As the team at Adelsheim Vineyard celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021, they have generously partnered with us to share Founders’ Stories: Conversations with the 10 Founding Winemaking Families of Oregon’s North Willamette Valley.
Discovering and sharing Oregon wine stories is our passion, and we are incredibly grateful to be able to help showcase this amazing time in Oregon’s wine history through interviews with the people who helped build the industry.
For more information on the project, visit adelsheim.com/50years.
Project Description from Adelsheim
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of what became Adelsheim’s first vineyard, we wanted to tell our story. But we quickly realized that the only way to truly tell our story was to tell the stories of that entire first generation. In each interview, David Adelsheim wanted to go beyond their widely known histories to discover, who these people really were. And what led them to build our uniquely collaborative and, at least from today’s perspective, incredibly successful wine industry. This is our shared story.
Chapter 1: Diana Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards
We met with Diana Lett of the Eyrie Vineyards on October 5, 2020 in the yard behind her home, looking at their second oldest vineyard planting. Soon after their wedding in October 1966, Diana and David Lett started transplanting 3,000 young vines from a nursery David planted near Corvallis in February 1965. Using what Diana calls her ‘wedding shovel.’ But I’m jumping ahead. Let’s get the story from Diana.
Chapter 2: Charley Coury of Charles Coury Winery
Chuck and Shirley Coury came to Oregon around the same time as David Lett. Chuck and David had been at U.C. Davis during the 1962/63 school year and travelled together the next year in France. They shared a nursery planting near Corvallis, and both purchased land for their vineyards. David Adelsheim interviewed their son, Charley, at David Hill Winery near Forest Grove on October 16, 2020. They sat in the midst of vines planted by Charley’s father in 1966, when Chuck and Shirley owned this historic vineyard site.
Chapter 3: Dick Erath of Erath Vineyards
We met up with Dick Erath on October 9, 2020 at his original vineyard property. Today, it is known as Chehalem Mountain Vineyard and is owned by Geodesy Wine/Capra Vineyards. I first met Dick in April 1971, when we stopped our car in front of the rented logger’s cabin, where he and his family were living. We were hoping to see some wine grapes, which we’d heard had been planted in the area. And, as it turned out, Dick knew where some were planted. They just weren’t next to the cabin.
Chapter 4: Marj and Ron Vuylsteke of Oak Knoll Winery
Ron was working at Tektronix and teaching others to be home winemakers in the late 1960s. Marj was selling wine at WineArt and bringing up their six kids. Their friends encouraged them to start making wine commercially. So, in 1970 they purchased an old 40’x120’ cow barn. They were making fruit into wine later that summer. By 1973, they had added wine grapes and became immersed in the growing wine industry. We talked with Ron and Marj at that original property on November 12, 2020.
Chapter 5: Bill Fuller of Tualatin Vineyards
Bill Fuller had already worked in the lab at Italian Swiss Colony, gotten an MS in enology at U.C. Davis and had been the winemaker at Louis Martini Winery for 9 years when he helped evaluate vineyard sites for an investment banker in Oregon. They became partners in a 65-acre site northwest of Forest Grove in 1972, which they named Tualatin Vineyards. Bill moved his wife Virginia and family to Oregon that fall. The next year, he remodeled the house and converted the barn into a winery in time for their first vintage, using Washington grapes. We met up with Bill in the winery’s original barrel room on October 16, 2020.
Chapter 6: Dick & Nancy Ponzi of Ponzi Vineyards
In some ways, Nancy and Dick Ponzi’s entry into the business of wine in Oregon sounds very similar to ours. As Nancy wrote in her 2010 cookbook, it started in the nineteen-sixties. “If you weren’t alive then, it’s difficult to relate.” “Young people, such as Dick and me, were searching for roots and a path was presented by going back to the land, to basics and self-reliance.” I wanted to better understand how “back to the land” translated into starting one of Oregon’s foundational wineries. Nancy and Dick agreed to meet with us outside their original winery, next to the home they built, on October 14, 2020.
Chapter 7: Myron Redford of Amity Vineyards
Fresh out of college in the summer of 1966, Myron Redford and a couple of friends found themselves hitchhiking from Istanbul to London. They ended up in Bulgaria, looking for a hostel. Did I mention that Myron had an ulcer and had been told, no alcohol. But their guide was pouring shots of slivovitz and “no thanks” wasn’t going to work. The next morning, after a long night of slivovitz shots, Myron was fine. So much for the no alcohol policy. On October 7, 2020, we caught up with Myron at Amity Vineyards, overlooking the original vineyard he purchased from Jerry and Ann Preston in 1974.
Chapter 8: Susan Sokol Blosser and Bill Blosser of Sokol Blosser Winery
In April 1971, a mutual friend introduced us to Bill Blosser, who was a professor of planning at Portland State University. We met with him in his office and learned that he and his wife Susan had purchased property for a vineyard in the Dundee Hills. They invited us to their rented home at the foot of those hills for a May Day Party to introduce us to the wine community. We know the Letts were there, too. In my memory, it seemed like a much bigger party. But none of the other early growers remember being there. We interviewed Susan and Bill, one after another, in the Legacy Lounge of their new tasting room at their original vineyard site on October 7, 2020.
Chapter 9: Pat and Joe Campbell of Elk Cove Vineyards
On a Saturday afternoon in early 1975, Ginny and I were driving into Portland for shopping, a meal, or a family visit, when we came to a horrible realization. Having recently met Pat and Joe Campbell, we had been invited for a meal in the house they had just finished building on the site of their newly planted vineyard. We had been looking forward to comparing notes with the Campbells on building houses and planting vineyards. But we had spaced out the invitation, were too far from Elk Cove, and of course, there were no cell phones back then. Chagrinned, we called from a pay phone as soon as we could. Pat said, “No problem come tomorrow instead.” I remember, we had rabbit. We were able to chat with Pat and Joe on a sunny October 9, 2020, sitting in the vineyard they planted in the 1974.
Chapter 10: Ginny Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyards
Our long-awaited final interview in this series is with Ginny Adelsheim. Ginny and I founded Adelsheim Vineyard in 1971 when we purchased our first property. Or maybe it was in 1972 when we planted the first grapes there. Or in 1976 when we first made a tiny amount of wine from those grapes. Or in 1978 when we made our first commercial wine. Well, you can see the problem a small estate winery has in coming up with an actual “founding date.”
However, we can certainly agree that Adelsheim Vineyard was established during a different era in America, when an idealization of going back to the land, a vision of a lifestyle focused on wine, and faith in one’s own abilities could stand-in for a business plan.