Oregon’s Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: The Heartbreak Grape Thrives

Coleman Winery, Willamette Valley Oregon
Grapes harvested at Coleman Winery in the Willamette Valley of Oregon

It’s easy to love Oregon’s Willamette Valley wine region. Not because it’s the largest region in the state, stretching all the way from the northern-most point of Portland to Eugene,  over one hundred miles away, but because the micro-climates allow for unique expressions of cool climate grapes, specifically Pinot Noir.

With the history of winemaking in the US stretching back to the 19th century, it’s amazing to consider that the Willamette Valley AVA was only first designated in 1984, just a blink in time away. The region has come a long way in the past twenty-five years and now consists of six sub appellations; North Willamette Valley, South Willamette Valley, Southern Oregon, Umpqua Valley, Eastern Oregon and the RogueValley/Applegate Valley.  There are even three appellations shared with Washington; the Columbia Gorge, Walla Walla Valley and Oregon’s Columbia Valley.

The Willamette Valley is the largest region with the highest concentration of Oregon wineries, many of which are in the northern portion. At present,  wineries number more than 200 with 15,000 acres planted to vineyards. This is fantastic for visiting, since they are a stone’s throw from Portland and easy to access. We had the great fortune of meeting several winemakers and owners from the region at a recent Willamette Valley tasting held in Chicago.

Below is an overview of intriguing interviews and several of the wines we carry.

Coleman Vineyards,  McMinnville AVA

With vineyardss located close to the Van Duzer corridor which is an opening through the Coast mountain range, the grapes grown by co-vintners Randy and Kim Coleman experience hot summer days with cooling afternoons and significant drops in temperature by evening. These diurnal swings, along with the volcanic soils yield wines of structure that are ideal for aging. “We use all estate fruit in our Pinot Noir which gives us control of the vineyard,” says Randy Coleman. He also tells the story of his son Ryan, who at seven years of age, fermented his first one-ton lot of Pinot Noir. “ He thought the term “wild fermentation” sounded cool so that’s how we treated his lot,” Colemen says. Since then, the vineyard has adopted wild fermentation for most of the stainless steel open top fermentation process, with just a single inoculation of four natural yeasts at the end of the process, to add structure.

The formula sure seems to work; it yields wines with flavors of dark cherries along with a hint of baking spices and nuttiness.  making it quintessential Willamette Valley wine. “I’m very selective and careful with the use of oak in the wines,” Coleman says, “so the fruity and nutty flavors finish with a silky soft fruit tannin and just an integrated hint of oak.”

Coleman also adhere to strict sustainable land management practices, using crop cover, compost and cycling of organic matter in the vineyard. All of this hard work and commitment shines through in the wines.


Coleman Winery, Willamette Valley Oregon
Randy Coleman with son Ryan and cousin Ryan during Crush at Coleman Vineyards in Willamette Valley, Oregon.


We’re fortunate to carry a range of these wines. Please click below for the full description of the wines.

Coleman Estate Pinot Gris 2011, Willamette Valley

Coleman Estate Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley

Coleman Estate Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley

(note: Coleman Vineyards Pinot Noir Estate Reserve, Willamette Valley, 2008 received 91 points by Wine Advocate). 


Bergström Wines,  Dundee Hills AVA and Yamhill-Carlton AVA

Before re-locating to Oregon’s Willamette Valley as a teenager, John Bergström grew up in a small agricultural and logging village in northern Sweden. He attended medical school and created a successful medical practice while raising five kids, before turning to wine. “When I was ready to retire, I wanted to get back to doing something in the earth,” Bergström says. “We’d always loved wine and food, so it was a natural to start a winery.”

Dr. John and Karen Bergström of Bergström Winery, where they produce some of the areas most elegant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grow on the property at Bergström Winery.
Dr. John and Karen Bergström of Bergström Winery, where they produce some of the areas most elegant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grow on the property at Bergström Winery.

Returning to his agricultural roots, he founded Bergström Winery, and to this day, it remains a family affair, co-owned by his son and daughter-in-law. Josh Bergström, the fourth of five children, journeyed to Burgundy to study viticulture and enology in Burgundy. Upon his return home in 1999, the first vintage was planted. Currently, Josh is general manager, winemaker and vineyard manager at Bergström Wines, and his wife Caroline manages the sales team.


Berstrom Winery
John Bergstrom’s Son Josh and Daughter-in-Law Caroline also work at the family winery.

The family owns a total of eighty-four acres across five estate vineyards and on its estate vineyard practice biodynamic methods. The family has been a leader in the sustainable movement for wine growing since 1999.

“Oregon is a just a great place for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay,” says John Bergström. “Pinot Noir grows best along the 45th parallel and that goes right through our Oregon districts, as it does through Burgundy and the Central Otago region of New Zealand.”  He also feels strongly about the potential for Chardonnay in the area. “Chardonnay is also beginning to come into its own in Oregon,” he says. “I think we’re going to see more white wines coming out of Oregon in the future.” If this is the case, we are sure to be on that trail, seeking out, tasting and bringing those wines to you. Currently, we carry this wine in the shop.

Wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grow on the property at Bergström Winery.
Wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grow on the property at Bergström



Bergstrom “Cumberland Reserve” PN 2010, Willamette  Valley




Stoller Family Vineyards  Dundee Hills AVA

Stoller Family Vineyards
Once a turkey farm in the early 1900’s, this Dundee Hills property is now home to third generation Stoller family, where they produce an array of wines from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir.

Just west of Portland, in the Dundee Hills sits the single largest contiguous stretch of vineyard property in the region, the 373-Acre Stoller Vineyards. Back in the 1920’s, the property was a turkey farm, owned by current family owner Bill Stoller’s grandmother. His father and uncle took to turkey farming and it became the family livelihood. While the farm grew to be the largest turkey facility in Oregon, by 1993, the turkey industry all but ceased to exist in Oregon and Bill, along with his wife Cathy, purchased the property with world-class grape growing in mind.

The property is now planted to over 200 acres of grapes, half of which are sold to other wineries. The other prized half is what goes into the Stoller wines. “We aim to give a great price to value for a Dundee Hills wine,” says General Manager Gary Mortensen.  “These are super approachable and food friendly wines,” he says, as I watched him pour a glass of their 2010 “JV” Pinot Noir.


Stoller Family Estates Dundee Hills Oregon
Capturing that Oregon sunshine at Stoller Vineyards in the Dundee Hills of Oregon’sWine Region, the Willamette Valley.

The wine’s lighter color can be deceiving as the flavor profile is bold, with layers of deep rich cherries and a subtle hint of earthiness and oak. The nuanced wine is just one of the many the winery proudly produces. The family also takes great pride in their  LEED Gold Certified Winery status, the first winery to achieve this level in America.

Click below for the Stoller Wine we carry at Schaefer’s.


Stoller Vineyards “JV” Pinot Nori 2010, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley

Additional Oregon Wines we enjoy carrying (and tasting):

Torii Mor Pinot Gris 2010, Oregon

Panther Creek Pinot Gris 2010, Willamette Valley

Panther Creek “SHEA VINEYARD” Pinot Nori 2007, Willamette Valley

Eugene Wine Cellars B2 Viognier 2011, Eugene, Oregon

Eugene Wine Cellars B2 Pinot Noir 2009, Willamette Valley

Please let us know if you’ve tried these wines or visited the area. We are one of the Chicago area’s best wine shops and we want to provide you with the products you’re looking for. Schaefer’s Wines, Foods and Spirits has been around since 1936, serving as a neighborhood specialty wine, food, spirits and beer shop. We’re also a destination for wine collectors. Please visit our website to search for these and many more products. We’d love your comments and feedback. Happy Pinot sipping!

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