In The Writer's World


Here’s a question for Throwback Thursday. It comes from Sue Horstmann, longtime executive director of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association, which is putting on a huge gala to celebrate 50 years of grape growing in the Willamette Valley:
“You have been suggested as an important observer and participant in the creation of the Oregon wine industry in the media field and as one of the few people who remember those early days, we want to engage you with a question which you need to roll back the clock to answer. 

 “Here is your question:   How would you describe, in 5 words or phrases, how Oregon wine was regarded in journalistic circles in the 1970s and early 1980s?”

For the 1970s there’s a short answer: It wasn’t.

The long answer: Are you kidding? In 1974 only a couple families grew winegrapes in the Willamette Valley–the Letts and the Courys, joined in a couple years by the Eraths and Ponzis and Myron Redford. Forget the media. There may have been a couple articles in local papers. There was a wine revolution going on. In California. Period, end of story.

I was doing my own wine evaluations during that period, and the consistent best Oregon wine as far as I was concerned was Ma Bender’s Rosy Rhubarb!

In the 1980s it gets a little more interesting. By then Sokol Blosser, Adelsheim and Elk Cove had joined the fold–impressive additions to the Willamette Valley landscape. The earliest wine pioneers’ vineyards had matured. Several decent wines became available on the market.

Harry and I purchased vineyard property in 1980. Harry had a yen to farm. Would we ever own a winery? Who knew. Coincidentally, I wrote my first article about Northwest wine in 1980 for the Oregon Business Journal. Later that year I penned a piece about Ste. Chapelle, Idaho’s first modern day winery, and sold it to California wine magazine.

Harry and I both were learning all we could about wine in general. We’d tasted some pretty sorry Oregon wines, but along the way had encountered some impressive ones as well. I figured it was time to start getting the word out. Of course I was ready before the rest of the world wanted to embrace the idea that Oregon had unlimited potential. All the more reason to go forward. Nobody else was willing to get their feet wet talking about Northwest wines.

63732_10205071866215221_1973583921734315991_n[1]I sold my first article to The Wine Spectator when it was edited by Jerry Boyd–before Marvin Shanken became a household word. I had the privilege of breaking the stories of Australian Brian Croser’s investment in Oregon with Argyle, and later that year of  Burgundian wine magnate Robert Drouhin’s purchase of vineyard land in the Dundee Hills. Around that time, Harry and I gave a quick Sunday morning consult to Doug Macy and Ernie Munch, the architects who went on to design Domaine Drouhin Oregon.

This was the heady stuff of the Oregon wine scene in the mid-to-late 1980s. I served on the International Pinot Noir Celebration Board of Directors for seven years, and then Harry put in seven years. And then I was done with all of it, but the beat went on.

When Sue Horstmann became executive director of the Yamhill County Wineries Association there were 30 members. Now, she tells me, the Willamette Valley Wineries Association boasts more than 200 members.

Where did all these people come from? Oregon has more than 400 wineries. I don’t even know who most of them are.

It was a wild, strange trip. It still is. While I do not exist in the winery newsletters, Harry still runs the winery we bonded together in the early 1990s. Our daughter is the winemaker for that winery, Chehalem. And these days the media is never silent about Oregon wines.

Many of the best times of my life came when I was writing about Oregon wines and was part of that scene. It was my career. It was my life. It was the work I often didn’t get paid for, but it was real and important and magical, and I loved it.


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  • Deston Nokes says:

    I too wrote quite a bit about wine back in the day. I was giddy watching the Yamhill and Willamette Valley’s credibility and industry grow. In Portland, the microbrew revolution also was taking place, and I’ve been able to write magazine articles about that as well. Magical times indeed.

  • Margie Hurle says:

    Wow! The history of an industry in one head! Talk about being in the right place at the right time and grabbing the opportunity. You lived through such an important time – not only observing it, but activating it. And how valuable are all those memories now! Fifty years ago really is past history, and you made it.

  • Diane says:

    We have been enjoying our local Oregon wine since the mid 1980’s. Looking at some of the 100 best wines-west coast, American, etc., I don’t recognize some of the wineries., and some are located in Dundee.

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