The Service That Is Boosting Sparkling Wine in Oregon

Domaine Willamette is the newest winery under the Willamette Valley Vineyards umbrella to make its debut, officially opening its doors to the public this week.

The wine served and sold at the Dayton, Oregon winery will literally cast Oregon’s grapes in a sparkling new light for the shareholder-owned winery, which got its start in the 1980s.

While Domaine Willamette is not the first Oregonian winery to make a sparkling wine, it was the first sparkling winery in the Willamette Valley AVA to harvest an estimated 2.5 tons of Pinot Noir grapes for the 2022 harvest season following an excellent growing season.

“When you look at things, you wonder why Oregon doesn’t do more (sparkling wines,” Winery Director Christine Clair told Vintner Magazine during a 2021 interview. “Our signature grapes here are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. We have a cool climate here that allows us to develop a lot of flavor at low brix levels that are balanced with higher acid levels. We have the raw materials here.”

“There are probably more than two dozen wineries making it now. It’s a huge story for us to tell about Oregon wine.”

Contributing to sparkling wine’s ascent in Oregon is the Andrew Davis-owned Radiant Sparkling Wine Company, which has specialized equipment utilized in bottling and finishing sparkling wines.

Davis started his company after leaving Argyle Winery — perhaps Oregon’s most well-known sparkling wine producer —  in 2013 after spending six years as its winemaker.

Inspired by the success of Rack & Riddle’s custom crush facilities in California, Davis founded Radiant Sparkling Wine Company, to give Oregon’s smaller producers access to the right equipment. Nine years later, Davis has approximately 50 clients and has helped to triple the number of sparkling wine producers in the Willamette Valley.

“In Champagne, the smaller grower-producers don’t have their own equipment,” said Davis in a 2021 interview published by Pix. “So each village or region will have somebody doing something similar to what I’m doing, facilitating the production of sparkling wine.”

Clair acknowledged what access to the service had done to help with the creation of Domaine Willamette.

“Those services allowed us to make grower-style champagne because the equipment to do so is expensive,” Clair said. “You have to make and sell a lot of it to make it pay off, and we’re only making a few thousand cases.”

The price point for Domaine Willamette’s new sparkling wines is projected to range between $55-$75.

The time investment and the champagne-making process is another key part that factors into the small production wine’s cost. It has to age for 24 months after bottling on the lees, which are deposits of dead yeast or residual yeast and other particles that precipitate to the bottom of a vat of wine after fermentation and aging. 

“We’re picking blocks from estate vineyards that naturally go into Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that sell for that price or above,” Clair said. “Where we think we can take this in the future, it could rival Champagnes that can sell for much more than that.”

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