Celebrating Oregon Crab

Willamette Valley Pinot noir has its perfect local match on land in Oregon truffles, but when pairing our local Chardonnay, Pinot gris, and Pinot blanc, we look to the sea. Oregon crab flourishes in winter—Dungeness season opened January 15th—and a warm bowl of chowder or steaming plate of crab legs is a welcome respite from the cold.

Willamette Valley Vineyards celebrates this local delicacy annually with Mo’s Crab & Chowder Festival, which started 21 years ago thanks to winery founder Jim Bernau. “The Oregon Coast was hosting some great wine and seafood festivals, and Jim had the idea to extend their reach and bring the flavors of the Oregon Coast to the winery (and Valley) by offering Mo’s world famous steaming chowder bowls, fresh Oregon Coast crab and other seafood selections to perfectly paired with our wines,” Christine Collier Clair, winery director, explains. “It also gives Oregonians something fun to do during our rainy months and the weekend where there is no football!”

As for what to drink with all that delicious food, she adds, “Our Pinot gris is our choice for pairing with Oregon Dungeness crab. The flavors of the wine and  sweetness of the crab meat work beautifully together.”

The folks at R. Stuart & Co. agree—their 7th Annual Crab Feed, pictured, features a Pinot gris pairing for its freshly caught Oregon coast crab. Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot blanc can work, too, and don’t be afraid to get creative; Oregon crab is an excellent canvas for many of the white wines with lively acidity that flourish in the Willamette Valley.

“Dungeness crab does have a similar taste profile to other crabs such as blue or snow,” Bob Scull, director of operations at Mo’s, explains. “The profile of the flavor does vary based on additional factors such as saltiness of the waters or the brine that they are prepared in. Generally the Dungeness crab has a salty-sweet flavor.” To bring out that flavor, Scull loves to simply enjoy it fresh and chilled with drawn butter and lemon.

Oregon’s ocean delicacy, unfortunately, has been no exception to the mounting effects of climate change in recent years. “This crab season has been quite a struggle,” says Scull. “I do know that the boats weren’t able to go out until almost six weeks after the season officially opened. The season was targeted to open December 1, but was delayed to ensure a high-quality product to consumers and to avoid wastage of the resource.”

For delicious winter meal ideas including an excellent Dungeness Crab recipe, visit our Cellar Season Recipes.

By Julia Burke

Julia Burke is a wine lover originally from Buffalo, New York, who moved to Oregon in August 2017 to work a harvest and decided to stay. She is the Willamette Valley Wineries Association’s marketing and content coordinator and a fan of Riesling, peanut butter, and the Chicago Cubs.