Though Oregon has had wine makers since the early 19th century the culture started to gain acceptance in the 1960s. The pioneers of pinot noir, graduates of UC Davis, began by looking at weather climates and soil information before venturing into the Oregon wild to open wineries in the face of little infrastructure and little support.
What started out as a gamble has exploded into a thriving industry, with over 15,000 acres of Oregon land devoted to growing grapes and over 400 wineries throughout the state. Due to a unique combination of weather and soil variation, Oregon wine is unlike any other, developing rich profiles that embody the character of the country in which they were grown
Eugene is located in the heart of the Willamette Valley and surrounded by a variety of vineyards offers both locals and wine tourists a host of options to taste and try wines. A strong connection to the localvore movement runs throughout the industry, ensuring most wines tasted in these rooms can be traced to just a few miles outside of the city limits.
For more information on Oregon wines:
A Scene of LaVelle Vineyards
LaVelle Vineyard Club Room is perched upon the second floor of 5th Street market, overlooking the construction of “The Inn”, a hotel to be opened at the start of the new year. Located next to a variety of boutique stores and restaurants, LaVelle stands to be at the center of one of the busiest shopping complexes in Eugene.
Opened in 1999 as an extension of the LaVelle Vineyards, the tasting room offers guests the opportunity to try an assortment of wines from the Willamette and Columbia Valley, in addition to locally brewed beers. The wines offered are a selection taken from the family owned vineyard located outside of Eugene and include pinot noir, pinot gris, and Riesling, among others.
When a guest first enters the tasting room they are greeted by a display of all the wine and wine products for sale and, to the right, a large wooden bar. Behind the bar is a mural colorfully depicting the vineyards in the bright sun, a reminder of the warmer days of the Willamette Valley. The wait staff offers cheerful advice on the types of wine offered as they unpack bottles of wine and set up decorations as holiday music plays throughout the store.
The second room offers a more cozy seating area to the guest and a choice of numerous tables and a deep Merlot carpet. Though most seat 2 to 4 people there is a larger, 6 seated table for larger groups near the far wall. It’s the kind of table you’d find in a home dining room, only increasing the space’s intimate nature. Surrounding each table is a unique set of chairs, offering a unique setting for each group. Some may prefer the large, comfy chairs near the window, and others the rustic wooden variety.
An upright piano sits in the corner. On the wall next to it is a flat screen television, the only reminder of the current era. It’s turned off It is covered in holly in anticipation of the holiday season. There are other reminders of the approaching season: snowflake decorations adorn the large window facing east and the music is a mix of jazz and winter standards. From the window downtown Eugene is partially visible through a dense fog.
The walls are decorated with landscape portraits reminiscent of the Willamette Valley. Available for sale, they remind you of the land from which LaVelle’s grapes were grown. In all, the tasting room presents a comfortable yet refined environment to experience a variety of wines.
Uncharted Territory: Alan Mitchell and Territorial Vineyards
Alan Mitchell has a lot of jobs. Throughout the year, the manager of Territorial Vineyard’s wine room and Equinox Vineyard oversees production, markets his product, dabbles in meteorology, and even picks grapes. It’s tiring work but the passion gets him through it.
Born and raised in Oregon, Mitchell put himself through college working farms throughout the Willamette Valley. Though he gained priceless agricultural knowledge it wasn’t till after graduate school that he started to work vineyards, raising money for a vacation to Europe. Upon returning to Oregon Mitchell wasn’t quite ready to join the corporate world.
“I decided I didn’t want to go for my ‘straight job’ and just kept working in the vineyards,” says Mitchell, “Twenty years later I have a vineyard of my own. And a winery.”
Mitchell worked his way up the business, managing, developing, and consulting for other vineyards, but did not start growing his own grapes till the late 1990s.
Those first few batches of grapes went into
Mitchell’s first experience with creating his own wine was through home vinting, a process where small batches of wine are produced as a hobby. Soon Mitchell was being asked for wine from friends and family, and in 2001 he opened Territorial Vineyard. Sometimes the days are long, and the job isn’t as glamorous as some may think, but Mitchell wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“You’re running a small business and you’re working for an insane person –which is yourself,” says Mitchell. “It’s more a labor of love than in any way super-financially rewarding.”
Located in the Whitaker, Territorial Wine Room offers more than just wine – it acts as a gathering place for both locals and those in town on wine tours and a gallery for locally produced art. Thursday and Friday nights live music is played by a rotating assortment of local acts – typically acoustic guitar and folk. This week Eugene’s The Porch Band (composed of Rich Spence, Scoop McGuire and Dan Bilderback) play folk and Americana to guests enjoying their wine.
The demographic covers all ages and types, with a younger crowd then generations past. Mitchell attributes this to the change in availability and perception of wine over the past half century.
“[Customers] are making their own way in the world of wine,” says Mitchell. “A lot of them are tuned into the localness of stuff.”
The crowd could also be attributed to the nature of the Whiteacre, the neighborhood Territorial calls home. The unique attitude of the neighborhood is illustrated by the art inside the tasting room – loud and expressive, the works are all done by local artists and sold without commission to Territorial. The vibrant art embodies the essence of both the surrounding neighborhood and the winery itself.
“The Whitaker is more than just the sum of its parts…it’s a way of looking at things, it’s a way of thinking about things, it’s a way of living,” says Mitchell.
The size of Mitchell’s business allows him to ensure the quality of his product on every level – all the grapes are grown between his and a neighboring vineyard and that he maintains a manageable carbon footprint. Though he hopes to expand, he doesn’t want to every outgrow a manageable carbon footprint and the intense relationship he can foster with every barrel of wine.
Mitchell prides himself on being able to know each barrel and the intricacies and artisan differences that appear from year to year. When the time comes to pick grapes and work in the fields, Mitchell is one of the first out there.
“At his heart he really is a farmer,” says Lisa Rennie, tasting-manager for Territorial Vineyard.”
At the end of the day, for all the hard work and dedication, the joy his wine brings people makes it worth it.
“When a family has your wine on their table you’ve hit the home run,” says Mitchell. “It’s humbling to think that you can grow and create and make something like that and it’s you. That’s where the real reward is.”
Territorial Vineyards Photo Essay