No grape variety is as reflective of site differences as Pinot Noir. Much of Pinot Noir’s magic rests in its ability to communicate a sense of the place where it was grown. While soil is not the only factor that gives Pinot Noir its sense of place, there is no doubt that the fascinating diversity of Pinot Noir wines grown in the Willamette Valley depends in part on the diverse origins of the soils in which our vineyards are planted.
When I was at Oregon Pinot camp, back in Spring of 2015, we actually studied the dirt from two large trenches, focusing on the two main soil types most commonly found in Willamette Valley vineyards. One of marine sedimentary origin and one of volcanic basalt origin. As you can see from the image above, there are many soil types, and it's what makes Oregon Pinot so amazing. To be honest, it's a LOT like the terroir of Burgundy.
From my Pinot Camp experience, and for those that enjoy a good read, here are the notes which tell the story. Credit: Oregon Pinot Camp! Sorry, it's a trade-only gig! :)
Until about 12 million years ago, western Oregon was on the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Before that, for 35 million years under the sea, it was slowly accumulating layers of marine sediment, the bedrock of the oldest soils in the Willamette Valley.
Starting about 15 million years ago, the pressure created along the coast by the collision of the earth’s Pacific and North American Plates gradually pushed Western Oregon up out of the sea, creating the Coast Range and the intensely volcanic Cascade Mountains further inland. The Willamette Valley thus began as an ocean floor trapped between two emerging mountain ranges. During this period of uprising, from about 15 million to 6 million years ago, rivers of lava erupting from volcanoes on the east side of the Cascades flowed down the Columbia Gorge toward the sea, covering the layers of marine sediment on the floor of the emerging Willamette Valley with layers of basalt.
The Willamette Valley continued to buckle and tilt under pressure from the ongoing coastal collisions, forming the interior hill chains that are typically tilted layers of volcanic basalt and sedimentary sandstone, such as the Dundee Hills and Eola Hills. The next geologic activity to add to our soils was the creation of a layer of windblown silt (called Loess) on the northeast-facing hills west of where Portland sits today. This started as long ago as a million years and may have continued until about 50 thousand years ago. These silts were blown in from the valley floor, but they originated from the severely weathered basalts and sediments.
Much, much later, about 18 thousand to 15 thousand years ago, at the end of the last ice age, the melting of a glacial dam near the location of Missoula, Montana, repeatedly flooded the Willamette Valley, creating a lake up to the 400-foot contour level, with only the tops of the twotone hills sticking out, and leaving behind deep silts. Thus we have in the Willamette Valley a complex series of soils with interesting and diverse origins:
Marine sediments that were laid down on the floor of the Pacific Ocean Examples: Willakenzie, Bellpine, Chuhulpim, Hazelair, Melbourne, Dupee
Basalts that originated as lava flows from eastern Oregon Examples: Jory, Nekia, Saum Windblown
Loess, silt blown up from the valley floor onto northeast-facing hillsides Example: Laurelwood
Missoula Flood deposits brought down the Columbia Gorge as the result of a repeatedly melting glacial dam Examples: Wapato, Woodburn, Willamette
Here is the general description of how soil type affects Pinot noir in Oregon:
Pinot Noir wines from Volcanic soils Usually exhibiting a style that accents the high-toned, floral and “perfumed” aromatics with brighter and expressive red and dark red fruits flavors layered with sweeter baking spices and softer, round and succulent tannins. Can retain good acidity even in warm years.
Pinot Noir wines from Marine Sedimentary soils Usually exhibiting a style showing the voluptuous and denser dark red berry and blue/black fruit with darker floral, earth tones and bigger, heavier and chewier tannins.
Pinot Noir wines from Windblown soils Usually exhibiting a style that shows mixed berry fruits, exotic spices, licorice, cedar and briary components. Can show a round, voluptuous tannin structure. Generally these fall midway between the Volcanic and Marine Sedimentary soil descriptors.
Surprisingly, there isn't a direct relationship between soil types and the six sub-appellations of the Willamette Valley. This can be clearly seen on geological maps. Some of the AVAs have one predominant soil type; others have two or three different types. Additionally, the depth of the soil over parent material and the specific type of parent material varies between the AVAs.
For most AVAs, the geographic and climatic factors are as important as soil type in defining the unique characteristics of the appellation.
• Dundee Hills AVA – mostly basaltic but marine sedimentary at the lower elevations on the western and northern slopes. Vines are often planted on very deep soils. This area is more insulated from daytime heat in the central Willamette Valley by the Willamette River just to the east. Further from the Van Duzer Corridor, it also cools more slowly. Generally a “gentler” place to grow Pinot Noir.
• Eola-Amity Hills AVA – mostly basaltic but marine sedimentary at the lower elevations on the western and northern slopes. Vines are usually planted on thinner soils strongly affected by late afternoon winds blowing through the Van Duzer Corridor. Also moderated by daytime temperatures by the Willamette River just to the east.
• Chehalem Mountains AVA – basaltic and marine sedimentary on the southern and western slopes; windblown on the northeastern slope. This is the AVA with the most diverse soils, exposures and environmental variability, making it impossible to generalize.
• Yamhill-Carlton AVA – marine sedimentary predominant. This “upsidedown u”-shaped group of hills has no exposure to central valley heat, being mostly surrounded by other hills.
• Ribbon Ridge AVA – entirely marine sedimentary and separated from the YamhillCarlton AVA by a narrow valley. Some areas can be very droughty in late summer, advancing grape maturity compared to the other AVAs.
• McMinnville AVA – primarily marine sedimentary with some basalt and alluvium. The AVA lies above a large hot valley just to the south that radiates heat into the hills during the day. It is the most strongly affected by late afternoon winds blowing through the Van Duzer Corridor, as it forms the northern mouth of the Van Duzer opening into the valley. One of the warmest areas in the day, it cools very quickly as the sun sets.
And now onto the wines... Join us and EXPLORE the Six Sub AVAs of The Willamette Valley:
Patricia Green Cellars "Estate Vineyard" Pinot Noir 2019 - $39
Ribbon Ridge, OR
Torii Mor "Dundee Hills Select" Pinot Noir 2016 - $40
Dundee Hills, OR
St. Innocent ‘Momtazi Vineyard’ Pinot Noir 2016 - $47
Brooks "Toluca Lane Vineyard" Pinot Noir 2016 - $52
Eola-Amity Hills, OR
Elk Cove "Five Mountain" Pinot Noir 2018 - $57
Chehalem Mountains, OR
Shea Wine Cellars "Shea Vineyard" Pinot Noir 2016 - $52
6pack Sub AVAs Of Willamette Valley, Oregon - $287 retail
5% off - $272.65 THIS WEEK ONLY!