David Adelsheim – the growth of Oregon’s wine industry

No one has had a stronger impact on the development of the Oregon wine community than David Adelsehim. From land use legislation in the 1980s that enabled protection of agricultural land, to the importation to America of the so-called Dijon clones of Pinot noir and Chardonnay, to the creation of the Oregon Wine Board—and including the success of his own Adelsheim Vineyard—David’s perspective on the history and prospects of Oregon wine is unequalled.

David Adelsheim

The reasons for success had to do with who the founders of the industry were—they came from the unnamed generation born just before the baby boom. It also had to do with the timing of the founding in that unique period between the Kennedy assassination and Watergate. Those people in that time brought together a naïve idealism, a focus on the very highest wine quality, creation of Oregon’s strict labeling rules, a belief that hard work would trump lack of money, with a need to tell the world about our successes.

The Steamboat Conference, International Pinot Noir Celebration, and Oregon Pinot Camp—they trusted each other, which led to their culture of collaboration and their willingness to tax themselves to create a communal means to fund needed research and joint marketing.

Other reasons for success had to do with Oregon. The weather in the Willamette Valley combines the advantages of one of the only cool-climate grape-growing regions in the New World with the summer drought of the West Coast. Even inexperienced winegrowers could triumph in the best vintages. And the politics of Oregon in this time brought the protection, even worship, of farmland through Senate Bill 100, which sheltered vast farm acreages in the north Willamette Valley from subdivision, allowing grape growing to flourish.

And lastly there was the ascendancy of Pinot Noir from unknown variety to part of the sacred trinity, brought about by collusion between the winegrowers and America’s sommeliers, and sanctified by its own movie.

In the coming times, Oregon’s wine industry will need to remember to first tell the story of Oregon in order to grow sales outside the country. It is of the highest importance that we continue to differentiate ourselves from the other wine growing regions of the world. And in the Willamette Valley, the six sub-AVAs will need to find a way to work together to attract respectful tourists to the area and insure steady growth of sales in North America.

We will need to find the right balance of non-farm uses on farmland so that we build destination tourism without losing the beauty and intimacy of the Oregon wine country experience. Most fine dining, weddings, concerts, and business meetings need to be taking place in our towns and cities so their economies stay healthy and productive. And so vineyards can continue to flourish in the rural lands.

Lastly, we need to insure the authenticity of our story by having most wine brands made at their own brick and mortar wineries from grapes grown on their own estate vineyards. Visitors need to be able to meet the winemaker and see the connection of our wines to this special place.

Hear other Northwest wine pioneers speak to the Pacific Northwest wine region:

Harry McWatters and B.C. wine

Allen Shoup on The Maturation of the Washington Wine Industry

3 Responses to “David Adelsheim – the growth of Oregon’s wine industry”
  1. Charles says:

    I don’t feel, we Sommeliers, in America are doing enough to promote the wines of Oregon. Somms are more interested in playing “Marco Polo” and be the first to discover the next big thing. And, once the excitement fades, luster wears off, what then? Let another part of the world promote New Zealand. We need to expand our Pinot Noir menus with the “family owned” and operated wineries Oregon provides.

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