Region: Weather & Geography
More than any other variety, Pinot noir has very specific climatic needs. While other varieties can adapt to variable conditions, Pinot noir can be rather finicky, achieving success in only a handful of places in the world.
Nestled between the lower elevation Coast Range to our west, and higher elevation Cascade Range to our east, the Northern Willamette Valley is one of those very special places where Pinot noir excels. By worldwide standards, we are extremely cool, and yet we have a long growing season.
This extended season or “hangtime” provides time for the complete development of flavor, aroma and texture. All of the successful vineyards of our area are planted on hillsides between 200 and 700 feet in elevation, in well-drained soil. Vineyards below 200 feet are typically subject to frost and deep overly fertile soils, while vineyards above 700 feet often have difficulty ripening due to cooler average temperatures at higher elevation.
Though the early part of the growing season can often be wet and cool, it is common for us to take on a distinctly Mediterranean weather pattern from July through mid October. Located 20-25 miles from the coast, our climate is for the most part a maritime one, with the coastal range keeping us from being dominated by the oceans influence. The Coast Range, acting as a buffer, gives us warmer temperatures in the summer and cooler temperatures in the winter.This range is a watershed, with rainfall on the coast averaging 70-80 inches per year while our inland valley averages 30-35 inches a year.
There is a gap in the coast range known as the Van Duzer Corridor. It acts as a conduit, funneling cool air into the valley, replacing hot air rising from the sun-warmed valley floor. This phenomenon creates strong afternoon winds, spreading cool coastal air across the valley, preserving acidity in the ripening fruit.
While it is true that the Oregon wine industry is still in its infancy, definable grape growing regions have emerged. Three main geological events are responsible for the formation of these regions. The collision of the Pacific (Juan de Fuca) Plate and the continental plate resulted in the shearing off of the soft sediments on the ocean floor. These sediments have been and continue to be steadily added to our coastline. Aeons of weathering and pressure have compacted those soft sediments and created the sandstone and siltstone mother rock which lies below most of the Williamette Valley.
The Columbia River Basalt Flow is the largest flow of lava on planet earth. Originating from an active volcanic chain in eastern Oregon this event covered the northern Willamette Valley 20 million years ago. Vestiges of this mantel still remain and would be represented by areas such as the Dundee and Eola Hills. As recently as twelve to fifteen thousand years ago, the Great Missoula Floods occurred. The catastrophic failure of a twenty-five hundred foot high ice dam burst forth the water from glacial Lake Missoula at a rate ten times the combined flow of all the rivers of the world. This event scattered debris from Canada and Montana across the Williamette Valley and helped to deeply carve the Columbia River Gorge.