Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium at Oak Knoll Winery in Hillsboro, USA

Picture: Paul Gregutt, Seattle Times (right) and Greg Lint, President of Oak Knoll Winery (left) at the 1. Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium

The 1. Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium took place at Oak Knoll Winery in Hillsboro, near Portland, on June 9, 2011. It consisted of two parts: Lectures and round table discussion in the morning and an Oregon Pinot Gris tasting in the afternoon.

The Wines of Oregon

About two-thirds of Oregon’s wineries and vineyards are in the Willamette Valley. Buffered from Pacific storms on the west by the Coast Range, the valley follows the Willamette River north to south for more than a hundred miles from the Columbia River near Portland to just south of Eugene. But Oregon is not only about Willamette Valley. Oregon’s vineyards span the whole State, rising up and falling over the rolling hills and gentle valleys of more than 12,000 acres (4,858 hectares) of wine grapes. Other major wine regions are the Rogue Valley, Umpqua Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. Some regions straddle the border between Oregon and the States of Washington and Idaho.

Wine has been produced in Oregon since the Oregon Territory was settled in the 1840s, when Italian and Swiss immigrants planted wine grapes and started bottling wine. Oregon's wine industry was suppressed during Prohibition. It was not until 1961, when Richard Sommer set up shop in southern Oregon, that the modern Oregon wine industry was borne. Other pioneers include David Lett, David Adelsheim, Dick Ponzi and Bill Sokol-Blosser. Then the French also came with Domaine Drouhin bringing European sophistication to Oregon.

Picture: The Wine Regions of Oregon

In the past 40 years, Oregon has become one of the country’s top three wine States, with 450 wineries producing an average of 3,500 cases. Most of it is Pinot Noir (8000 acres), Oregon’s signature grape variety, followed by Pinot Gris (1300), Chardonnay (800), Merlot (500) and Riesling (500). Oregon produces wine on a much smaller scale than its southern neighbor California. The majority of wineries in Oregon operate their own vineyards, although some purchase grapes on the market.

Pinot Gris in the World

There are about 25,000 hectares of Pinot Gris in the world, accounting for less than 0.5 percent of total wine production. With about 12,000 hectares, Italy is the front-runner, with Germany (4,000 h), California (3,000 h), Alsace (2,000 h) and Hungary (1.500 h) following. Oregon, with about 500 hectares, belongs to the group of smaller producers, along with New Zealand (700 h) and Australia (300 h).

Pinot Gris comes from the Bourgogne in France. The Pinot Gris has grayish-blue fruit. This explains the name: Pinot Gris (in France), or Pinot Grigio (in Italy) or Grauburgunder (in Germany) - Gris, Grigio and Gris mean “grey”.

Pinot Gris is a heat-sensitive grape that does not fare well in hotter climates as it needs colder temperatures to ripen fully and produce distinct flavors. It prefers a cooler climate with long, temperate summer days.

Pictures: During the Morning Sessions

In Italy, plantings can be found in the Lombardy region and in Alto Adige, Italy's northern most wine region, as well as in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. Some 9 million cases are produced in Italy today, of which 90% is exported. Italian Pinot Grigio tends to be light-bodied, often lean; light in color; neutral, sometimes spritzy flavors, crisp and acidic. Almost all Italian Pinot Grigio wines are dry.

A German merchant by the named Johann Seger Ruland (re)discovered grapes growing wild in the fields of the Pfalz region in Germany in the 1700s. The wine he produced with these grapes became known as Rulaender; the Rulaender was later discovered to be Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris). Many wine producers in Germany sell their Grauburgunder still as Rulaender. German Grauburgunder/Rulaender tends to be medium- to full-bodied; typically dry but sometimes with noticeable residual sugar, but always well balanced with good acidity.

French Pinot Gris from Alsace can be rich and almost oily in texture. Like the German Grauburgunder, Alsatian Pinot Gris can be made in a dry or sweet-style.

Pinot Gris in Oregon

Pinot Gris has been grown in Oregon as long as Pinot Noir. David Lett, founder of Oregon's first winery, The Eyrie in McMinnville, planted a tiny amount alongside his first plantings of Pinot Noir more than 40 years ago. Other pioneers were Dick Ponzi and David Adelsheim. But it was not until the King Estate was founded in the 1990s that the Oregon Pinot Gris got national attention. The Estate, which grows only organically, is in the southernmost end of the Willamette Valley near Eugene.

Almost all Oregon Pinot Gris vines are found on slopes, southeast to southwest facing at elevations from 250 to 700 feet. Mid-slope positioning generally keeps vines above frost levels, and below less fertile soils near the ridge. Southern exposure rewards grapes with extra hours of sunlight.

The 1. Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium at Oak Knoll Winery

This was a very well organized ¾ day event at the Oak Knoll Winery in Hillsboro. It was sponsored by Oak Knoll Winery and organized by PR veteran Jo Diaz. The event was very inspiring and entertaining. The star was Paul Gregutt, from the Seattle Times.

Evidently, there are different styles of Pinot Gris in the world. Living in Germany and on the US East Coast, I am not as familiar with Oregon Pinot Gris as most other participants were. So, I was curious how the wines would taste. Alsatian or Italian style? Dry or with a bit of remaining sugar? Aged in oak to add flavors and tannins?

Pictures: Afternoon Tasting of the Pinot Gris Wines; Paul Gregutt and Christian G.E.Schiller (top)

What I found at the tasting were very few, if any, Italian style Pinot Grigio wines. In terms of residual sugar, the wines I tasted were overwhelmingly dry. Finally, I found very little oak in the wines. Overall, the wines were medium-bodied, crisp, with lively flavors, often with aromas of pear, apple, and melon.

Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium Program

7:30 - 8:30 a.m. Registration & Continental Breakfast

8:30 - 8:35 a.m. WELCOME ~ Greg Lint and Jeff Herinckx



8:45 - 9:30 a.m. "The Potential for Pinot Gris From Oregon, Regarding Its Terroir"

BREAK ~ 9:30 - 9:45 a.m.

SESSION II VITICULTURE ~ Al MacDonald, Chemeketa Community College Vineyard Management Programs

9:45 - 10:30 a.m "Understanding the Terroir of Oregon Pinot Gris"

• Robert Brittan, Robert Brittan Vineyards
• Jason Bull, Zimri Cellars, winemaker at David Hill Vineyards
• Jeff Herinckx, Oak Knoll Winery
10:30 - 11:15 a.m. "Crafting Signature Pinot Gris"

BREAK ~ 11:15 - 11:30 a.m.


11:30 - 12:30 p.m.
Ryan Lumaco, Odom-Southern Distributors of Oregon "Having Your Pinot Gris Stand Out From The Oregon Crowd"
Eugenia Keegan, Vineyard Consultant "Having Your Pinot Gris Stand Out From The National Crowd"

12:30 ~ 1:30 p.m. LUNCHEON w/MEDIA


Pictures: Luncheon; Christian G.E.Schiller, Nicolas Quille, head winemaker of Pacific Rim, Jennifer Henry from Henry Estate Winery in Umpqua in Oregon


Winery and Grape Growers:

Airlie Winery
Abiqua Wind Vineyard
Ankeny Vineyard Winery
Apolloni Vineyards
Brittan Vineyards
Cardwell Hill Cellars
Christoper Bridge Cellars
David Hill
Dion Vineyard
Henry Estate
King Estate Winery
Lange Estate Winery
Left Coast Cellars
Maysara Winery
Methven Family Vineyards
Montinore Estates Winery
NW Wine Company, L.L.C.
Oak Knoll Winery
Pacific Rim Winemakers
Phelps Creek Vineyards
Plum Hill Vineyards
Provincial Vineyards
Pudding River Wine Cellars
Ribera Vineyards
Ron Johnson
Sokol Blosser Winery
Spindrift Cellars
Terrapin Cellars
Willamette Valley Vineyards
Wy’East Vineyards
Yamhill Valley Vineyards
Zimri Cellars

Wine Trade:

Chemeketa Community College
Diaz Communications
Eugenia Keegan Consulting
Ombiasy Public Relations
Odom-Southern Distributors of OR

Wine Media:

Paul Gregutt ~, Wine Enthusiast
Barbara Trigg ~ Appellation America
Ryan Reichert ~ Northwest Whites
Dr. Christian G.E.Schiller ~ Schiller Wine
Jim Gullo ~ Oregon Wine, b/t/w
Mark Hinton ~ Enobytes, Oregon Live
Pamela Heiligenthal ~ Enobytes
Jo Diaz ~ Wine-Blog ~ Juicy Tales by Jo Diaz
Gary Werner ~ Vineyard and Winery Management

schiller-wine: Related Postings

One of Oregon's Pioneering Winemakers - Myron Redford - with his Amity Vineyard Wines in Washington DC

Wine tasting: Soter Wines from Oregon at Out-of-Sight Wines in Vienna, US

Wine Tasting: The Pinot Noirs of Patricia Green, Oregon, US

The Excellent Wines of Ken Wright Cellars, Oregon

The Jay Somers Wines of Bill Holloran, Oregon

Meeting Bill Holloran from Oregon and Tasting His Holloran and Stafford Hill Wines

5. Deutscher Grauburgunder Preis – 5. German Pinot Gris Award

The Doctor Made a House Call - A Tasting with Ernst Loosen, Weingut Dr. Loosen, at MacArthur Beverages in Washington DC


  1. Amazing Christian!

    We were certainly lucky to have you and Annette with us. I love the world stats!

  2. Love the leaner, crisper Oregon Pinot Gris.
    What temperature do you like to drink your Pinot Gris at? Does it depend on style?

  3. Jon, I am with you. I like these wines chilled down, both the light-bodied and the richer ones, like you served the Pacific Coast Oyster Wine Competition winners at Elliot's Oyster House in Seattle. Cheers. Christian and Annette
    @ Berkeley

  4. Dr. Schiller,
    Thanks for your attendance and article bringing national attention to Pinot Gris from Oregon. It was a well written article with a a good amount of Oregon wine history, one small correction I would make would be that "The Eyrie" was not Oregon's first winery, first to sell Pinot Gris but not Oregon's first winery. Hillcrest Vineyards was Oregon's first post prohibition winery.These two links will take you to the most recent discussions about who was first.
    Another great source is Lisa Shara Hall's book
    Wines of the Pacific North West (9781840004199)
    I was curious as to what you meant by overwhelmingly dry? Many of the wines had enough RS to be offensive if you are sensitive to sugar but most represented the style that is Willamette Valley Pinot Gris.

    MacDaddy Marc Hinton (Wine Bytes)
    Editor at Large

  5. There is nothing like Pinot gris from France and Australia!