The local media frets and fusses over every little botanical sneeze that might dust pinot noir grapes in a little mold. But when’s the last time (or, for that matter, the first) that you saw a headline warning of the threat of a disease like downy mildew to the prized Goldings variety of hops, much less the necrotic ring-spot virus that attacks our Perle hops? We constantly celebrate and market our kissing-cousin latitudinal relationship with the French Burgundy region. But wait a minute: don’t we share the same alignment with the hop-growing Tettnang region of Germany?
Grapevines whorishly drape themselves all over the state, from the Columbia Gorge to the Rogue Valley to—for chrissakes—Milton-Freewater. Hops are more discerning, the very best of them (even Washington state’s growers will concede) sprouting only in the Willamette Valley. Perhaps it’s about loyalty. Most Oregon hop farmers, according to the Oregon Hops Commission, are third- and fourth-generation farmers. (Hops arrived in Oregon in the 1870s.) Grapes are relative newbies: Oregon’s prized vineyards, which date to only the 1960s, are just now getting passed to a second generation.
Yet, ahem, in 1994, the Oregon Soil Society named grape-loving “jory” as the state soil of Oregon, adding it to the high pedestal of the state fish, the chinook salmon, and the state rock, the thunder egg. (Though on this front, winemakers and brewers should unite to topple the state beverage: milk.) But apart from the subtleties of loyalty and loam, the media’s bias for grapes ignores money: in 2009, the harvest from 6,183 acres of Oregon hops sold for $43.2 million, while 15,600 acres of wine grapes produced $76.8 million. That equates to every acre of hops pumping $2,000 more into Oregon’s economy than a similarly sized plot of grapes. Finally, lest we forget: according to industry sources, craft brewing contributed an estimated $2.33 billion to Oregon’s economy; winemaking, a mere $1.4 billion.
Don’t worry, wine industry and oenophiles: Portland Monthly will keep giving you lots of love, especially this fall. But for July, we’re here for beer. Grab your mug (or your snifter), and turn to page 39. Cheers!