THE CHEHALEM MOUNTAINS
Large swaths of Willakenzie series and Laurelwood soils and distinct geographical contours further define the Chehalem Mountains with two nested AVAs– Ribbon Ridge and Laurelwood District.
The Making of a Region
The contiguous landmass known as the Chehalem (pronounced “Sha-HAY-lum”) Mountains was formed by uplifted sedimentary seabeds, lava flow, and wind-blown silt, resulting in some of the most diverse soils in wine country. At its peak, the Chehalem ridgeline boasts the Willamette Valley’s tallest point at 1,633 feet above sea level. Hilltops and slopes from 200 to well over 1,000 feet provide optimal conditions for wine grape growing.
Encompassing over 100 square miles, our AVA is one of the largest in the Willamette Valley and touches three counties (Yamhill, Washington, and Clackamas). Nested AVAs within the Chehalem Mountains give more nuanced identities to this diverse place. With dramatic variations in terrain, soils, and climate, the Ribbon Ridge and Laurelwood District AVAs (and several more entering the application process) further distinguish and differentiate our region.
RIBBON RIDGE AVA
In the southwest-facing foothills of the Chehalem Mountains, a small uplifted landmass demarks the Ribbon Ridge AVA. Protected on three sides by surrounding geographical features, vineyards here enjoy a moderate microclimate. The fine marine sedimentary soil that dominates the viticultural area starkly contrasts the older, loess and volcanic soils elsewhere on the mountain.
The majority of the plantings are devoted to Pinot Noir; however, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gamay Noir can also be found. The Pinot Noirs are remarkably nuanced and prized for their dark cherry and spice notes, velvety texture, and minerality.
The first Pinot Noir was planted on Ribbon Ridge in 1980 by Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem Winery. The Ribbon Ridge AVA was established in 2005.
LAURELWOOD DISTRICT AVA
One of the newest American Viticultural Areas, the Laurelwood District, is named for the type of loess soils found in abundance on the eastern slope of the Chehalem Ridge. Laurelwood soil is particularly suited to grape growing and consists of a windblown freshwater sedimentary topsoil and underlying basalt.
Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris reign with the majority of vineyards planted to Pinot Noir. The influence of the two distinct layers of soil is apparent in wines crafted from older versus younger vines. In Pinot Noirs crafted from older vines, violet, anise, and white pepper dominate the aromatics, with flavors of blue and black fruit, present tannins, and earthy notes. The wines from younger vines, on the other hand, offer more floral aromatics, red fruit flavors, and soft, dusty tannins.
The Laurelwood District AVA was approved in 2020, further defining the region by the predominant Laurelwood soils. Although it is one of the newest AVAs, the area has a nearly 50-year-old winegrowing history. In 1972, the first vines were planted on Laurelwood soils by the Johnson family at Dion Vineyard.