Betty's Wine Musings

The Differences Between CA and OR Pinot Noirs

In early June, I’ll be leaving my beloved California for the great state of Oregon (or possibly Southern Washington). So the big question I have is: What are the differences between CA and OR wines? After doing some research, I realized that the real question is: What are the differences between CA and OR Pinot Noirs?

It All Boils Down to Pinot Noir

Photo courtesy of Benchmark Wine
Photo courtesy of Benchmark Wine

I looked at probably 15 articles, and all of them talked about Pinot Noir. In fact, the name of VinePair’s article is Pinot Noir Reveals The Differences Between Oregon and California Climates. In my search for the differences between California and Oregon wines, I couldn’t find a single article that talked about any grape other than Pinot Noir.


So why is Pinot Noir such a great grape to do a comparison of regions on? According to VinePair, “Because of [Pinot’s] delicate nature, low-tannin and thin-skinned, it takes on the qualities of a region (or a winemaker’s signature) more easily than bold grapes like Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Where Is Pinot Noir Grown in Oregon?

Pinot Noir is grown primarily, but not exclusively, in Willamette Valley, which is just south of Salem, OR. Willamette Valley is roughly at the same latitude as the well-known wine region of Burgundy in France, where Pinot got its start.


Willamette Valley has more than 700 wineries. The region is broken into four regions: North Valley, Mid-Valley, South Valley and West Cascades. I can’t wait to check out all the regions!

Key Differences Between CA and OR Pinot Noirs

Climate is the key difference. VinePair tells us that “Unlike the moderate, maritime climates of California’s Pinot Noir regions such as the Russian River Valley and the Central Coast, Oregon vines experience four full seasons with cold winters and hot summers. Even compared to California’s foggiest locales, Oregon sees less sunshine than most AVAs, which forces the grapes to ripen much more slowly than in other areas.”


Oregon’s cooler climate results in lighter wines, with primary aromas and tastes of cranberry and cherry. California’s warmer climate results in bolder wines, with more black and purple fruits such as black plum and blackberry.


Colorwise, Oregon Pinots are a little oranger, and California’s Pinot’s are a little redder.


From an alcohol standpoint, Oregon’s Pinot’s are less alcoholic and more acidic because of the cooler temperature.

According to WineSpectator, “Oregon vintners aim to produce Pinot Noir of delicacy and transparency.”

Great Summary from Serious Foodie

Serious Foodie has a great write-up highlighting the differences between CA and OR Pinot Noirs. I’ll share their write-up in its entirety:


  • “Oregon has a climate that comes closer to the classic Burgundy style.  The grapes need more time to ripen, lending to wines with more subtle flavor and body. The Oregon Pinot Noirs have, in general, moderate alcohol content in the 12.5 to 14 percent range, lower than those of today’s typical Pinot Noirs from California.
  • “The Oregon Pinot Noir wines typically feature very prominent cherry-berry aromas and flavors.  Many of the wines we’ve tasted have a pronounced raspberry flavor.  There are varying degrees of oak, but we’ve never had an over-oaked Oregon pinot noir.
  • “The Oregon Pinot Noir wines are typically medium body and reasonable tannin levels.  We have kept some of the high end Oregon Pinot Noirs in our cellar for 10 years.
  • “We have often described the Oregon Pinot Noirs as feminine – light, delicate, subtle. Similar to lighter-style CA wines, the Oregon Pinot Noirs match with light meats such as chicken and pork chops, as well as many fish dishes.  Oregon Pinot Noir wines are our go-to choice with scallops.  When drinking these wines on their own, think Spring time.
  • “There are many fine wines under $25 from Oregon.  But we would suggest you splurge on your first try, with wines such as Domaine Serene, Domaine Drouhin, Bergstrom, or Beaux Freres.  The 2010 Domaine Serene Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir received a 95 from Wine Spectator, and was the #3 wine of the year – so don’t expect to find it.  If you do, it is amazing.”


I hope you enjoyed what I thought this exploration of the differences between California and Oregon Pinot Noirs.



As an independent wine consultant with WineShop At Home, I absolutely enjoy bringing a taste of the Napa wine country home to you one sip at a time. Whether you simply love to drink wine, seek a special personalized wine gift, or are in search of a new wine jobs opportunity as a wine consultant, feel free to contact me for a truly unique wine tasting experience!

Cheers, Betty Kaufman
WineShop At Home

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