Grassroots of Ribbon Ridge: Oregon’s smallest AVA big on growing green

Resting on the western edge of the Willamette Valley’s Chehalem Mountains, the Ribbon Ridge AVA measures merely 3.5 miles long by 1.75 miles wide. Not only is it the smallest appellation in the state, Ribbon Ridge is, perhaps, the greenest, as well.

When Harry Peterson-Nedry started his quest for vineyard land in 1979, he was directed to a parcel on Ribbon Ridge Road outside Newberg. A year later, he and his family began Ridgecrest Vineyards, the first of its kind on Ribbon Ridge.

“The aspect, soils and open south-facing hillside ticked off boxes on my checklist,” Peterson-Nedry, also founder of RR Wines, recalled. “The fact that they overlooked Dick Erath’s original Chehalem Mountain Vineyard a half-mile away sealed the deal.” He laughed, “Aww, the innocence of not knowing what I was doing.”

Peterson-Nedry says since Ridgecrest’s first harvest in 1985, the wines have been uniformly well-balanced and ageable. Pinots with dusty blackberry flavors, firm structure, as well as savory, earthy qualities. Recognizing this consistency over time and between wineries resulted in a serious conversation about establishing Ribbon Ridge as a distinct region.

In the mid-’90s, growers within the northern Willamette Valley discussed submitting AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) for approval, but, during a 1996 meeting, concerns raised about creating a divisive atmosphere paused the process. Some five years later, a similar gathering concluded the time had come. According to Peterson-Nedry: “With a flood of new players, concern over dilution of the historical narrative required a crisper set of definitions to differentiate Willamette Valley terroir.”

A small committee formed to establish the Ribbon Ridge AVA in tandem with a broader coordinated effort to precisely define the other key growing regions of the northern Valley. While awaiting results from the TTB for three years, the same group met occasionally, asking “Who are we?” and “What makes us special?” — not to mention, “Would you pass that bottle of wine?” Together, they developed a vision and set of principles influenced by Biodynamic farmers such as Doug Tunnell of Brick House Vineyards, the late Bryce Bagnall of Bryce Vineyard and Mike Etzel of Beaux Frères, as well as LIVE practitioners like Peterson-Nedry…

Read the complete story here in Oregon Wine Press.

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