Last week was spent mostly in Oregon, primarily with our friends at Oak Knoll Winery.
Oak Knoll began in 1970, when Ronald and Marjorie Vuylsteke became pioneers of Oregon’s winemaking, by founding the first winery in Washington County. At that time, there were only a few vineyards and a handful of wineries in all of Oregon!
Their mission is simple and straightforward; Oak Knoll is a family operated winery with two main goals: to continue producing (while always seeking to improve) some of the best wines in Oregon and to consistently offer some of the best wine values in America. It all began in the 1970s, and only a few years ago, the baton was handed down to the next generation.
Today’s new principles: Greg Lint (stepson) is president, John Vuylsteke II (son) is vice president of sales, Jeff Herinckx (nephew) is winemaker, and Tom Vuylsteke (son) is cellar master. This cohesive family unit (with Ron Senior remaining Winemaker Emeritus) has found a way to utilize each family member’s true passion, working in harmony like a well-tuned piano. As they struggle with their growing pains, it’s fascinating to watch them operate in unison to find their collective groove.
Oak Knoll refers to itself as the “people’s winery” with good reason. That was very evident as we all experienced Oak Knoll in the marketplace traveling in and around the Portland area, to their sponsored events. People adore the Oak Knoll crew, who adoringly enjoy their wines. It reminded me of radio days when Jose and I traveled all over kingdom-come to establish WBLM as Portland, Maine’s “people’s FM radio” station… It’s the same guerrilla marketing that we did then, that’s traversed into the wine business in a hometown way.
Oak Knoll Vineyards
Being Oregon’s third established winery, Ron Senior has not only seen it all in Oregon, he helped to set it all in motion. He’s still connected to all the players as a pioneering winemaker, and yet he’s extremely humble in everything he says and does. I came away with a feeling that not only Ron Senior, but also the entire family, has perfected the art of humility. Ron’s original intent was to make wine for family and friends. To that end, he used whatever was available in the early 1970s, and vinifera grapes weren’t yet planted, but he had a vision and got going. The abundance of fruit was just that back then… fruit… raspberries, pear, and the like. The great Northwest was his playing field.
Once vitis vinifera vines were brought into Oregon, it allowed Ron’s range of varieties to expand… And he did. Ron did, and so did everyone else. He’s one of those legends that you like to sit and ask, “So, Ron, tell me, what was Andre Tchelistcheff like?” And, he’ll give you a great answer. (I’ll find my notes, and write more later… For now, I’m just off the road, trying to find the bottom of my desk, and still firing on all cylinders… I think.)
Today, most of their offerings come from Willamette Valley: recognizable, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir. A Cabernet was just crafted, with the wine being brought in from Washington State’s Columbia Valley. Other eclectic wines in their portfolio are really unique experiences and reflect their terroir: Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Muller Thurgau; a rose of Pinot Noir and Riesling, called “Twilight Blush; Frambrosia, a raspberry dessert wine, and American native varieties ~ Niagara and Concord.”
With five days of travel, and my camera’s battery always charged, I’ll be sharing lots more. They’ll include the images that I took at each winery, and some dramatic shots at the Wahkeenah Waterfalls. We climbed the side of that mountain to get to the source of the spring. This was a first for me… to combine wine country with photographing waterfalls. I’m ending this blog with my favorite image… It just makes one thirst for a great glass of Oregon wine, like the ones we tasted along our journey as guests of Oak Knoll and all of the neighboring wineries that welcomed us.
For now, at their Saturday event, as the clouds dropped occasional drops (as it had the whole time we were there), I asked Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris growers Michelle and Dean Inman of Mason Ridge Farms, “Are you concerned about all of this rain?”
Smilingly Dean said, “No… This weather is very atypical. It’ll be dry next week until the third week of October. We’ll have good weather until early November, really. We’ll have fly fishing and a great harvest. In September we have dry weather and the temperature cools at night, but it’s warm in the day. The grapes love it.” He harvests at 23 to 24 degrees brix, and his vineyard is at an elevation between 800 to 900 feet. “I think it’s going to be a good year,” Dean continued. “Harvest might be as late as October 3.”
Someone recently said that farmers are eternal optimists; planting seeds and expecting growth with a harvest. After five days of what was for me (and everyone else) turbulent weather in Oregon, I’ve got my fingers crossed for them. The berries are still hard, so the fruit is still in beautiful condition. And, it may even benefit from the added moisture… once all the trimming is done to manage extra canopy and larger fruit.
I can hardly wait to taste the season’s bounty, having a deeper connection to Mother Nature in Oregon’s beautiful and pastoral Willamette Valley.