Fine Oregon wine is older than you think


Although the Oregon wine industry came into its own much later, Oregon wines have been garnering notice for more than a century. Records of annual wine grape production go back to at least 1899, when the state produced 2,694 tons. A Forest Grove wine won a silver medal at the 1904 St. Louis Exhibition. And in 1939, Oregon Agricultural College established an Enology Lab, just six years after the end of Prohibition, its function connected to the state’s Liquor Control Commission.

According to those records, wine grape production remained fairly constant both before and after Prohibition, then took a strong dive following World War II, as the California wine industry began to skyrocket. In 1969, Oregon growers harvested a mere 289 tons of grapes, about a 10th of the production from a generation earlier. However, the grape varieties were changing. And tastes changed, too.

In the 1970s, the Experiment Station began testing European wine grape varieties at Aurora, Medford, and Corvallis, “to seek solutions to specific problems of an industry that is new to the Pacific Northwest: a wine and wine grape industry based upon selected European vinifera varieties.” The rest is history.

Media Image: 
Frank Johnson in vineyard
Credit Text: 
Courtesy OSU Special Collections & Archives
Caption Text: 
Frank Johnson admires his grapes in Salem, circa 1935. (Photo courtesy OSU Special Collections & Archives, P 218 SG 4 0725.)