  You can see the grapes ready for picking and just hanging on the vines.

As you can see, the grapes are very accessible so a picker could move very quickly and fill a bucket in quick time.

WINERIES:

The wineries were absolutely striking in design and size.  I have no idea as to how much investment was necessary to bring about the overall facilities.  One thing that did surprise us was the recent construction of the largest wineries.  These facilities were not decades old but fairly new.  We are now going to look at three wineries that we thought were absolutely beautiful inside and out.  In each case, of course, we were introduced to the wine produced by these facilities.  Great tasting and fabulous.  On one case, the wine was so good we joined their wine club.  Let’s take a look.

One thing that was striking—the landscaping leading up to all of the facilities. Immaculate, well-planned and well-maintained.

The digital above shows the “wine store”. Please note, not only wine but “T” shirts and other clothing as well as cork-screws, wine containers, etc. 

The next three photos show a grotto area used for parties, dinners and wine tasting.  The construction was fascinating.  Notice the very careful placement of the individual stones lining the room.  All walls and ceiling were lined with these flat stones.

The second winery we visited was quite different in design from the first but spacious—very spacious.  The staff was planning a wedding reception during our brief visit so the place was buzzing with anticipation of the event.

Third and last winery I will show you is below.  This winery was started some years ago by immigrants from Iran.  When the Shaw was disposed they traveled to the United States to start a new life.  We met one of the owners and discussed with him the  history of their travels and how they found Oregon to settle.  Fascinating story. 

This is the tasting room below

The wall hanging shown below is an actual Persian carpet brought from Iran during their exit from that country.

PRODUCTION:

The object below is, believe it or not, a wine press from years ago.  This is how they used to do it.   How long would it take to press the grapes using that device?  The picture following the hand-cranked wine press shows the storage units and associated plumbing now used in modern-day wine making.  Big difference.

You can see wine making is big business in today’s world and it takes a huge investment in equipment and manpower to maintain the industry.

CONCLUSION:

I can definitely recommend to you a visit to Oregon and the Willamette Valley.  Marvelous time but be sure to check the weather and go during the proper season.

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