Guest Post by Mary Huff
Mary sent me this delightful piece in the run-up to the November vote on Measure 49. I am even more grateful that the law passed, because I'd be feeling terrible about delaying the posting of this essay if 49 had failed by five votes and publishing it at the crucial time might have made the difference. I amended some of the tenses, in joyful celebration that some of the problems mentioned are now in the past.
The information is still pertinent, and the virtual journey delightful especially on a stormy day in January.
Even thought I already sent what I could afford to the Yes on 49 campaign, when the offer of a wine tour with all proceeds going to the effort popped up it was too much to resist. Like most people who drive to work with a radio on, the sound bites and slogans are all ring familiar. Who could forget the relentless crackling voice of Dorothy English being denied the ability to build a home for her family members so she could stay on her land during the last Measure 37 campaign? Measure 49 takes care of Dorothy’s issue or at least the sympathetic plight that was portrayed endlessly over the air waves, it allows an original owner to build as explained on the Measure 49 website.
So on a beautiful morning in mid-September, our guide from Grape Escape Winery tours and a cohort he was training, both donating their time and van to the Measure 49 cause, picked us up at the Sunset Transit Center and we started our journey.
Our first stop was Ponzi Vineyards, one of the 1970’s originals where on the walls of their tasting room were the pictures of the little girls helping Dad in the fields of grapes. Those two little girls have now grown up to be the winemaker and marketing guru of the family vineyard while their brother manages operations, and the next generation of children are following their parents around the cellar and fields learning about how grapes grow, when to harvest, tricks to tease the most flavor out of the grapes to make the family’s signature wines. Also on the walls of the tasting room are White House Dinner menus where Ponzi wines are featured on the four star meals meant to impress the world of dignitaries entertained there.
Thanks to Measure 37 there was literally trouble looming on the horizon. A large garbage dump (pdf) was looming on the borders of the historic Ponzi vineyard.
Our next stop was another family operation, Winters Hill Winery. There are also three generations on this farm as well but the grandparents traditional root crops have been replaced with vineyards. A modest tasting room sits at the top of the hill, where the family helps other small local businesses by displaying their wares, everything from Honey to Art along the walls. That is the beauty of many of these small restaurants and tasting rooms, instead of Musac and Art Print Reproductions carefully selected by interior decorators that my artist neighbor tells me he gets less than fifty cents for, there is a mind teasing display original art work where the artist can benefit.
While we were there enjoying the lunch wine tours traveling by tour bus and on horseback joined us on this scenic hilltop, where the family has worked with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to set aside an environmental easement to preserve habitat for birds of prey and a corridor for them to travel along between natural areas .
Thanks to Measure 37 danger to this wonderful place and family dream loomed here as well. See this proposal. It was not only the traffic concerns, but the water and other utility demands that a development this size would have put on the area, that threatened the resources.
On the way down the hill from Winters Hill we passed Domaine. In that same watershed, the vineyards of Papa Pinot, rolled down the hillside. Supporting his family as a textbook salesman by day, while his wine vines culled form the UC Davis viticulture test farm in the 60’s and hauled to Oregon in a horse trailer grew and matured. In 1975 he shocked the French vintners with a bottle of Pinot Noir that finished second by fractions of a point in a competition that featured the best Europe could offer. His wine so impressed one French winery they bought land adjacent to his in Yamhill County and fueled the $1.4 Billion in economic activity attributed to the industry in Oregon last year.
Papa Pinot has become Grandpa Pinot, as the young daughter of Eyrie’s current manager Jason, is nurturing her very first barrel this year in her grandfathers old cellar in an unobtrusive recycled Turkey processing building on a side street in McMinnville.
Grape Escape Winery Tours donated the van and two wonderful guides that took us round and told so many stories about the places we saw. The stories and insight made it a trip well worth the price.
My late husband and I over the 20 years we have lived in Oregon have really enjoyed watching our favorite wineries and vintners grow, and pass on, to the next generation the winemaking skills. Two of our favorites, Chateau Bianca on the way to the coast, and St. Josephs in Canby, are passing on to sons and daughters from families that came here from Europe. We watched them grow from tasting rooms on a vineyard like Winter Hill is now, to places with facilities for festivals and entertainment, and a wide variety of wine. I remember our kids playing on the swings at Kramer Vineyards when we toured and tasted there.
I asked on our tour how much of the sales of these small wineries are from tours like ours, and it was as much as 50%. The closeness to where we live, for those of us who can’t afford to fly to France or Napa Valley when we want to taste, but can spend an afternoon and take a picnic lunch, buy a bottle of wine with kids in tow.
This is what livability in our Oregon is all about. Art, good wine, family friendly spaces, good salmon safe economic industry, places close enough to home where we can escape and interact with interesting dedicated people who take pride in their craft and innovate to take it to new levels.