The story of Chehalem is rooted in a deep and abiding reverence for the land.
Our first estate vineyard, Ridgecrest, was planted by our founder, Harry Peterson-Nedry, in 1982 and has produced premium Pinot Noir ever since. In celebration of Ridgecrest Vineyard’s 40th growing season this year, we are diving into this dynamic vineyard and its legacy as the pioneering property in the Ribbon Ridge AVA.
From all reports, local farmers looked at the 1980 purchase of what would become Ridgecrest Vineyard with much bemusement. Advice, no doubt unsolicited, that “not much will grow there” was met with polite nods and the knowledge that, “Well, that’s almost the point.”
Forty to fifty million years ago, a tectonic uplift created a stable and weathered material that has been untouched by the great Missoula Floods and volcanic forces that shaped much of the Pacific Northwest landscape. This deep sandstone and siltstone soil retain sufficient moisture without unwanted vigor resulting in wines of depth and majesty.
The opportunity to channel the energy of Ribbon Ridge’s ancient marine soil led Harry to plant his first vines in 1982, which eventually expanded to just under 55 acres. By the time Chehalem Winery was bonded in 1990, numerous wineries and neighboring vineyards had arrived in what would become the Ribbon Ridge AVA. This 3.5-mile-long growing region, which would eventually grow to only 500 acres planted to vine, had already captured the attention of the U.S. wine press, and the wine-drinking public was beginning to take notice.
So, what does that mean for the grapes and the wine we craft from this site? The combination of higher elevation, cooler soil, and limited vigor gives us smaller clusters and smaller berries. That translates to wines of density without ponderous weight with aromatic complexity and ageability. Since the first commercial vintage in 1990, Ridgecrest has consistently produced exciting wines to satisfy those seeking cerebral adventure and immediate gratification.
Today, Ridgecrest is divided across three distinct parcels. Chehalem retains a south-facing 29-acre parcel with 22-acres planted to vine. Located in a cooler microclimate, Ridgecrest tends to be about a week later – from bud break through harvest – than our other estate vineyards. It is planted to seven different Pinot Noir clones. The wines from this site tend to be big and brambly, with black-fruit aromas and flavors like blackberry, black cherry, cassis, and hints of dusty chocolate, with excellent acidity and a finessed finish.
The Ridgecrest Vineyard is not only the pioneering property on the Ribbon Ridge AVA, officially designated in 2005, but it is, in my opinion, one of the most fascinating sites on the entire West Coast. On a clear day, anyone lucky enough to look down on the Willamette Valley from this higher elevation parcel will enjoy a majestic view from what I believe is the jewel in the crown of Ribbon Ridge AVA.
“The clones of Pinot Noir that we have planted at Ridgecrest Vineyard contribute to a complexity that gives aromatic intensity. It really is a very moving and emotional wine, but also rather cerebral. So it feeds both the left and right brain and I think that’s what make it, and all the wines on Ribbon Ridge, so special.” Dave Rice
Joining our team in 2008, Director of Hospitality and historian of all things Chehalem, Dave Rice enjoys sharing his love of wine with our guests. He is often found hosting private tours and tastings at our Corral Creek Vineyard or in our tasting room in Newberg. When not working, Dave spends time with his wife Ann, and their grown sons, Andrew and Jordan. He can also be found tending his vegetables; depleting and replenishing his wine cellar and exploring Oregon’s majesty.