Oregon's participation in this time-honored legacy of cultivating grapes and making wine can be traced to early settlers who planted the first vines in 1847. The state's first recorded winery was established in today's Rogue Valley in the 1850s. The following years saw new growth extending from southern Oregon, through the Umpqua Valley and north into the Willamette Valley. Oregon's wine-making industry was nipped at the bud in the early 1900s due to growing competition from California's wine industry, as well as the influence of the conservative Temperance Movement. Passage of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) which outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transportation of intoxicating liquors (1920-1933), coincided with a period of economic highs as well as the lows of the Great Depression. Oregon's wine industry lay dormant for years afterwards.
The modern era of Oregon's grape and wine industry began in the 1960s when vines were again planted in southern Oregon's Umpqua Valley. Other pioneering vintners traveled north and planted pinot noir grapes on Willamette Valley hillsides; today, the area is considered the epicenter of winemaking in the state. Many Oregon wineries operate their own vineyards and are often family owned and operated. Oregon's industry has a national reputation for unusually high average returns per ton and higher than average revenue per case. Oregon's sustainable agricultural practices are an integral part of many operations as is the internationally recognized "green" certification of qualifying wine production practices.
The impact of the industry has been felt and fostered on various levels. In 1973, Oregon's legislature passed a landmark land-use law. Hillsides previously zoned for residential development were set aside as agricultural land, perfect for vineyards. By the late 1970s, Oregon Pinot Noir was beating out top wines from France at major wine-tasting events, marking the entry of Oregon wines on the world stage.
Graph 1, detailing the number of vineyards and acres planted between 1986 and 2010, shows a growing industry. This period saw a 374 percent increase in the number of Oregon vineyards and a 433 percent increase in the number of acres planted in wine grapes. Investment in wine grape cultivation, especially just prior to the Great Recession of 2007 to 2009, can be seen in the surge in acres planted - a 37 percent increase between 2005 and 2008. This vineyard expansion corresponded with a 17 percent increase in the number of wineries.
Oregon's vineyards are found in many places; they may cover large expanses of rolling hillsides or be tucked away in sunny, sheltered valleys. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has defined five growing regions in Oregon (Table 1). Of these regions, in 2010, the North Willamette Valley was home to 59 percent of the state's vineyards and accounted for 64 percent of the 20,400 acres planted. Productive Yamhill County, included in this growing region, reported more than 6,000 acres planted; 84 percent of which was in pinot noir. Neighboring Polk and Marion Counties ranked second and third in acres planted. Again, pinot noir was the leading variety followed by pinot gris and chardonnay. Wine grape production has increased as the acres planted and harvested have grown over the years; however, as with all other agricultural products, the yield per acre is impacted by weather, pests, and other, often uncontrollable, factors.
|2010 Oregon Wine Grapes: Vineyards, Acreage, Yield, and Production|
|by Growing Region and County|
|Growing Region and County||Number of Vineyards||All Planted Acreage||Harvested Acreage||Yield Per Harvested Acre (in tons)||Production (in tons)|
|N. Willamette Valley|
|S. Willamette Valley|
|Columbia River & At Large|
|Note: 2010 was the last year county-level data were available.|
|Source: 2010 Oregon Vineyard & Winery Report, USDA-NASS, Oregon Field Office|
Wineries differ from vineyards in that their primary function is the manufacture of wine. In 1970, there were five bonded wineries in Oregon and 35 vineyard acres. In 2010, the USDA reported 419 wineries and 20,500 planted acres. By March 2012, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau reported 463 permitted wineries in Oregon.
As with vineyard employment data, OED records reflect only those enterprises participating in the UI program. In 2001, OED reported 65 wineries; by 2011, that number had increased to 198 - an increase of roughly 12 wineries per year. Between 2007 and 2009, the depths of the Great Recession, the number of reporting wineries increased from 144 to 170. Employment also increased during this period, although numbers then dipped slightly over the next few years. The industry's seasonal nature can easily been seen in Graph 2, detailing vineyard and winery employment. The most labor-intensive portion of production takes place at roughly the same time of year as the harvest, October. Total payroll in Oregon's wineries in 2011 was $61.8 million with an annual average wage of $28,933 (like vineyards, this includes seasonal and part-time workers).
Other allied industries include those in the distribution chain (wholesalers, brokers, importers); retail sales; trucking, transportation, and warehousing; banking, consulting, accounting, and insurance; and tourism-related. In July 2011, Full Glass Research reported indirect employment estimates in excess of 1,330 jobs and $5.4 million in wages.
In 2011, OED records counted 24 establishments in the "wine and spirit merchant wholesalers" industry, the majority of which are wine wholesalers. These businesses employed 244 people and had an annual payroll of nearly $9.3 million. Annual average wages are higher in wine wholesaling compared with the production side of the industry because there is more full-time and year-round work. The annual average wage for 2011 was $38,036.
Wine-related tourism includes travel agents, tour operators, restaurants, hotels, and other businesses in Oregon. Full Glass Research estimated that in 2010, Oregon wine-related tourism employed 2,070, paid $47.5 million in wages, and generated $158.5 million in total revenue. These figures do not include tasting room revenues but they do cover hotel, food, entertainment, transportation, retail, and other business generated by visitors to Oregon wineries.
Further to the north and deep within the Willamette Valley, the Northwest Viticulture Center operates at Chemeketa Community College. In addition to coursework for the Vineyard Operations Certificate, there are two-year degrees in Vineyard Management, Winemaking, and Wine Marketing. The latter program prepares students for such occupations as tasting room sales manager, wine steward, wine buyer or broker, wine marketing or sales manager, or winery public relations manager.
Oregon State University, one of five universities in the nation with programs in both grape and wine production sciences, has been instrumental in the development of the Oregon Wine Research Institute. This statewide institute is a partnership between the Oregon wine industry and Oregon State University and promotes the multidisciplinary collaboration of research and outreach specialists. Undergraduate programs in viticulture and enology are administered by the departments of Horticulture, and Food Science and Technology; the three major areas of focus are viticulture, enology, and business. Graduate degree programs are also available.
In less than 30 years, Oregon's grape and wine industry has gone from 179 vineyards to 870, added over 17,000 acres planted in wine grape, and seen the addition of more than 400 new wineries. This growing industry is leaving an ever-expanding footprint across the hills, valleys, and marketplaces of Oregon.