The contiguous land mass known as the Chehalem (pronounced “Sha-HAY-lum”) Mountains is home to an estimated 150 vineyards. With an average size of 12.5 acres, this patchwork of small, family-owned vineyards on varying soil types and elevations from 200 to well over 1000 feet above sea level is an exciting source for exquisite wines.
The Chehalem Mountains American Viticultural Area includes several wine growing regions gaining independent recognition for their wines. Currently, the most well known of these is the distinctive Ribbon Ridge AVA. In due course, as vineyard plantings intensify and more wineries unfold, it is likely that other regions will emerge as AVAs within the boundaries of the larger Chehalem Mountains AVA.
The Chehalem Mountains and Ribbon Ridge AVAs reflect millions of years of soil accretion, mixing, blowing, and uplift, creating a rich geological experiment in one tightly packed geographical area. Within this one region there are ancient, uplifted sedimentary seabeds; weathered rich red soils from lava flows down the Columbia River; and relatively new glacial sediment scoured from western states and blown onto north-facing hillsides in tumultuous windstorms. Soils so violently and differently formed pass on a predictable complexity and unique taste in our wines. It’s an exciting winemaking laboratory to experience the similarities and contrasts in the wines of the Chehalem Mountains.
Encompassing over 100 square miles, our AVA touches 3 counties (Yamhill, Washington and Clackamas) and yet is only 19 miles from the heart of Portland.
Head southwest out of Portland on nearly any major road and you soon find yourself in the Chehalem Mountains. Whether you’d like an afternoon of wine tasting or a weekend exploring gorgeous surroundings, the Chehalem Mountains and Ribbon Ridge are just a short and pleasant drive from Portland and Salem.
There are plenty of great tour companies that can make your wine country adventure more pleasurable, some excellent bed and breakfast inns where you can relax after a day of touring, and be sure to dine at some of the outstanding restaurants in the area.
More than any other grape varietal, Pinot Noir reflects where it is grown. The diverse topography of the Chehalem Mountains provides a wide variety of opportunities for Pinot to express itself. Mountains set our AVAs apart from others and pull together a variety of unique conditions that influence our wines.
While best known for Pinot Noir, the Chehalem Mountains and Ribbon Ridge AVAs are also ideal for other cool climate wine grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Gamay Noir and Gewurztraminer. Many of our wineries also select and import choice grapes from warmer regions in Washington and Oregon and offer special Bordeaux blends - Syrahs, Barberas, Sangioveses and more.
Mother Nature gets a helping hand from grape growers and wine makers who embrace the unique bounty of the Chehalem Mountains. You’ll find singular personalities pursuing their dreams of growing fabulous grapes from which great wines are crafted.
Family-owned vineyards are nurtured with knowledge and care. During harvest, you’ll likely find winery crews enthusiastically aided by family, friends and neighbors working together to pick and sort the grapes by hand. If you happen to be up at 5 a.m. or still up at 10 p.m. you will surely find tireless winemakers balancing on the edges of large vats, punching down the grape skins so their color and flavors can be extracted into the juice as it becomes wine. You will also see new barrels and old stacked four high being topped-off by an enterprising assistant. Here, great wines are made with pride and passion.
The region known as the Chehalem Mountains has a rich history from native American roots, early European settlements and the viticultural landscape it has come to be known for today.
“It may be assumed that the modern word Chehalem comes from the Indian name Chahelim, listed under the heading Atfalati (Tualatin), Handbook of American Indians, v.1, p. 108. This name is given by Gatschet in 1877 to one of the bands of Atfalati, a division of the Kalapooian family of Indians. Gatschet lists more than 20 of these bands, all living in the general vicinity of the Chehalem Mountains.” (from Oregon Geographic Names, Sixth Edition, by Lewis L. McArthur, Oregon Historical Society Press, 1992, p. 170).
The word “Chehalem” appears to have entered the vocabulary of the early European settlers in the north Willamette Valley prior to 1840. In 1834, Ewing Young came to Oregon from California and purchased much of what is now known as the Chehalem Valley. He installed a lumber mill on Chehalem Creek and after 1837 raised cattle in the Valley. In 1848 Joseph B. Rogers had the town of “Chehalem” platted on property he owned where Newberg stands today. It had one of the earliest post offices in Yamhill County (established March 14, 1851) but it closed within a year. Soon after that Rogers died and the town of Chehalem passed into obscurity.
The first modern vineyard on the Chehalem Mountains dates back to 1968, when Dick Erath purchased 49 acres from the Dopp Family on Dopp Road (from The Boys Up North, by Paul Pintarich, The Wyatt Group, 1997, p.57). He called the property “Chehalem Mountain Vineyards” and started planting it the following spring. Other pioneers including David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard, Dick and Nancy Ponzi of Ponzi Vineyards and Paul Hart of Rex Hill Vineyard, planted their vineyards in the Chehalem Mountains soon after. Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem winery planted the first Pinot Noir on Ribbon Ridge in 1980.
As of 2002, within the proposed boundaries of the “Chehalem Mountains” AVA, there were at least 80 vineyards, totaling over 1100 acres, plus 12 commercial wineries. Today, those numbers have increased significantly and continue to grow dramatically in both the Chehalem Mountain and Ribbon Ridge AVAs.
Taken from the Petition to establish the “Chehalem Mountains” American Viticultural Area on July 30, 2002 by David Adelsheim/Adelsheim Vineyard, Paul Hart/Rex Hill Vineyard and Richard Ponzi/Ponzi Vineyard, on behalf of the winegrowers of the Chehalem Mountains.