Following the Roots of Oregon Wine

By Woody, Rachael Cristine; Schmidt, Rich | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Following the Roots of Oregon Wine


Woody, Rachael Cristine, Schmidt, Rich, Oregon Historical Quarterly


EACH BOTTLE OF WINE has its own story of origin and evolution. Understanding those unique stories can add new layers of complexity and enjoyment to both the wine-drinking experience and the knowledge of regional history. Humans have been making and drinking wine since the birth of civilization in the Fertile Crescent, with each region producing a distinctive flavor. (1) To feel the earthy tones and delicate notes of an Oregon wine roll across your tongue is to experience the notion of terroir--a French term widely used in wine circles to mean "the taste of the place." Soil, weather, and the personality of the winemaker each play a role in how a wine will taste, age, and represent the specific vineyard from which it came. (2) The human elements that contribute to terroir explain why a region can have dozens of wineries with each having its own unique taste. The terroir of Oregon wine also reveals the histories of grape growers and winemakers as well as consumers and the social, economic, and ecologic context in which they have lived. A new archive at Linfield College--the Oregon Wine History Archive (OWHA)--collects that history and makes it available to researchers and the public.

Similar to any good blend of wine, OWHA was conceived in a confluence of the right events and people. With the unlikely partnership of an American Baptist school and the wine community, the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) made its home at Linfield College in 1987, and during the next two decades, the school's interest in the wine industry gradually grew. The spark came when the Linfield Center for the Northwest paired with IPNC to create an exhibit and documentary to celebrate IPNC's twenty-fifth anniversary in 2011. (3) Linfield faculty conducted interviews with modern-day winemakers in the Willamette Valley and created displays of accumulated historical artifacts, all of which generated excitement among both the winemakers and Linfield staff. Both groups agreed that the collaboration should not stop there. Linfield library staff had previously secured appropriate archives space and funding and had hired a consultant to establish policies and procedures for the department. In November 2011, Linfield College hired its first archivist charged with both running the college archives and creating OWHA. OWHA's initial collection goals were to acquire six collections from committed Willamette Valley winery owners; within a year, the objective of the collection grew to include the documentation of every facet of the Oregon wine industry. OWHA works with other regional institutions to make materials available to researchers and to actively explore and reveal areas of the industry that highlight Oregon wine's origin.

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Knowing more about the Oregon wine industry's history not only fills gaps in regional history but also adds an additional element to each bottle's terroir, generating more respect and excitement around its consumption. Until recently, the history of Oregon wine primarily had been kept by the state's grape growers and winemakers with little outside access or active research. Winemakers and vineyard managers remember for a given year what the weather was like, the crop yield, the flavor of wine that emerged, how it aged, and many other details. They have kept scribbled notes about the weather, grape-sugar measurements, and aspects of wine blending and vineyard tending that provide detail on the terroir elements of the wines and on the industry as well. OWHA is dedicated to collecting those details. As the collection has grown, an increasing number of elements and themes emerges that tell the story of Oregon wine and the Willamette Valley's flagship varietal: pinot noir. As much as terroir has to do with the place, it has just as much to do with the people.

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OWHA chronicles the Oregon wine industry by documenting all aspects of the industry and collecting and preserving historical materials from winery owners, growers, researchers, marketers, workers, and sellers. …

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