by Jeffery Lindenmuth
There are two widely held perceptions about Oregon wine. One: It’s very good. And, two: It’s very expensive. There is, of course, some truth to both. A string of excellent vintages, new clonal selections, and an enclave of talented winemakers has Oregon at the top of its game, crafting world-class wines from Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, as well as Chardonnay, Riesling and even Bordeaux grapes from the warmer Rogue Valley.
But beyond their quality, Oregon wines have historically been pricey compared to other New World wines, and for good reason. While the state is second to California in the number of wineries in the U.S., it is actually fourth in the amount of wine it produces, following California, Washington and New York. Oregon’s relatively small production, and an industry dominated by small wineries, results in costlier winemaking.
In addition, Oregon’s most widely planted and lauded grape, Pinot Noir, is notoriously fickle and expensive virtually everywhere is grows. “Pinot Noir is so fragile. It requires low yields, as low as 1 1/2 tons per acre, which in a business plan does not make a lot of sense. Also unique to Oregon is the high cost of labor because we do everything by hand. Vineyards are often organically- or sustainably-farmed and we have very few wineries over 50,000 cases,” explains Maria Ponzi, operating director and marketing director of Oregon pioneer, Ponzi Vineyards.
But with consumers clamoring for Pinot Noir like never before, and downward price pressure appearing from newer entries from California and New Zealand, Oregon has no intention of being left behind. To that end, several wineries have introduced evangelistic wines that offer a taste of Oregon Pinot Noir at a price few can resist. Consumers who might think twice before dropping $35 on Ponzi’s Pinot Noir or $50 for their Reserve Pinot Noir are quick to grab Tavola, which usually retails for under $20.
“There has been a mantra for a decade that Oregon wines are high priced. But if you looked at pricing today, compared to California, you’ll find that we’re not all that expensive,” says Rollin Soles, winemaker at Argyle Winery.
However, Argyle has always managed to create wines offering excellent value, from their magnificent sparklers to Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($20-$25) crafted from the fruit that does not make it into the prime selection wines.
Diane Dobbes is the marketing director behind the Wine by Joe label, a creation of her brother, Oregon winemaker Joe Dobbes. With varietal wines representing the trio of Pinots — Noir, Blanc, Gris — Wine by Joe is now in nine states, retailing from about $13.99-$17.99.
Diane Dobbes likens these fun but high-quality wines to “everyday wines,” while the pricier Pinots might be “weekend with friends” wines.
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