There’s nothing more stimulating and inspiring, as a wine publicist, than visiting a client. When it’s in another state, the experiences are intensified, because it’s not a day-trip into another valley, it’s a plane ride away. This means that it’s going to involve a week of my life, which becomes totally focused.

In this case, it was a trip to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, to visit with Oak Knoll Winery and its staff… Some of the most delightful people in the world. This is not a PR statement, it’s just the simple truth of it all. Jose and I love our Oak Knoll people in a really personal way. President/CEO Greg Lint and winemaker Jeff Herinckx are honest, hard working, and fun loving people. It’s such a great mix, when the four of us get together. We’ve all traveled nationally together, to attend wine festivals. Each time, we work hard and then we play hard. It’s always a great, memorable time.

I’m not new to Oregon. I’ve been visiting there since my Belvedere Days, in the 1990s. Then, I was a district sales manager, and Oregon was one of my states. At first, I was working with Admiralty Beverage. Admiralty morphed into Columbia Distributing… Today, I’m waiting for Southern Wine & Spirits to gobble up Columbia. Southern, of course, will then have to change it’s name to National Wine & Spirits, because to score Columbia in the wine world is akin to scoring Boardwalk in the game of Monopoly. After gobbling up Columbia, I just don’t know what’s left for Southern to purchase… but I’m getting off track…

So, off Jose and I went to visit with our Oak Knoll team.

Oak Knoll is one of the early pioneers of the Oregon Wine industry. When founder Ronald (Ron) Vuylsteke was encouraged by his wife Marjorie (Marj) Vuylsteke to make wine, it was because they loved wine, and making wine was in Ron’s DNA. Ron grandfather Leonard, a native of Belgium, was a winemaker in the St.- Emilion region of Bordeaux in the early 1900’s. He immigrated to the United States with his family on one of the last ships able to make safe passage out of Europe just before World War I. Arriving at Ellis Island in New York, the family traveled across the country by train to join relatives who had settled in the farmland of the northern Willamette Valley, a familiar climate to Leonard Vuylsteke.

Both Ron and Marj are native Oregonians. Ron was an electronics engineer at Tektronix in the early 1960’s. That was when a bumper crop of blackberries at the family home led to their first gallon of blackberry wine. The result was tasty and the Vuylsteke’s family winemaking heritage was reborn. Ron and Marj decided to take the dramatic step of pursuing commercial winemaking and founded Oak Knoll Winery.

Because they were humble farmers, there wasn’t time spent to market what they were doing in the wine making world, they just kept their noses to the grindstone. They converted an old dairy farm into their winery. (Silos are still on the property, too solidified to be removed.)

During the Pinot Noir era, which began in 1965, there were nine early pioneers in Willamette Valley established within as many years. These founders of world-class Pinot Noir in Oregon put this AVA on the map. You might recognize all but one of these, if you know your Oregon Pinots, and that one would be our humble Oak Knoll.

  1. David Lett, Eyrie Vineyard, 1965
  2. Dick Erath, Erath Vineyards Winery, 1969
  3. Dick and Nancy Ponzi, Ponzi Vineyards, 1970
  4. Ron and Marj Vuylsteke, Oak Knoll Winery, 1970
  5. Susan and Bill Sokol-Blosser, Sokol-Blosser Winery, 1971
  6. David and Ginny Adelsheim, Adelsheim Vineyard, 1972
  7. Pat and Joe Campbell, Elk Cove Vineyards, 1973
  8. Bill and Virginia Fuller, Tualatin Estate Vineyards, 1973
  9. Jerry and Ann Preston, and Myron Redford, Amity Vineyards, 1974

Being more attuned to greeting their friends, neighbors, and guests, Ron (a scientist at heart and vocation), never took advantage of André Tchelistcheff telling him:

“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.”

It was graciously accepted by Ron and Marj, and they simply continued with their lives at the winery, greeting their friends, neighbors, and guests. By the 1980’s, Oak Knoll Winery had become the established People’s Choice Winery by Portland residents. When leaving Portland and heading into wine country, Oak Knoll is part of that important gateway, and an easy first stop. For some, it’s more than a stop, it’s a day in the country… A place where tasting wine, bringing a picnic lunch, letting the kids and dog run on Mike’s freshly mowed, expansive lawn is simply a great get-away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

It’s also just a few minutes away from the industrial park that houses Nike and Intel. When these techie-types need a moment to refresh, Oak Knoll is their neighbor and friend…

Today, Marj is the winery’s Ambassador, living on the property. You’ll find her in the tasting room, doing what she does best… Greeting her friends, neighbors, and visitors. The winery is her world, and pouring Oak Knoll wines for visitors is still her greatest pleasure, while visiting there is one of mine.

After our marketing and PR brainstorming sessions, Greg likes to take us into his wine country, so we can better understand how drastically different Oregon is, as compared to our California environment. Oregon is more European in its terroir, with all of the moisture that it experiences. We need to think of it in completely different ways… Like the differences in marketing Coke and Dr. Pepper… Both are beverage of the same kind, but inherently different flavors, attracting different palates.

So, the plan was the following, and I’ll be writing about these adventures in the upcoming weeks.

Day 1:

  • Baren Vineyards, with Bill and Sharon Beran, Hillsboro
    • Beran Vineyards is one of three vineyard sources for Oak Knoll Winery’s superb Pinot Noir grapes.
  • David Hill, with – call?, Forest Grove
  • The Friendly Vine (wine shop), with Randy Reeder, Forest Grove

Day 2:

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