Explore the Wine Industry in Salem, OR
Redhawk Winery and Vineyard in Salem, OR
This is Pinot Noir country, and Salem is at the heart of it. More than 200 wineries dot the green, rolling hills of Oregon's Willamette Valley, the long, broad valley that follows the Willamette River from Portland to Eugene, shielded from Pacific storms by the Coast Range to the west and bound by the Cascades to the east. The region's soil, rich with volcanic ash and ocean-bed nutrients, combined with a climate of cool, wet winters and warm, sunny summers make it a premier site for growing the grapes that go into the Willamette Valley's world-renowned wines. Pinot Noir grapes account for 58 percent of the varieties grown in Oregon, says Al MacDonald, vineyard management instructor for the Northwest Viticulture Center at Chemeketa Community College in Salem. "Other suitable varieties include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Blanc." The region's wine-production prowess has been heralded in national media from the Chicago Tribune, to the Los Angeles Times, and the accolades just keep pouring in. Wine Enthusiast Magazine recently named Willamette Valley Vineyards one of America's great Pinot Noir producers; Wine Spectator ran a feature in January 2009 highlighting the diversity of the region's Pinot Noir vintages and noting that the Willamette Valley produces top-quality Pinot Noir wines; and Yahoo! Travel recommended the Willamette Valley wine country as one of only two U.S destinations on its 10 Top Hot Spots of 2009 list. Often hailed as the next Napa Valley, the wine industry here is flourishing. "Oregon's wine industry has been growing 10 percent to 15 percent over the last several years," MacDonald says. In fact, the USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Service reports that, in 2008, 1,570 new acres of grapes were planted in Oregon, and the state saw a net growth of 25 wineries. "Marion and Polk counties produce about 25 percent of Oregon wines," MacDonald adds. "There is still a lot of room to expand, and there are a lot of good sites left to develop," he continues. "I know in our classes here, we get new people in all the time who've just bought land and are converting it to vineyards, and they're wanting to know how to go about growing grapes." Chemeketa's Northwest Viticulture Center stands ready to help them. The center is home to the college's vineyard management and winemaking program and features a working vineyard and winery, as well as classrooms and lab facilities. Options for students range from a wine appreciation class to associate degrees in vineyard management, vineyard operations and winemaking. Most local vineyards and wineries are small, family-owned operations that are passionate about preserving the area's quality of life and practicing good stewardship of the land. Their success has been driven by growing demand for Oregon wines from the country's best restaurants, as well as the increasing popularity of wine tourism. Area wineries offer tastings, tours and special events, and several annual festivals also bring visitors to the Willamette Valley to enjoy the Oregon wine experience.