The geography, climate, topography, vineyards, wines, and the people of Ribbon Ridge combine to create a community unique in Oregon, and likely unique in the world.
Ribbon Ridge Vineyard is fortunate to be situated in a remarkable neighborhood. The geography, climate, topography, vineyards, wines, and the people of Ribbon Ridge combine to create a community unique in Oregon, and likely unique in the world. Over the past thirty years, the area has established itself as one of the most significant Pinot Noir producing regions in Oregon and has developed a global reputation for great wines.
What makes Ribbon Ridge unique? For one, it is the all-important terroir — that interaction of geography, climate, topography, rootstock and clones that provides that foundation for a wine’s character. But Ribbon Ridge is more than just terroir — it is a state of mind. The growers and vintners of Ribbon Ridge share a passion for the land and its gifts that manifests itself in everything we do and every decision we make about our vineyards or wines. We are united in our dedication to produce the highest quality products in a responsible, sustainable manner. The early growers adopted a Statement of Principles that documents the commitment to quality products and sustainable agriculture. Today, that commitment continues and there is a growing move towards organic and biodynamic farming.
Ribbon Ridge American Viticultural Area
In 2003, a small group of Ribbon Ridge pioneers, including Doug Tunnell, Harry Pederson-Nedry and Dewey Kelly, petitioned the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to designate “Ribbon Ridge” as an American viticultural area (AVA). The petition was submitted on behalf of all the winegrape growers and wineries located on Ribbon Ridge and within the proposed boundaries of the “Ribbon Ridge” AVA, which were clearly defined by both elevation and Yamhill County roads. It had the unanimous support of all growers and wineries within the proposed boundary. The designation would mean that wines produced from grapes grown within the AVA boundaries could list “Ribbon Ridge” on the labels as the point of origin.
One of the challenges when applying for a federally approved American Viticulture Area is documenting what makes the area unique. It isn’t enough to want an AVA distinction for marketing purposes. In preparing the initial petition in 2003 we had to dig deep (literally) to substantiate what we all believed to be true — that Ribbon Ridge was unique. To that end we gathered and analyzed data and anecdotes from the Ribbon Ridge growers. And we engaged geologists to help with the analysis that was outside our scope.
The petition was accepted by the TTB and posted for comments on November 3, 2003. The TTB accepted public comments on the proposed AVA until January 2, 2004. It was finally published in the national registry June 1, 2005 and became effective July 1, 2005.
The AVA, which is wholly within Oregon’s Willamette Valley AVA and the Chehalem Mountains AVA, consists of a natural geological formation; a distinct ridge approximately three and one-half miles long and one and three-quarters miles across, covering approximately 5.25 square miles and 3,350 acres. It was estimated that between 1,000 and 1,400 acres in the proposed “Ribbon Ridge” viticultural area was suited to premium winegrape planting. Today dozens of vineyards and wineries label their wines as originating from within the Ribbon Ridge AVA.
Ribbon Ridge Terroir
Terroir is one of the elusive terms that is often used to describe “place” and the impact it has on the quality of grapes or wine. I’ve always had trouble coming up with an elevator pitch for terroir. However, in working on the AVA petition, we learned a great deal about the factors that make up terroir on Ribbon Ridge. While each site is unique, we did find some factors that distinguish Ribbon Ridge from other growing regions in Oregon and elsewhere.
TOPOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Ribbon Ridge extends southward from the Chehalem Mountains and rises to an elevation of 683 feet above the Chehalem Valley floor. (Click The More Topography and Climate link below for the geeky details from the original Ribbon Ridge AVA petition.)
Ribbon Ridge is a distinct natural formation with a unique geological profile that significantly distinguishes Ribbon Ridge soils from other regions in the Willamette Valley. (Click the More Geography link for more geeky details.)
More Topography and Climate
Ribbon Ridge extends southward from the Chehalem Mountains and rises above the floor of the Chehalem Valley from approximately 200 feet to an elevation of 683 feet. Ribbon Ridge Road runs north to south along its spine. The ridge is defined on the east and west by the watersheds that fall away from the road in both directions. It is separated from the Chehalem Mountains by Ayres Creek on the north and a creek known locally as Dopp Creek, which runs parallel to Dopp Road, on the east. Though these two creeks begin less than 1000 feet apart, Dopp Creek flows south to form the eastern boundary of Ribbon Ridge and eventually empties into Chehalem Creek, which flows into the Willamette River to the south. Ayres Creek flows west-northwest to help form Wapato Lake, which drains into the Tualatin River to the north and subsequently into the Willamette River. On the western side of Ribbon Ridge, the Chehalem Creek Valley dramatically separates Ribbon Ridge from the sub-Coast Range hillsides that make up the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA. There is a gorge-like drop of three hundred feet or more into the narrow quarter-mile ravine that widens at the foot of Ribbon Ridge into the broad, flat Chehalem Valley dividing the Chehalem Mountains from the Red Hills. This cut more than any other feature shows the separate nature of Ribbon Ridge’s formation as an uplifted landmass of unique origin.
From the air, Ribbon Ridge appears as an island, broken off from the higher landmasses that surround it and floating free above the Chehalem Valley floor. The island-like characteristics and surrounding land masses tend to shield and uniquely protect Ribbon Ridge from many of the extremes that affect other agricultural microclimates in the northern Willamette Valley. There is air and water drainage on all sides. Low clouds tend to accumulate on the surrounding hilltops; fog tends to settle on the valley floor in early and late parts of the growing season. The Coast Range and Yamhill mountains to the west encourage weather systems to drop moisture before reaching Ribbon Ridge and to moderate wind extremes from Pacific storms. The Chehalem Mountains, Bald Peak and Portland hill systems to the north tend to protect this area from Columbia Gorge and eastern Oregon weather systems that deliver extreme cold in winter and heat or winds in the summer. The Dundee Hills to the south shield Ribbon Ridge from extreme winds that funnel through the Van Duzer corridor, both hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
Analysis of compiled daily weather data comparing exposed valley floor weather stations such as Salem, McMinnville, and Portland airports to hillside vineyard stations for the four years 1998-2001 shows a tendency towards slightly warmer and drier conditions on grape growing hillsides of the northern valley, such as Ribbon Ridge.
The differences are even more significant during the grape-growing season (April-October), with the nature of hillside warming being especially important for grape growing. Specifically, hillside data showed higher minimum daily temperatures during early and late growing season (2-3°F) than those of exposed valley floor sites. As well, higher maximum daily temperatures are seen on average because of early and late season increases (2-7 Degrees F) and despite depressed daily mid-summer (June-August) temperatures (2-7 Degrees F). This moderation permits early growth in the spring, consistent and even ripening with retention of acids over the summer, and a long, full ripening in the fall, at the end of the growing season.
Degree-day accumulations (50 Degrees F base) are less on the hillside sites by as much as 10 Percent (2455), but earlier starts to warming, less nighttime temperature drop, and clipped heat spikes in mid-summer provide a consistency and protection of cool climate elegance, with nonetheless adequate ripening.
Precipitation on protected hillsides in the subject areas is 7-10 inches less than precipitation at unprotected valley sites. This represents a reduction in precipitation of 20-26 Percent.
Ribbon Ridge is a distinct natural geological formation of eastwardly tilted marine sedimentary strata dated to the upper Eocene. The Keasey Formation, exposed on the western side of the ridge, is a laminated to massive, pale gray tuffaceous mudstone, to fine tuffaceous sandstone. The overlying Pittsburg Bluffs Formation, exposed in the central and eastern side of the ridge, is a massive-to-thick-bedded gray to tan weathering feldspathic litharenite with tuffaceous mudstone and sandstone. Within the region, Ribbon Ridge is unusual in the presence of only these two geological strata and the intact nature of these formations. The portions of the Chehalem Mountains AVA to the north and east contain other geological formations and are altered in the areas of marine sediments by geological faults and extensive landslides. The Yamhill-Carlton District AVA to the west contains other marine sedimentary strata and these are more thoroughly dissected by geological faults, uplift, and erosion.As a consequence of its distinct geological history, the soils of Ribbon Ridge are distinct from those of adjacent AVAs in several significant ways. Unlike the portions of the Chehalem Mountains AVA to the north and east, the soils of Ribbon Ridge are entirely derived from marine sedimentary parent materials. Unlike the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA to the west, the soils of Ribbon Ridge are finer in average texture due to their finer parent materials of very fine sandstone, siltstone, and mudstone.
Because the ridge is ancient and stable, the soils from these fine sedimentary parent materials are well weathered, and consequently are on average deeper in profile and more finely structured than soils in adjacent AVAs. Soils generally exhibit good water-holding capability, but are not overly generous in nutrients, tending to restrain vine canopy vigor while maintaining good health, even in non-irrigated vineyards. Underground aquifer waters for irrigation and other large-scale uses are not readily available on Ribbon Ridge. This tends to limit excess vine growth and yet also prevents extremely dense plantings in some areas.