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History,Oregon,Pinot Gris,Pinot Noir,Vineyards,Wine,Wine Making,Winemaker,Winery

The Butcher, the Baker, and the Local Winemaker ~ Lost in Time

Once upon a time, ages ago, like in the early 1900s, villages in France had their own winemakers.

In the southwest region of France, in the Bay of Arcachon, there was (and still is) a small community called “Arcachon.” This commune in the Gironde department, was about 40 miles southwest from the heart of Bordeaux. Situated on the Atlantic coastline, both red and white wines were crafts. While mostly being renowned for its Arcachon oysters, it was (and still is) also very famous for a few prestigious vineyards that you’ll quickly recognize: Margaux, Lafite, and Mouton Rothschild.

The town’s winemaker’s name was Leonard Vuylsteke, a native of Belgium, who crafted wine for the whole town, in this St.- Emilion region of Bordeaux. Leonard grew tired of Arcachon, which is not easy for me to understand. But, who am I to judge? He decided to immigrate to the United States, and with his family in tow, they left on one of the last ships able to make safe passage out of Europe. That was just before World War I.

Arriving at Ellis Island in New York, the family then traveled across the country by train to join relatives, who had settled in the farmland of the northern Willamette Valley in Washington County. Imagine arriving to a location where no Vitis vinifera was growing at the time, just native grapes that were known to make “foxy” wine. With those disgusting flavors, poor Leonard probably asked himself more than once what he had done. But… it was done. He was now a humble farmer in a new land, and he had to endure what all immigrants endure… culture shock and rebuilding one’s life.

His family continued, and he passed his stories down. It was his grandson Ron Vuylsteke who began to think he, too, would like to make wine. Still, though, there were no Vitis vinifera grapes to be had. So, Ron, being the natural alchemist that he was, turned to making wine from available fruit at the time. This began Oak Knoll Winery.

As time went on, and coming from very unpretentious beginnings, Ron and his wife Marj carried on very pleasant lives with their family and friends. Not proud people, they were just down-to-earth, modest farmers. They concerned themselves with having an enjoyable life, where they could share their wines with those people who came to visit, who also loved the fruits of their labor.

This life of humility, a blessing for all of their friends, would result in them mostly being forgotten when timelines of the Oregon wine industry were noted. This is not to fault any writers. It’s an end product of many years for not being involved in PR and outward looking marketing. Today, a new generation is operating the winery, with stepson Greg Lint as their president, and winemaker Jeff Herinckx who is the Vuylstekes’ cousin.

It’s was – and still is in many respects – the history unwritten. Ron and Marj Vuylsteke had many friends and contemporaries, who today fit into every timeline. It’s important to note in any timeline that in 1970, the Oak Knoll Winery story began, when Ronald and Marjorie Vuylsteke became pioneers of Oregon winemaking, by founding the oldest winery in Washington County. At that time, there were only a few vineyards and a handful of wineries in all of Oregon.

TO THEIR CREDIT: André Tchelistcheff told Ron Vuylsteke – “I have spent the past fifty years of my life searching for the world’s finest Pinot Noirs, and yours is among the greatest I have tasted.”

Oregon is now celebrating 50 years of winemaking history, which – for them – is very significant. A timeline which includes Oak Knoll is the following:

  • 1961: Richard Sommer plants Vitis vinifera grapes, and becomes known as the father of the Oregon wine industry.
  • 1965: Charles and Shirley Coury arrive in the Willamette Valley, purchase a Forest Grove vineyard and winery from the mid-1800s through Prohibition, replant it Vitis vinifera. (Today, this winery is known as David Hill.)
  • 1966: David Lett and his wife, Diana, planting vines at Eyrie Vineyards.
  • 1969: Dick Erath plants his first wine grapes.
  • 1970:
    • Dick and Nancy Ponzi plant their vineyard.
    • Jim and Loie Maresh plant their vineyard.
    • Ron and Marj Vuylsteke make their first wines.
    • Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser begin their vineyard.
  • 1971:
    • David and Ginny Adelsheim plant their first grapevines.
    • Philippe and Bonnie Girardet plant their first grapevines.
  • For a much more complete timeline, because I’m not trying to recreate, just inject the Vuylsteke name , a more comprehensive link is here: 50 Years of Oregon wine
  • 2006: Vuylsteke Family receives Oregon State Wine Industry FOUNDERS AWARD

For the story and timeline on Oregon’s 50 years of winemaking retrospect, click on “50 Years of Oregon wine.” This article is by Katherine Cole, and it inspired me to write this blog, because – like Paul Harvey – I enjoy telling “the rest of the story.”

Congratulations, Oregon. Here’s to your Pinots… Gris, Blanc, and Noir!

 

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7 Responses to “The Butcher, the Baker, and the Local Winemaker ~ Lost in Time”

  1. Andrea says:

    As someone who deeply appreciates a fine Oregon Pinot and as the wife of an Oregon Duck, I love this article. Thank you for sharing the history behind Oregon’s winemaking. Fascinating!

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Andrea.

    I’m so pleased.

  3. I enjoyed very much reading this posting and fond memories of a recent visit of Oak Knoll Wineries in Oregon came back. http://schiller-wine.blogspot.com/2011/07/visiting-oak-knoll-winery-in-hillsboro.html schiller-wine

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    I have the same fond memories, Christian. Thanks for commenting.

  5. gdfo says:

    good story

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Greg. I appreciate you telling me that.

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