May brings clear spring skies and blooming wildflowers. Need another reason to love May? It’s also Oregon Wine Month, a time to sip and celebrate incredible wine. The one thing that really stands out in the Oregon wine industry (besides delicious wine, of course!) is the thriving and burgeoning sense of community.
Whether it be sharing wine and food, or braving the testing times bought by the wildfires or pandemic, members of this community have shown up for each other in full solidarity. After all, they share stewardship of the land and have a common commitment to making fine wine.
A case in point is the heartening story of Remy Drabkin of Remy Wines, who knew that she wanted to be a winemaker since she was just eight years old. Remy, who grew up when the Oregon wine industry was just emerging, is quick to tell you her inspiration. “The Ponzi family really made me fall in love with winemaking,” she says. “As a kid, I loved riding tractors and stomping fruit in their vineyard and winery. They are very close family friends. The Ponzi parents and their daughters, who’ve run their winery for over 20 years sparked my early love of all things wine.”
In a sense, you could say that Remy’s success story is incomplete without their story. This is true of so many winemakers in Oregon, who have risen by lifting each other. It is really a family, in every sense of the world. Albeit, a large, bustling family!.
We’re loving a social media campaign hosted by the Oregon Wine Board called Pour it Forward (#pouritfORward), which serves as a chain of appreciation between Oregon winemakers across the state. Thirty-one Oregon winemakers talk about wine made by their peers in short, engaging videos throughout May – check them on Instagram and Facebook. You can see winemakers leverage each other’s brand – and simply enjoy wines made by their neighbors.
For Oregon Wine Month, we wanted to pay homage to this culture of camaraderie. To jump in on the fun, we spoke to a few of the featured winemakers about the wine/winery they chose for Pour it Forward and the sense of belonging they feel in the Oregon wine community.
Who: John Grochau, winemaker/owner at Grochau Cellars
What they chose: Troon Vineyard 2020 Vermentino
I chose Troon Vineyard 2020 Vermentino for a few reasons. Firstly, I wanted the wine to not be from the Willamette Valley because that is what Oregon wine is already so well-known for. Almost everyone who knows wine knows Willamette Valley. Secondly, I wanted the wine to not be one of the major Oregon varietals (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, etc). I wanted to shine a light on one of the many new varietals being planted and growing successfully in a less mainstream region of Oregon. While we inarguably love Pinot Noir around here, there is a lot more going on in Oregon than just Pinot Noir. Thirdly, Troon Vineyard is under new ownership and the new management team is a forward-thinking bunch focused on Biodynamic viticulture and winemaking. They have an amazing holistic approach to farming that resonates deeply with me. Last but not the least, the winemaker, Nate Wall is a thoughtful guy who does some truly splendid work.
View John’s segment HERE
Who: Doug Tunnell, owner/ winemaker at Brick House Vineyards
What they chose: Sequitur Wine 2018 Pinot Noir
I chose to feature Sequitur Wine largely on the basis of quality. The wines are made by two of the most talented folks I know: Michael Etzel and his wife, Carey Critchlow. Sequitur is a new brand but it embodies the historic foundations of the Oregon wine industry – small production Pinot Noir from a single vineyard, planted and farmed organically/biodynamically with great care by a husband-and-wife team along with help from their kids.
They benefit from their history – Michael is the founding winemaker at Beaux Freres Winery. Carey is a talented artist and photographer with a keen eye for design. All three of Mike’s sons worked for us at Brick House when they were younger and all three of Carey’s daughters have contributed to creating this new brand. I believe the Sequitur brand represents some of the best Oregon has to offer and points the way to what could be a wonderful, successful future for the entire industry.
Who: Wynne Peterson-Nedry, winemaker/owner at Ribbon Ridge Vineyard
What they chose: Authentique Wine Cellars 2017 “Fond Marin” Chardonnay
I chose winemaker Nicholas Keeler’s brand because I love Nick’s wines. I think he does an amazing job with Chardonnay in particular, which is my go-to wine in warm weather. The other reason I chose Nick’s wine is because of my fondness for him as a person. Nick is one of the most open, generous, lovely and fun individuals I know. For as long as I can remember, having grown up in the Oregon wine industry, the community has always been based on a foundation of friendship, generosity, openness and collaboration. In my mind, Nick is one of the most perfect embodiments of these sentiments, and I am grateful to be able to support friends with such a great personification of the Oregon spirit!
Who: Grant Coulter and Renée Saint-Amour, founders/owners of Hundred Suns Wine
What they chose: Crowley Wines 2019 Willamette Valley Chardonnay
When I (Grant) was a young assistant winemaker at Beaux Freres, I met Tyson Crowley. He had cut his teeth with a great winemaker, but then boldly stepped out to make his own wines. As my own career was developing over the last 15 years, I watched him work hard to build his business and create truly distinctive and beautiful wines. Tyson inspired me and reminded me that I might someday do the same.
When the Oregon pioneer producers were starting out here, there wasn’t an existing body of knowledge about how to farm and make wine in the Willamette Valley, and in many cases they didn’t even have all the necessary equipment. They had to band together to share their tools, experiences and experiments as they learned on the job, and built a shared knowledge of the valley. That sense of collegiality thrives here still.
Who: Tyson Crowley, winemaker at Crowley Wines
What they chose: Brick House Wines 2017 Cascadia Chardonnay
Doug Tunnell, of Brick House, had become a friend and mentor in 2002 when I worked harvest for him. Back then, we would drink his 2001 Chardonnay with lunch and that was the first time I realized how important Chardonnay was in Oregon. The wine was such a pure expression of terroir. It really inspired me. I have always respected Doug’s winemaking approach and was lucky in getting to know him and his wife Melissa closely. We are pals to this day.
Camaraderie has always been a theme in Oregon, as far back as I can recall and it persists today. It’s part of the DNA of the place and it seems to attract like-minded folks who understand and appreciate that. It’s sustainable. The individual spirit is no doubt alive and well but we act as a family towards the outside world and thus easily bond over common challenges and keep our overall “Oregon” identity strong. And the sense of community brings out the best in everyone and helps us evolve as a region, keeping Oregon competitive. And truly, end of the day, it’s just great to share this wine experience with people we consider friends. At this point, there are too many to count and that’s a good feeling.
Who: Nicholas Keeler, owner/winemaker at Authentique Wine Cellars, The Corridor & Leisure
What they chose: Bethel Heights 2017 Flat Block Pinot Noir
Barrel tasting with Ben Casteel has always been a highlight of my yearly visits working as the sales director for Tonnellerie Allary and in particular, I eagerly look forward to tasting the wines that come from the Bethel Heights Vineyard Flat Block. There is something very special about these wines and the way they are crafted – they offer an enchanting depth and complexity. The people involved in the Oregon wine industry embolden each other’s mutual passion for vineyard and wine. I am grateful to Ben and others who have selflessly taken the time to taste, discuss, answer technical questions and offer encouragement in times of adversity. Together we are making wines worthy to represent the unique and acclaimed terroir of the Willamette Valley.
Who: Erica Landon, founding partner and general manager at Walter Scott Wines
What they chose: Hundred Suns Wine 2019 Sequitur Vineyard Pinot Noir
We chose Grant Coulter and Renée Saint-Amour from Hundred Suns for many reasons. They have worked so hard to launch their winery, coming up in some of the best cellars in Oregon and putting everything on the line to follow their dreams. It is a story that we know intimately and one that mirrors our own path at Walter Scott. Besides, they are some of the best humans and their wines are beautiful. The camaraderie in the Willamette Valley is powerful. The support of many in our industry helped us build Walter Scott, helped us to continue to learn tasting in each other’s cellars, and supported us through the challenges of 2020 and beyond. It is a special community, one that would bend over backward to help each other.