The Chehalem Mountains has a rich history from Native American roots, early European settlements to the viticultural landscape it has become today. The first modern vineyards were established in 1969 when northwestern pioneer Dick Erath planted what he called Chahalem Mountain Vineyard. David Adelsheim, Dick and Nancy Ponzi and Paul Hart soon followed. The associated Ribbon Ridge AVA saw it’s first Pinot Noir planting by 1980, but it was not until December 2006 that Chehalem Mountains AVA was officially acknowledged.
Diverse soils were brought about by the forces of marine sandstones formed 20 to 40 million years ago and exposed by the uplift of the mountains, lava flows forming the Columbia River Basin 5-15 million years ago and winds scouring the sediments of the surrounding soils over the last million years or so. This has produced well drained red volcanic soils to the southeastern Chehalem Mountains, silt deposits on the northwest flanks and high quartz content throughout.
An estimated 150 vineyards are now planted within the AVA, mostly smaller blocks averaging just over 12 acres and family farmed at elevations of 200 to 1000 feet. While at present this 68,000+ acre appellation, just 19 miles to the southwest of Portland, OR, holds a scant 1600 acres planted to wine grapes, Oregon’s signature Pinot Noir is the benchmark to this area.
In the southern Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Georgia vineyards are small and few, yet the establishment of the Upper Hiwassee Highlands could bring much more.
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