Fifty years ago, David Lett planted Pinot noir where nobody thought it would grow. Since those first vines were planted in Oregon’s Willamette Valley in 1965, we’ve grown from a few brave families and their dreams to a world-renowned wine region in just half a century.
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1965 - David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards christens the region's first Pinot noir vines. Photo courtesy of The Eyrie Vineyards.
1980 - A Challenge Tasting in Burgundy reconfirms the high rating of The Eyrie Vineyards 1975 Pinot noir in the Gault-Millau Olympiades du Vin in Paris in 1979. International coverage of the upset brought widespread attention to Oregon Pinot noir. Photo courtesy of Linfield College Archive.
1982 - The Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA) is approved. Cal Knudsen is pictured here in his vineyard in 1983. Photo courtesy of Knudsen Vineyard.
1983 - The Yamhill County Wineries Association is formed, beginning with 11 wineries and later becoming the Willamette Valley Wineries Association in 2005. Founding members pose here at Wine Country Thanksgiving.
1985 - Willamette Valley Pinot noir outshines French at the Burgundy Challenge at the International Wine Center in New York, at which the expert judges’ top five wines consisted entirely of Oregon bottlings. The top wine was from Yamhill Valley Vineyards, pictured here. Photo by Stephen Cary.
1987 - The International Pinot Noir Celebration debuts in McMinnville, bringing together the great Pinot noir producers of the world for a weekend of wine education, culinary excellence and friendship. Early IPNC wineries pose here in front of Nick's Italian Cafe. Photo courtesy of Linfield College Archive.
2005-2006 - Six Willamette Valley sub-American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) are approved. Photo by Mark Stock.
1974 - Joe & Pat Campbell of Elk Cove Vineyards planting vines
1970 - David & Diana Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards during harvest
1969 - Luisa, Nancy, Maria, Michel & Dick Ponzi when they first arrived in Oregon
1974 - Dick Erath of Erath Winery
1978 - Alex and Susan Sokol Blosser, Bill Blosser during construction at Sokol Blosser Winery
1975 - Adam Campbell at Elk Cove Vineyards
1978 - Jessie, Mimi, Pat, Marilyn, Terry and Ben at Bethel Heights Vineyard
1974 - Jason Lett with prunings at The Eyrie Vineyards
1970 - Nancy & Dick Ponzi putting in posts for original Ponzi Vineyards
1978 - David Adelsheim at Adelsheim Vineyard harvest
1989 - Paul Hart in the vineyard at REX HILL
50 Great Years Already.
Here’s To a Long, Long Finish.
In the years since 1965, Willamette Valley wines have wowed critics, lured tourists and tempted winemakers to pack up and move to Oregon in their quest for perfect Pinot. The region is now the epicenter of Oregon’s multi-billion dollar per year wine industry. And in many ways, it’s just getting started.
Come along. Let's taste the next half-century together.