Oregon Gamay Finds its Groove

Gamay finds its groove in Oregon.

My Latest in Wine Business Monthly:

Gamay Finds Its Groove in Oregon

by L.M. Archer

Portland, Ore. – A prolific grape with a scandalous past, Gamay finds its groove in Oregon.

Inglorious Past

Outlawed in 1395 by Duke Philip the Bold of Bourgogne as a “very bad and disloyal” grape, Gamay moved south to Beaujolais. There, the abundant variety thrived in its warmer climate and granitic soils.

Unfortunately, the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau’s in the 1970s and 1980s changed things. These young, inexpensive wines released post-harvest proved qualitatively unreliable and overly fruity, thus diluting the reputation of Cru Beaujolais.

Against this backdrop, Gamay arrived in Oregon. In the mid-1970s, Oregon State University (OSU) claimed fame as the nation’s third clonal import station. Previously, only two clonal import stations existed – UC Davis in California, and Cornell University in Geneva, NY.

Concurrently, David Adelsheim, founder of Adelsheim, accepted an internship at Lycée Viticole in Beaune. Prior to leaving, he snagged some green US Government import stickers from OSU.  Once in France, Adelsheim visited Domaine de l’Espiguette, a virus station outside Montpellier on the Mediterranean. There, he ordered virus-free Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gamay Noir clones.

“I think maybe they even suggested that since our soils were not calcarious, but rather were acidic, then you shouldn’t plant pinot, you should plant Gamay, because it grows well in acidic soils,” recalls Adelsheim.

Great Potential

Stateside, the clones languished in quarantine until the early 1980’s, when Adelsheim planted them. After a few years, he lost interest with Gamay, and ripped it out.

Meanwhile, Harry Peterson-Nedry, founder of Ribbon Ridge Winery, also planted some Gamay clones. “David Adelsheim suggested to me in 1984 that I take plants he was making from cuttings off his Gamay Noir block, to plant a new section of Ridgecrest Vineyards,” he says.

Peterson-Nedry used this fruit in his Passe-tout-grain, or Gamay-Pinot Noir blend, called Cerise from 1996-2009 at Chehalem, his joint project with Bill Stoller. In 2010, the winery opted to showcase only 100% Gamay Noir wines with Ridgecrest fruit. (Stoller assumed full ownership of Chehalem in 2018; the winery planted Gamay at Corral Creek vineyard in 2021 to eventually replace Ridgecrest fruit.) READ MORE HERE.

I’m honored to share my article about Oregon Gamay in Wine Business Monthly with you here.

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