The Chehalem Mountains AVA: Diversity of Soil and Grape Varietal

Vineyard dog and freshly harvested wine grapes

When it comes to the quality of wine, diversity plays an integral role in the process. The terroir concept defines how a region’s soil, climate and terrain affect all aspects of the wine produced. The grounds that we grow and harvest grapes on are a vital component of the tastes and complexities of wine. As a pioneer of the wine industry in Oregon, the Chehalem Mountains AVA is a perfect example of what diversity in soil and grape varietal looks like. With over 170 vineyards, there are countless vintners exploring how these seemingly minuscule factors can have such an impact on wine taste. Here are some of the grapes and soils that make the Chehalem Mountains so diverse:

Grape Varieties

In viticulture, the difference in varieties planted leads to a more interesting tasting experience and better showcases what the region can offer. The Chehalem Mountains AVA contains six predominant varieties of wine: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, and Gamay Noir. While Pinot Noir accounts for the majority of grapes planted in the area, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris are also popular wines from the Chehalem Mountains. Here are some key characteristics you can expect from these wines.

 

Pinot Noir

 

Shown by its consistency and reliability, Chehalem Mountains’ most popular grape is Pinot Noir. This complex wine makes up about 70 percent of the Chehalem Mountains AVA. Chehalem Mountains Pinot Noirs are deeply concentrated in flavor and often contain vanilla, cherry, and raspberry flavors. They also tend to be earthy, despite their fruit flavors.

 

Chardonnay

 

This white wine is dry with vibrant acidity, creating flavors that lean more toward apple, lemon, and pineapple. Chehalem Mountains Chardonnays often produce orange blossoms and white floral aromas. 

 

Pinot Gris

 

In the Chehalem Mountains, Pinot Gris wines often have aromas of tangerines, nectarines, and elderflowers. This wine balances fruit flavors with acidity, revealing green apple and lychee features. 

Soil Types 

A region with diverse soil types can create better-tasting, complex, and diverse flavors. The Chehalem Mountains AVA contains three different soil types: marine sedimentary, volcanic, and loess. With the most diverse soil of all viticulture areas in Oregon, vintners in the Chehalem Mountains AVA can create exceptional and complex wines. Here are some of the characteristics you can expect from these three primary soil types.

 

Marine Sedimentary (Ocean)

 

Marine soils have a high quartz content and rich, brown color. Originally, marine sandstones appeared in the shallow waters of the Pacific Ocean. Today, these soils rest on the northwestern side of the Chehalem Mountains. Pinot Noir grown from marine soils often have more of a velvet-like texture, with dark fruit and spice notes. 

 

Volcanic (Fire)

 

Created from lava flows from the Columbia River, volcanic soils appear on the southeastern side of the Chehalem Mountains. Volcanic soils are most known for their rusted-red color that comes from iron oxide. Additionally, Oregon’s state soil, Jory, is one of the Chehalem Mountains’ most well-known soil types. Volcanic soils create Pinot Noirs with red fruit flavors and elegant tannins.

 

Loess (Wind)

 

Deposited on the northeastern side of the Chehalem Mountains from powerful winds, loess soils are known for creating beautiful, deep, and earthy flavors in wine. As the youngest soil in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, loess soils are fine-grained and light in color. Loess soil Pinot Noirs have a variety of complex fruit flavors and floral aromatics.

 

The tremendous diversity in the Chehalem Mountains AVA allows our vintners to create world-class, complex wines. Including the three most prominent and diverse soil types in the Willamette Valley, the Chehalem Mountains is a pioneer of viticulture in Oregon and home to some of the state’s oldest and most celebrated vineyards. By understanding the complexities behind wine growing, we can better appreciate the wine we indulge in—it is much more than a drink. Next time you want to enjoy wine from the Chehalem Mountains, visit our various wineries and vineyards for tasting and purchasing options. 

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