This Time Next Year: New AVAs on the horizon

As early as the 2019 crush, the Willamette Valley will have likely welcomed a new sub-appellation and has four more in the proposal process. That could mean up to five new distinct regions within the Valley at large, wherein producers spotlight unique soils, slopes, climate and geology through the power of their wines.

The forthcoming Van Duzer Corridor is set to join familiar names such as Dundee Hills, Yamhill-Carlton and Chehalem Mountains (learn more about the Willamette Valley and its current sub-AVAs). Names like Lower Long Tom; Tualatin Hills; Mt. Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon; and Laurelwood are in the pipeline pending public comment and other approval steps. It’s part of a terroir-inspired push that has the American wine industry well on its way to 250 viticultural areas by the end of this year. Currently, 18 AVAs reside in Oregon.

Winemaker Brad Ford of Illahe Vineyards has spearheaded efforts for the proposed Mt. Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon sub-appellation. He relates the current New World drive for regionality to what the Old World has been doing effectively for generations, especially in places like Burgundy and Bordeaux. Mt. Pisgah, Polk County, Oregon is pending federal approval and will be poised to include ten vineyards and two wineries about fifteen miles west of Salem.

“We drew a tight line based on soil,” Ford says. But what about the proposed pocket of land ties growers like Freedom Hill Vineyard to producers like Illahe? “Resulting wines that have deep flavor and are rich and tannic,” Ford adds. He points to Pisgah’s slightly warmer temperatures, moderate elevation and favorable vineyard aspects.

North a ways is a 60,000-acre stretch awaiting official anointment known as the Van Duzer Corridor AVA. The famous break in the coastal range where winds whip in from the Pacific adds its own special touch to the region’s vineyards and wines. Here, labels like Johan Vineyards and Left Coast Cellars are banding together to sing the praises of their one-of-a-kind spot, known for thicker-skinned grapes and darker wine profiles.

In the proposed Tualatin Hills AVA, a U-shaped expanse of 144,000 acres including the likes of Montinore Estate and Apolloni Vineyards, individual traits abound. Above ground, a resident rain shadow effect limits precipitation levels and related mildew pressure in the vineyards. Below ground, the Laurelwood soil series—shaped by Columbia River basalt flows long ago and adjusted by the Missoula Floods more recently—features pisolites. The small grains of iron impart their own special seasoning to the wines of the proposed AVA.

“Found only in Laurelwood soil types, pisolites help define the terroir of the northern Willamette Valley and contribute to the Pinot noir’s complexity and rose petal aromas,” says Scott Burns, longtime local wine enthusiast and professor of geology at Portland State University.

Akin with enjoying a Burgundy while in Dijon, this time next year you may be able to savor a Van Duzer AVA wine in Rickreall, and not long after that you may be able to drink a Mt. Pisgah while in Polk County or a Tualatin Hills in rural Forest Grove. It will likely take the wines and corresponding labels a bit longer to reveal such a thing, but it will be official according to the ever-evolving Oregon wine country map and another significant series of movements confirming Willamette Valley Pinot noir’s tremendous diversity.

by Mark A. Stock |
Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon who spent a healthy stretch in the Dundee Hills making, selling and drinking wine. He’s written for Willamette Week, Oregon Wine Press, Travel Oregon, Sip Northwest, SevenFifty and more. Fly-fishing, Icelandic soccer and The Simpsons are among his favorite distractions.

Photo: Left Coast Cellars has helped lead the efforts to establish a Van Duzer Corridor AVA. Credit: Andrea Johnson