Victor Panichkul, USA TODAY 1:39 p.m. EDT July 10, 2015
WILLAMETTE VALLEY, Ore. — Oregon Pinot Noir has been riding a rising wave of popularity in the USA as well as around the world and there's no better time than now to plan a visit to the new wine country USA.
Oregon has been called new American home of Pinot Noir, rivaling Burgundy, France. And the connection makes sense.
Both Burgundy and the Willamette Valley fall along the same latitude of 45 degrees north, they share similar daylight lengths and changes, and both regions share cool climates that favor the notoriously finicky Pinot Noir grape.
The region is also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first planting of Pinot Noir grapes this year.
With its marine-climate influence, the Willamette Valley -- cradled between the Cascade Mountains that forms a ridge to the east and the Coast Range that forms a ridge to the west towards the ocean -- has summer temperatures in the 90s during the day, but then drops to the 60s at night.
The breaks in the Coast Range allow the cool air from the Pacific Ocean to fill the Willamette Valley at night, giving the valley its cool temperatures that will have you reaching for a light fleece or jacket.
The valley stretches from Oregon's largest city, Portland, to the north, all the way down to Eugene to the south. And dotting the valley are more than 400 wineries and close to 650 vineyards that draw tourists from all over the USA, and increasingly the world, to their tasting rooms.
"In the past few years ... the Willamette Valley has greatly improved its public tasting rooms, accommodations and restaurants for visitors. With a more approachable and sophisticated infrastructure, visitors can stay in Willamette Valley now more easily than before, when they were pretty much limited to day trips from Portland or Salem," said Harvey Steiman, editor at large at Wine Spectator magazine.
The atmosphere in the tasting rooms is friendly and casual and you'll often rub elbows with winemakers or owners who are glad to explain their operation and their wine-making philosophy to you. Exploring wine country means getting off the interstate, as most wineries are dotted throughout the back country easily reached by Highway 99W, which passes through quaint towns and scenic farmland filled with hazelnut orchards, cherry trees, blackberry brambles and blueberry bushes.
The wine industry in Oregon contributed $3.35 billion toward the Oregon economy in 2013, the latest years that statistics are available, according to Michelle Kaufmann, communications manager for Oregon Wine Board. And the state's biggest wine region, the Willamette Valley, attracted 5.2 million visitors in 2013, according to Linea Gigliano with Travel Oregon, the state's tourism commission. Continue reading at USAtoday.com