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Outstanding Oregon wine country: Willamette Valley

King Estate Winery, known for setting the benchmark for pinot gris wine in the U.S., is one of the largest wine producers in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Photo courtesy of King Estate

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Not every region in the U.S. can boast that it produces world-class wine right in its backyard. Residents of the Pacific Northwest, however, have a long list of bragging rights that come with being home to some of the most fertile wine regions in the country, including Oregon's famous Willamette Valley.

"What I love about the Willamette Valley is that there are so many ways to experience it," said Emily Petterson, who works in public relations for the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. "For those who like intimate experiences, they can meet with the winemakers and taste from the barrel, and there are boutique wineries that are very approachable and easy to enjoy. For those who like a grander experience, there are beautiful wineries with gardens and picnic areas, and of course, great pinot noir."

Producing 73 percent of Oregon's wine, the Willamette Valley is one of the five major American Viticultural Areas (AVA), or designated wine grape-growing regions, in the state. The region encompasses land between Oregon's Cascade and Coast Mountain Ranges and holds more than 715 vineyards and 500 wineries. Portland, Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, McMinnville and Newberg are all within the Willamette Valley AVA.

"The people in Willamette Valley ... really love sharing their experiences and wine with the public," Petterson continued.

The Willamette Valley Wineries Association holds frequent wine-related events throughout the region and produces wine tasting maps, itineraries, and a complete list of wineries and vineyards for wine enthusiasts. All of its materials are available on the website ( and can be downloaded at no charge.

"There are some world-class restaurants here, there are bike trails for those who love outdoors, and there are kid-friendly wineries and places to visit for those who want to bring their families," Petterson said, adding "and the Willamette Valley is the perfect place to grow pinot noir."

While pinot gris, pinot noir and chardonnay varieties make up the majority of wine produced in Willamette Valley, riesling, pinot blanc, gewürztraminer and other cool-climate varietals are also produced there. The region was named the 2016 Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Notable wineries in the area include Archery Summit Winery, Bella Vida Vineyard, King Estate, Rex Hill and Willamette Valley Vineyards.

King Estate, which is one of the largest producers of wine in Oregon, is known across the country for setting the standard for exceptional pinot gris wine. Located in Eugene, it has more than 1,000 acres of vineyards.

"Tradition, family and stewardship are the founding principles of King Estate Winery that guide us to this day," said Jenny Ulum, senior director of communications at King Estate Winery. "Since our inception in 1991, we have been family owned and operated. (We're) always focused on sustainability ... We practice agriculture and make wine the way it should be done, hand-to-vine, always with respect and with heart."

While King Estate wasn't founded until the early 1990s, Willamette Valley growers began harvesting grapes in the region as early as the 1960s and 1970s. Along with winegrowers in other AVA regions of Oregon, Willamette Valley winemakers pride themselves on leading the way in environmental stewardship and sustainable farming practices. As of 2015, more than 12,000 acres (or 52 percent) of planted vineyard acreage in Oregon were certified sustainably farmed. "Oregon is a pretty special place to live and to make and drink wine," Ulum shared, "and if you can't drink it here with us, we encourage you to enjoy a bottle wherever you are."

"The wineries here support each other, and that's clear to those who come to visit, "Petterson concluded. "There is a true support group (among) the wineries."

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