On March 1, 2019, the first of three Oregon Solidarity wines was released. This marks a new, more hopeful chapter in the ongoing dispute between Oregon vintners and California vintner Joe Wagner of Copper Cane.
The recently released 2018 Rosé of Pinot Noir from the Rogue Valley AVA is a collaborative project by four Oregon wineries, Willamette Valley Vineyards, King Estate, Eyrie Vineyards and Silvan Ridge, who purchased fruit from a number of small southern Oregon grape growers to help combat their monetary losses following Wagner’s abrupt contract cancellation.
Why the contracts were canceled
Two of Wagner’s Oregon wines came under fire from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission for alleged mislabeling.
The accusation was that references to several Oregon AVAs were misrepresented on wine labels and advertising materials. As the dispute reached the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and headed for the Oregon legislature, Wagner pulled the plug on 2000 tons of contracted fruit, about $4 million worth, citing smoke taint from the season’s wild fires as the reason.
Christine Clair, the winery director for Willamette Valley Vineyards, explains that “we were immediately suspicious as we had been harvesting fruit from the same vineyards for weeks with no quality issues.”
With high yields statewide and harvest already underway, there was no luck finding new homes for the abandoned grapes.
“We gathered a group of winemakers, lawmakers and media to head down to Southern Oregon to figure out how we could help prevent a complete catastrophe for these small family farmers,” Clair explained in an email.
“We realized we didn’t have the capacity to take in enough fruit to our individual wineries, so we needed to team up and make a coalition wine in order to help more.”
Lab analysis showed that much of the crop was well below the threshold for any adverse smoke effects. A total of 7,400 cases of wine were produced at the four contributing wineries, with net sales proceeds going to the Rogue Valley Vintners to help uninsured growers throughout the region.
Where to buy Oregon Solidarity
The rosé, priced at $17, is a pale, coppery pink, bone dry with lip-smacking acids, and merits our designation as an Editors’ Choice. The wine is being distributed in Oregon and Washington at Safeway, Fred Meyer, Albertsons and New Seasons stores, among others.
Several other states are committed to carrying the wines and bottles can also be sold direct online.
The Oregon Solidarity project is “a defense of the culture that has been built here in Oregon over the last 50+ years, that is worth protecting and continuing to model in our behavior,” said Clair.
The dispute with Wagner has sparked proposed changes in Oregon wine laws, and just yesterday Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued this statement of her support:
“The Oregon Solidarity wines exemplify the Oregonian spirit, bringing forth our best values by helping others during their time of need. The Rogue Valley often bears the brunt of wildfire season, and it’s incredible that our wine community is stepping up to support one another and boost our local economy.”