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Celebrating 40 Years of the Willamette Valley AVA

By Matt Wastradowski
History of the AVA | Popular Wine Experiences | Luxury Wine Tasting Tours | Truffle Season | Wine Hiking | Lodging Deals

On December 1, 1983, Oregon Wine Country took a bold step into the future when the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau officially granted establishment of the Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA). Winemakers had been tilling the region’s soils for decades when the designation was made official, but the establishment of the state’s first AVA marked a turning point that would bring thousands of visitors to the fertile valley over the coming decades.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Willamette Valley AVA, we’ve put together a quick history of the region's wine, suggestions for enjoying our vintage releases today, and a look at one of our most cherished traditions: The Giving Season.

Oregon vintners grew wine grapes as far back as the 1840s—but it wasn't until 1965 that the Willamette Valley wine scene as we know it today began taking shape. That year, David Lett (founder of The Eyrie Vineyards) planted the Willamette Valley's first Pinot noir cuttings near Corvallis. 

In 1979, Oregon Wine Country arrived as a force on the global winemaking stage when The Eyrie Vineyards’ 1975 South Block Reserve Pinot Noir was named one of the world’s top 10 wines at the Wine Olympiad in Paris—a global competition of more than 300 wineries.

In the years that followed, several winemakers moved to—and established vineyards in—the Willamette Valley. The eyes of the winemaking world soon turned to the 120-mile-long valley, which stretches from the Portland area in the north to the community of Cottage Grove in the south—and from the crest of the Oregon Coast Range in the west to the crest of the Cascade Range in the east.

In 1983, the federal government formally established the Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), which today measures nearly 3.5 million acres—an area three times the size of Grand Canyon National Park. In doing so, it recognized the uniqueness of our grape-growing region—buoyed by a mixture of nutrient-rich soils, friendly climates, and landscapes conducive to agriculture. Today, more than 700 wineries cover the broader Willamette Valley, and 11 smaller wine-growing regions—each recognized for their own distinct characteristics—are nested within the Willamette Valley AVA.

Curious to sample the flavors of the Willamette Valley wine scene? Get started with our beginner’s guide to wine tasting, and peruse these resources for more information.

For many travelers, a trip isn’t a trip without the whole family—furry members and all. Check out our guide to dog-friendly wineries around the Willamette Valley.

Epic views of manicured vineyards, snow-capped mountain peaks, bucolic rivers, and verdant forests await across our region. Savor it all with this round-up of 10 beautiful wineries in the Willamette Valley.

There’s so much to see in the Willamette Valley, so why not sample the best of it all with a weekend in Oregon Wine Country? Our three-day itinerary lays out recommended wineries, buzz-worthy restaurants, and other ideas for exploring the wider region.

If you're not sure where to start, consider a Willamette Valley wine tour with First Nature Tours.

First Nature Tours offers a high-end, day trip experience where you can get to know the region's wineries, learn about the Willamette Valley's unique ecology, as well as suggestions for enjoying our celebrated wines.

Tours like our Chef's Guided Tasting Experience, running on Sundays, and Hidden Gems Winery tour include a behind-the-scenes look at how wines are crafted, wine-and-food pairings with a private chef, and conversations with passionate vintners while enjoying the fruits of their labor.

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Planning to celebrate the AVA's anniversary between January and March? If so, join us for truffle season—when this underground delicacy takes center stage at wineries and high-end restaurants across the Willamette Valley. The fun includes truffle dinners, wine pairings, even guided truffle hunts!

Truffle Season

Wineries all over the Willamette Valley host hiking trails that head through vineyards, past hazelnut orchards, and toward bucolic wetlands. Learn more, and plan your next outdoor adventure with this guide to wine hiking in the Willamette Valley.

Cozy Hotel Specials for a Luxurious Cellar Season

Your adventure begins with the official Willamette Valley Travel Guide. Request your complimentary printed guide or download a digital guide today.

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