[Winemaker Jeff Herinckx]
Starting tomorrow, winemaker Jeff Herinckx of Oak Knoll Winery will have a monthly posting on this blog. Each month Jeff and my partner Jose Diaz have a conversation about what’s happening at Oak Knoll Winery, which is Jeff’s Winemaker Journal recording. That means that each month I’m also reading what’s happening at Oak Knoll in Willamette Valley, Oregon. After reading this past journal – tomorrow’s story – I realized his writing is not only illuminating, but it’s also down home charming, and I want to share it with you, too.
Winemaking in Oregon is dramatically different than what I’m used to hearing and writing about in California, with Willamette Valley’s terroir more typical of France and with similar weather challenges. Oregon, for instance, is much more wet, making each season one which could be totally lost to weather. That’s never happened in California anywhere near what Oregon’s had to face.
Consequently, his winemaker journal on this blog will give his stories greater exposure, and give you an interesting perspective.
Jeff Herinckx was raised with the intense rigors of being the tenth of 11 children, on a family dairy farm in Oregon. Here, Jeff developed his work ethic very early in life. As a child, his day began at 5:00 a.m. Off to school by 8:00 a.m., he then returned to farm work right after school, which continued until 8:00 p.m. When asked about how he performed homework with this laborious schedule, Jeff said that helping to manage the dairy farm with 100 acres of farmland was his expected “homework” from his parents.
Hard working and operating with aspirations that benefit the good of the whole versus the good of anyone’s own self interests, Jeff is a perfect Oak Knoll team player. His tenacity and dedication speak for themselves, with his wines continually receiving great accolades through critical acclaim evaluations.
Prior to working with Oak Knoll Winery, Jeff went from formal education to employment as a machinist who repaired small engines and chain saws. As a dairy farmer, he had – through necessity – learned how to repair the family’s farm equipment. Because he had learned so much about machinery, this became his first shot at gainful employment. Living in Oregon’s naturally forested terrain, logging was also part of his daily environment. Jeff’s next job involved tree planting for the forest service. He admits that this was difficult work, but it prepared him for understanding the Oak Knoll viticulture program.
In 1984, a position with Oak Knoll presented itself. As a family cousin, he heard of the opportunity through family members. Jeff was very interested in pursuing this kind of farming with Ron and Marj Vuylsteke, who had established the first winery in Washington County. The Vuylstekes needed someone to help with winemaking and their vineyards, and it was this opportunity that led Jeff to his enology and viticultural learnings from Ron Vuylsteke, a true pioneer in Oregon’s winemaking industry.
By 1988, Jeff had become assistant winemaker. It wasn’t until Ron and Marj handed over the reigns of the winery to their sons John Vuylsteke (sales), Tom Vuylsteke (cellar master), stepson Greg Lint (president), and Jeff Herinckx in March of 2005 that Jeff became their recognized winemaker. Jeff admits that Ron still occasionally enjoys coming to the winery to make sure that all is going well.
Today, Jeff’s responsibilities for the winery involve overseeing all viticulture and enology, as well as calling upon his skills as an operations manager for the wine cellar, and occasionally traveling to represent the winery at events.
President Greg Lint’s winemaking philosophy is simply stated, “We’re 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 not only Oregon, but also in America.”