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What You Need to Know About the Willamette Valley AVA

view of valley with words "willamette valley vacation guide" on topIn Oregon, you will discover a rigorous commitment to high-quality wines. Despite the state being third in wine grape production, wineries remain dedicated to the creation of small-batch artisan wine, and it shows in the quality of the wine.

The largest AVA within the state is the Willamette Valley AVA. Its mild climate and soil combined with its concentration of top-notch vineyards and wineries have earned it the distinction of also being labeled Oregon Wine Country—no small feat in a state with such high standards.

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The Willamette Valley AVA

glass of pinot noirThe Willamette Valley AVA is famous for its Pinot Noirs. Pinot Noir grapes were first planted here in the 60s (first by Richard Sommer and later by David Lett) and have since thrived. Today, more than 80 percent of Oregon’s Pinot Noir comes from the Willamette Valley.

The climate in the Willamette Valley allows the fruit to develop flavor and complexity during the growing season while still retaining its natural acidity. Sample a glass of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, and you’ll discover subtle flavors, supple textures, and crisp, refreshing acidity along with ripe tannins. As Pinot Noir is sensitive to differences in climate, however, you will find complex variations from each vineyard and from each year.

The Willamette Valley has more certified biodynamic acreage than any other AVA in the country, and when you take care of the land, it naturally follows that the fruit it produces will be of better quality.

Labeling regulations are strict in Oregon. To designate a wine as belonging to a specific AVA in Oregon, 95 percent of the wine’s grapes must be from that region (and 100% from Oregon), which is higher than the country’s standard of 85 percent.

And for an Oregon wine to be labeled as a specific varietal, 90 percent of the wine has to be of that grape variety—15 percent higher than the country’s standard. There are some exceptions, but Oregon’s famed Pinot Noir is held to these high standards.

Northern Willamette Valley AVAs

The Willamette Valley AVA is the largest AVA in the state. The larger Willamette Valley AVA also includes seven more specific AVAs. These arose after various vineyards and wineries petitioned the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), arguing that these regions produced wine distinct from others within the Willamette AVA. The newest AVA was granted official status as of January 2019.  

wine grapesChehalem Mountains AVA

The geography and climate are the two main features that make this region distinct. These mountains contain the largest peak in the Willamette Valley, Bald Peak, which affects the weather for the Chehalem Mountains AVA in addition to surrounding AVAs. You’ll find all three hillside soil types here—basaltic, ocean sedimentary, and loess. This leads to wines with a uniquely bright, intense, spicy cherry character—somewhat more heightened than the silky cherry typically associated with Oregon Pinot Noir. 

Dundee Hills AVA

The first grapes in the Willamette Valley were planted here, and it is the most densely planted region in the valley and beyond that, the state. It is protected from the ocean climate by the Coast Range and is almost entirely basaltic landmass.  Consequently, you’ll find acidic wines with tart, fruity flavors here.

Eola-Amity Hills AVA

This AVA comprises the Eola and Amity Hills. The soil of this AVA is what primarily influences the characteristics of wines made from grapes that are grown here—volcanic basalt mixes with marine sedimentary rocks and alluvial deposits, which makes for shallower, rockier soil. In turn, this leads to well-drained soils from which grows small grapes with great concentration.  

McMinnville AVA

According to Willamette Valley Wine, the McMinnville AVA contains “uplifted marine sedimentary loams and silts with alluvial overlays and a base of uplifting basalt.” The soil here is uniquely shallow for winegrowing, and the planted slopes are sheltered by the Coast Range Mountains, which results in lower rainfall. The soil brings a bright acidity and the cool winds thicken the skins of the grapes, adding a balancing structure to the wines. Additionally, wines from the McMinnville AVA are known for having darker, deeper colors.

Ribbon Ridge AVA

Uniform ocean sedimentary soils and a sheltered climate are what primarily distinguish the Ribbon Ridge AVA from others. This AVA sits within the larger Chehalem Mountains AVA.  Wines from the Ribbon Ridge AVA typically need to age a bit longer for their structure to mellow, but once it does, it results in a wine with plenty of spice and floral aromatics and elegant fruit flavors. 

Van Duzer Corridor AVA

The Van Duzer Corridor enjoys near-perfect growing conditions thanks to its unique location. It sits within a gap in the Coast Range, and oceanic winds help regulate the conditions here, keeping this area cooler than others on hotter days and warmer on colder days. Wines from this region have bright, fruity flavors, increased aromatics, and marked acidity.

Yamhill-Carlton AVA

You’ll find unique growing conditions here, as this AVA sits in the rain shadow of the Coast Range and is further protected by the Chehalem Mountains and Dundee Hills. The soils here are some of the oldest in the valley, and the coarse-grained ancient marine sediments drain quickly. Wines from the Yamhill-Carlton AVA are spicy in the nose and feature blue and black fruit flavors.  

Explore the Wines of the Willamette Valley AVA

view of sitting area in jura roomWith over 500 wineries to discover, it may be daunting deciding where to begin touring the Willamette Valley AVA. Why not stay at a vineyard? At Youngberg Hill, you’ll be staying at Oregon’s premier wine country estate, centrally located in the Willamette Valley. You’ll be within a 20-minute drive of over 100 wineries and tasting rooms and within steps of ours.

Whether you’re relaxing and enjoying the panorama from your luxurious quarters or enjoying an incredible glass of our organically-grown wine, Youngberg Hill provides a serene oasis atop a 50-acre hilltop. Your stress will melt away in the peace and tranquility afforded by our gorgeous inn, vineyards, and unmatched views.

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The 2018 Vintage Recap

2018 vintage 2018 vintage has been a very pleasant growing season. Spring (bud break) was later than it had been the last 3 or 4 years, just slightly earlier than average. It was cooler and wetter which slowed down growth such that bloom was about average timing. As a result, the vines were healthy and bloom moved on to fruit set with no weather issues and all the clusters/fruit developed were very even.

Summer started on time but warmer than normal. Through August, while we did not have any extremely hot days of 95+ degrees as in the last few years, we did have consistently warmer temperatures ranging 8 to 10 degrees above normal over long periods of time. This accelerated the development of the fruit and moved us into veraison a little earlier than we would have expected based on the timing of bloom. What does earlier veraison mean? It means that the fruit begins to ripen in warmer temperatures, that has the potential to throw things a little bit out of balance as the fruit ripens faster.

Fortunately, as if the weather was trying to help the vines out, temperatures in September began to gradually go down below average. These lower temperatures slow ripening of the fruit which is a good thing. Slower fruit ripening in cooler temperatures keeps fruit development in balance. We also have had a couple of stints of moisture creep into the valley providing reprieve for the vines and slowing development even further.

All this, has me very optimistic for the wines out of the 2018 vintage. While it is still a little early to make predictions, I see great potential in the fruit to develop complexity and balance in the wines.

Wayne Bailey selected for 2018 Most Inspiring Wine People

Wine Industry Network January 2018 Wayne is selected and interviewed as one of ten “Inspiring Wine Industry People of North America”. Click here for article:

Sommspirations Inspirations lead to YH Experience

Brianne Cohen (Sommspirations) 6/12 Brianne returns to Youngberg Hill for the complete
experience. She enjoys a private tasting with Karyn Smith, and stays overnight and recounts
her experience on “The Hill”:

Wine Enthusiast Mag recommends YH for Winery Weddings

Lauren Mowery (Wine Enthusiast Magazine) 6/5 Lauren covers winery weddings in the
U.S. for Wine Enthusiast and includes Youngberg Hill:

YHV Wins Double Gold in the Cascadia Competition & IPNC

Eric Degerman (Tri-Cities Herald & Great Northwest Wine) 5/18 Eric reviews the 32nd annual IPNC and includes YHV as wineries to look for:

Sip Northwest Magazine has 4 questions for Wayne Bailey

Mark Stock (Sip Northwest Magazine) 2/26 Mark visits and stays on The Hill and discusses growing Chardonnay in Willamette Valley with Wayne:

Can wine be better than the grapes?

There are two concepts that we try to impress on guests tasting our wines; that wine is an agricultural product and that you cannot make a higher quality wine than the quality of the fruit harvested.

In an interview with Betty and Tony Notto from Weekly Wine Show on Wednesday, December 20th, we discussed those two ideas in more depth. Click HERE to learn more about us and these concepts.   The full show can be heard at the bottom of the linked page.




Taste McMinnville Month

February is Taste McMinnville Month and a great time to break up the winter dulldrums wherever you might live. Why not make it a new and unique experience in the Willamette Valley and more specifically, McMinnville. Why in February? It is Valentine’s Day celebrations all month. There are wine and chocolate pairing s across the valley all month. The landscape in the valley is lush and green. There is less tourism traffic to get around in. There are great opportunities to save money on travel and lodging that time of year. And February, like every month, is a great time to be enjoying Pinot Noir in the valley.

This year is even a bigger opportunity to do so in McMinnville. This February McMinnville will be celebrating Taste McMinnville Month featuring craft beverage producers of wine, beer, and spirits; along with all the fabulous restaurants that reside in the city. It will be a great time to experience all that McMinnville and the surrounding community have to offer in culinary bounty. McMinnville is the heart of the valley, has a great, thriving downtown shopping scene, and plenty of art and cultural activities to enjoy including music events at many venues and the Gallery Theater.

McMinnville reminds me of Calistoga thirty years ago. Back then, it was an outpost for most of the Napa wine tourism because it was so far away from San Fransisco. Today it is the epicenter of the valley. While McMinnville is farther southwest of Portland (35 miles), it is far from the maddening crowd, in the heart of the Willamette Valley, and half way between Portland and the coast.

McMinnville also reminds me of Beaune in Burgundy, France. As in Beaune, McMinnville lives and breaths the wine country, and the vineyards and wineries surrounding it. It has embraced the industry as part of it’s culture and reflects that in the multitude of dining experiences.

Come check it out this February!  Click here for more details.

Weekly Wine Show Podcast with Wayne Bailey

Tony & Betty Noto (Weekly Wine Show) 1/10/18 Wayne shares his history and wine views for over an hour on this weekly streaming podcast. Sit tight and pour yourself a glass:

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