Solidarity is more than a feeling in the Oregon wine industry. It is now an exclusive vintage.
When a large California winery abruptly rejected 2,000 tons of grapes from the Rogue Valley in Southern Oregon last year — ostensibly due to smoke damage from the season’s wildfires — it prompted several winemakers in the neighboring Willamette Valley to pull together and save as much of the crop as they could.
The result is three new wines, including a rose, Chardonnay and Pinot noir, named “Oregon Solidarity” to reflect the partnership. Industry leaders got their first taste of the rose during a special event following the Oregon Wine Symposium on Feb. 12, and bottles became available on store shelves beginning March 1.
The Oregon Solidarity Chardonnay will be released on May, and Pinot noir on Aug. 1. Proceeds will benefit Rogue Valley growers who lost some or all of their grapes in 2018.
Copper Cane Wines & Provisions, based in Rutherford, Calif., makes several popular Oregon wines under the brand name Elouan. Just days before harvest last year, the winery abruptly canceled orders from approximately 15 Rogue Valley vintners, citing smoky grapes and leaving an estimated $4 million worth of fruit to rot on the vine.
The news sent shock waves up Interstate 5, where King Estate Winery, of Eugene, Ore., and Willamette Valley Vineyards, near Salem, vowed to buy as many of the stranded grapes as possible at full contract price. Together, they purchased 140 tons of grapes at $323,750, enough to make 7,500 cases of wine.
Christine Clair, winery director at Willamette Valley Vineyards, said the grapes were independently tested for smoke taint by ETS Laboratories in Medford, Ore. Results showed the samples tested had low enough levels of guaiacol and methylguaiacol — compounds released by burning wood that contribute to an unpleasant smoky or ashy flavor in wine — that they were not concerned with quality.
“We did not want to make any wine that would be faulted by any means,” Clair said.
Silvan Ridge Winery, also of Eugene, and The Eyrie Vineyards, of McMinnville, Ore., soon joined the coalition to help produce Oregon Solidarity wines. The first variety up for release, rose, was made 50/50 between Silvan Ridge and The Eyrie Vineyards, and bottled Feb. 7 at Willamette Valley Vineyards.
“It’s been received very well,” Clair said. “There was no reason why these grapes couldn’t be used in making high-quality wines. I think we’ve proven that.”
Oregon Solidarity wines are labeled from the Rogue Valley American Viticultural Area. While Clair said the 35-day federal government partial shutdown in late December and January did result in a backlog of wine label approvals at the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, it appears that issue has been resolved with help from Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.
“I think we’re in the clear as far as label approval goes,” Clair said.
The wines are available to pre-order at www.oregonsolidarity.com, and will be distributed in Oregon and Washington by Young’s Market Company. Safeway, Albertsons, Fred Meyer and New Seasons Market have all signed on to carry Oregon Solidarity on their shelves. The rose is priced at $16.99 per bottle, Chardonnay at $19.99 per bottle and Pinot noir at $24.99 per bottle.
“We are thankful for the overwhelming support we have received from retailers and customers for the Oregon Solidarity wines,” Clair said.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown also expressed her support for the wine industry’s spirit of collaboration, saying the Solidarity wines “exemplify the Oregonian spirit, bringing forth our best values by helping others during their time of need.”
“The Rogue Valley often bears the brunt of wildfire season and it’s incredible that our wine community is stepping up to support one another and boost our local economy,” Brown said in a statement.
Oregon is home to 769 wineries and 1,114 vineyards, generating $5.61 billion in annual statewide economic impact.
The federal government recently approved Oregon’s 19th American Viticultural Area, named the Van Duzer Corridor AVA, located within the Mid-Willamette Valley west of Salem.