Oregon Pinot Noir the One Trick-Pony?

"No one likes to think of themselves as a one-trick pony as an actor, but on the other hand, it's nice to be part of something that has international popularity, that is seen literally everywhere in the world and stays in the marketplace forever."~ Robert Picardo

In a recent article which appeared in Wines and Vines, it stated some statistics in which they directly or indirectly attempt to paint the Oregon wine industry as a one-trick pony. I'm paraphrasing here, "More than half of all wine grapes in Oregon as a whole is Pinot Noir." Does this paint the picture of an industry relying on a single varietal for its market success?

Also, take into consideration one of Oregon's main competitors, wines from California, there's more varietal diversity, but the cost of land and the scarcity of water can help bring Oregon some parity with their rival in the Golden State.

Inside that same article, there's also made a mention of diluting of the Oregon Pinot Noir brand, a group of investors from Boston purchasing inexpensive land in Oregon's Douglas County are doubling down on Pinot Noir, in an attempt to make Oregon labeled Pinot Noir with the generic Oregon AVA designation. The reality of the situation is that Southern Oregon is not well suited for that varietal, but that's no hindrance to a business apparently motivated purely by profit.

"Oregon ranks as third in the U.S. for the number of wineries but comes in a distant fourth regarding overall annual production. More than half of that production is dedicated to Pinot Noir. The results paint a picture of many small wineries relying on a single market for success." ~ Wines and Vines



Whether it's acting or winemaking, few would like to be thought of as the one-trick pony. Regarding Oregon's wine industry as a whole, yes, while it's most certainly known for one varietal. It's also a place of great diversity, varietally speaking. Especially if you consider Southern Oregon, which sadly, many vino-sapiens do not fully grasp. But, I'm not sure that perception is possible to change.

There's been a push recently, relatively speaking, regarding the production of Chardonnay, and it would make sense, that in premium Pinot Noir producing areas, that adding Chardonnay to the mix would be a good thing. Seeing that in Burgundy Pinot Noir and Chardonnay produced there are in many people's opinion the best in the world.

Now that said, I believe it would be smart for the Willamette Valley producers, in general, to add this varietal to what they're doing, if they're not doing so already. Many folks may not realize this, but for the majority of consumers, white wines beat the pants off red wine, by large margins. The majority of those white wines are Chardonnay, so seeing it's the cash cow, the smart money, at least for now would be to add Chardonnay, to their portfolios. This is being done, and there is great confidence among many growers that the price of Chardonnay grapes per ton could overtake Pinot Noir at some point.
“We have the right clones, and it’s proven that Oregon makes high-quality Chardonnay that stands up with other regions (such as Burgundy or California),” noted Michelle Kaufmann, assistant communications manager for the Oregon Wine Board. “I can easily see how the market price would increase.” Copyright © via Wines & Vines

Despite the appearance of relying upon a single varietal, Oregon's wine community is growing steadily, getting tremendous accolades along the way, while staying true to its artisanal roots and keeping sustainability at the forefront. Thus the way forward is to stay true to original goals, while other states may produce more quantity; they're not delivering better quality. Take Burgundy for example, in lean hail years, the production of Burgundy goes down, but the demand stays high. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay have been the signature grapes of this region since the 14th century.

Yet, no one questions how Burgundy can survive if they only rely on these two varietals. My point, the demand for finely crafted Oregon Pinot Noir is not shrinking, if anything it's intensifying. The fact that Joe Wagoner took his Constellation fortune to buy up some Pinot Noir land, even down south, means the question of whether reliance upon this varietal is a good idea or not is a mute point.

If they're [firms from Boston] are ill-advisedly planting Pinot Noir in southern Oregon, they're doing so because the demand for commodity Pinot Noir under $10 is extremely high. Slapping an Oregon AVA on the label, giving an impression to novice wine consumers that this is "Oregon Pinot" and by doing so, insulting the hard-won reputation of Oregon Pinot Noir in general.

But in a day, where most people just don't care about anything, other than there next FB post, it's not hard to see why moneyed interests from outside the state, will take advantage of the situation. The purple-toothed wine swilling and swirly masses seem concerned only with the price of the wine they purchase, if it says Oregon PN, and it's under ten dollars, with a screw cap or can, they [the public] don't give a wit about reputation.

As far as the issue of water demand is concerned, in my opinion, California's wine industry has more to fear from this issue than Oregon does. The land values in California keep their bottle prices much higher than they do in Oregon, as a whole. Despite any doom and gloom predictions made in Wines and Vines about Oregon Wine, I'd say the pioneers of Oregon Wine have left their forebears with an incredible legacy, one that will stretch out over the centuries, without much fear, only genuine hope for a bright future.

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