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Jim Bernau in cellar

Jim Bernau


This story begins like it did for many of us. Being served small amounts of wine at the dinner table by our parents. But in Jim's case, it was made by the first emigrating winemaker since Prohibition — UC Davis Graduate Richard Sommer, who believed it was in Oregon, not California where he would grow world-class Pinot Noir. Richard needed a lawyer to obtain the necessary licenses that the state hadn't issued in more than 30 years so he drove his pick-up truck into the small town of Roseburg to find himself a lawyer, and hired Jim's Dad. By 1963, Richard produced 200 gallons of wine.

First motivated by its effects more than its flavor, Jim used information on fermentation found in the family Encyclopedia to ferment Concord grape juice his Mom kept in the freezer. He later graduated to Richard's grapes and hid the bottles under the crawl spaces of the house.

While Jim's father wanted him to return from Willamette Law School to the family practice, Jim chose to pursue his interest in government and wine by representing the Oregon Winegrowers in the passage of the Oregon Wine Advisory Board for the research and promotion of the industry in 1981. This was his first piece of legislation as a young lobbyist.

In the same year, he began searching for vineyard land, found an old overgrown pioneer plum orchard in the Salem Hills and began planting Pinot Noir in 1983, watering his vines with 17 lengths of 75 foot garden hose he bought on special. Jim named it Willamette Valley Vineyards — later to become grandfathered into federal law when the American Viticultural Area was federally authorized.

While the vines were growing, Jim concentrated on helping Oregon Winegrowers by passing legislation focused on making wineries a permitted use on farmland, the direct shipment of wine, wine tastings in stores and restaurants, and later the establishment of the Oregon Wine Board. Jim's personal gift to Oregon State University established the first professorship for fermentation science in the nation.

Jim's fellow winemakers recognized his early work with the industry's Founder's Award and later the Governor's Gold, presented by Oregon's four living Governors. His wines created quite a stir when they appeared on the TV shows West Wing and Friends, and were later served at White House State dinners. Willamette Valley Vineyards was eventually listed among the top 100 wines in the world by Wine Spectator Magazine, named "One of America's Great Pinot Noir Producers" by Wine Enthusiast Magazine and was awarded "Winery of the Year" by Wine and Spirits Magazine.

The recognition Jim values most came from his fellow winegrowers whom he involved in creating the first system of environmental stewardship in American agriculture, the Low Impact Viticulture and Enology program, followed by awards presented by the Rainforest Alliance and the American Wine Society.

Jim believes business organizations owned by the community are among the healthiest kinds. He conducted the first "crowd funding" in the nation to build his winery by obtaining permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1988, resulting in a growing fabric of laws allowing community-based funding for small businesses. Willamette Valley Vineyards has grown to more than 19,000 wine enthusiast shareholders and is listed on the NASDAQ under the symbol WVVI and WVVIP.

In 2015, he co-founded a new division, Oregon Estate Vineyards, in order to continue sharing the Oregon wine story. Through this division, he launched four new boutique wineries on some of Oregon's most intriguing vineyard sites, including The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater in the Walla Walla AVA. 

In 2019, Jim Bernau and Justin King of King Estate Winery accepted the Innovator of the Year award at the Wine Enthusiast Wine Star Awards for Oregon Solidarity, a collaboration wine to support Rogue Valley winegrowers whose contracts were abruptly canceled.

If you ask Jim for his favorite places to visit, he will tell you the vineyard or hiking a Cascade trail. If you ask him how long he has worked in the wine industry, he will tell you that he can only remember ever working two days. Maybe someday he will tell us which two days those were.



Terry Culton in Cellar

Terry Culton

Director of Winemaking & Vineyards

Fueled by a passion for crafting visionary wines and a spirit that craves discovery, Terry Culton’s professional pursuits have brought him back to Willamette Valley Vineyards as our Director of Winemaking & Vineyards. In this position, Terry leads Willamette’s winery and vineyard teams.

Initially inspired by his mentor Kenneth Volk, founder of Wild Horse Vineyard and Kenneth Volk Vineyards, Terry worked the “Pinot Trail” in California’s Anderson Valley and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. He first worked at Willamette in 1997 as our Cellar Master, supervising the cellar crew and managing inventory as well as the bottling line.

From there, Terry went on to develop a 20-year career making acclaimed wines for several California wineries, including work at Calera in Hollister, California, where he worked with the pioneering Pinot Noir maker Josh Jensen. Terry left Calera to work with Hoffman Mountain Ranch’s vast plantings of Rhône Varietals. 

For 10 years, Terry honed his unique style of vineyard-driven, well-balanced wines. His enthusiasm for winemaking led him to start Culton Wines, which produced mainly Rhône varietals and blends in small lots from ultra-premium Central Coast grapes. His overall approach is to blend wines that are elegant and food-friendly manifestations of terroir.

Terry later went to Le Vigne Winery in Paso Robles, California. During his first year at Le Vigne, he received 98 points and a double gold award from Sunset Magazine on Le Vigne Paso 2019 Rosé of Sangiovese. 

Terry’s return to Willamette brings him back to his beginnings at a time of abundant possibilities. The winery continues to develop its deep portfolio that includes classic Oregon Pinot Noirs as well as sparkling wines made with estate-grown fruit and bold reds from the Rogue Valley AVA and the Walla Walla Valley AVA.




Efren Loeza at Loeza Vineyard

Efren Loeza

Vineyard Manager

It is hard to imagine, but it’s true: Efren Loeza has been in the vineyard longer than the winery’s Founder and CEO, Jim Bernau.

Efren came by this unique distinction through Willamette Valley Vineyards’ merger with Tualatin Estate Vineyard in 1997. Efren began at Tualatin in 1979 at the age of 17 and has worked in the vineyard ever since. He learned his skills from a pioneering viticulturist, the late David Foster. 

Efren came to Oregon from Michoacán, Mexico, with his father, uncle and three friends when he was 16. He worked on a strawberry farm during the day, at an onion warehouse at night and worked seasonally with blueberries and cucumbers, too. They all lived in the same cabin on the farm, and at night they entertained themselves by listening to the radio and playing cards or dominoes. On Friday nights the cabins would all get together and have potlucks.

Efren and his family now live on the estate in the farmhouse built by the pioneering owners who first grew strawberries on its warm slopes. As Vineyard Manager for all our vines from Tualatin Estate in Forest Grove to Bernau Estate in the Dundee Hills and the Estate Vineyard in the Salem Hills, Efren has over 500 acres under his supervision. Recently, he was instrumental in planting fifty acres of closely spaced Pinot Noir Dijon clones of 113, 114, 115, 667 and 777 on selected rootstocks.

Efren spends time with his family at the Oregon coast or by playing basketball and soccer with his four children. All the while, he stays devoted to the land. His careful vineyard practices and stewardship of the land have earned LIVE and Salmon-Safe certifications for our estate vineyards. He received the Oregon Wine Board’s first Vineyard Excellence Award in 2016.



Associate Winemaker, Mark Rutherford

Mark Rutherford

Associate Winemaker

Mark first became passionate about Pinot Noir while working as a bartender in a fine dining restaurant along the Mendocino Coast in Northern California. The nearby Anderson Valley was home to many wonderful Pinot Noirs and other cool climate varieties. Mark moved to Oregon in 2007 to study at Oregon State University. He worked at many restaurants in Corvallis and continued cultivating his appreciation for local wines. Ultimately, he became the wine buyer at one of those restaurants. He graduated from OSU in 2011 with a degree in Food Science with an emphasis in Fermentation, then signed up to work the harvest at Left Coast Estate. After returning from harvest in New Zealand, Mark accepted the job of Cellar Master at Left Coast.

In 2016, Mark earned the title of Assistant Winemaker at Left Coast Estate and worked alongside winemaker Joe Wright, crafting many acclaimed wines in the newly formed Van Duzer Corridor sub-AVA. In 2016 Mark moved from Corvallis to McMinnville and met his wife-to-be, Robyn. Robyn and Mark married on the grounds of Left Coast in 2019 and started building their family with the birth of their daughter, Evelyn. They welcomed their second child Brent to the family in February of 2023.

After 11 years of working with Left Coast Estate, Mark joined the winemaking team at Willamette Valley Vineyards just prior to the start of the 2022 harvest. Mark is excited to work with many new vineyards throughout the Willamette Valley and some bolder reds from the Rogue Valley and Walla Walla. When Mark is away from the winery, he is in nature with his family, exploring new trails and soaking up the beauty Oregon offers.



Production Manager Brandon Shelby

Brandon Shelby

Assistant Winemaker

Brandon Shelby was just 18 years old when his best friend’s dad persuaded him to work the grape harvest with him at Willamette Valley Vineyards.

His friend’s father was the late Winemaker Forrest Klaffke, who set in motion Brandon’s responsibilities at the winery in 2004 and encouraged Brandon’s growing interest in the winemaking process. Brandon worked his way through a variety of positions, from Harvest Intern to Cellar Master, before taking on oversight of all cellar and bottling operations as our Production Manager.

His passion for his work is reignited each fall, when production ramps up during harvest, his crew triples in size and he spends nights at the winery as fruit comes in from the vineyards. Brandon enjoys taking on special projects and recently collaborated with three other Willamette team members to create our Barrel Blending Experience in Folsom, California, that allows visitors to blend their own, one-of-a-kind wines.

Outside of work, Brandon spends time with his family. He enjoys the outdoors and may be found riding motorcycles or camping and fishing on Oregon’s coast and rivers.





Bill Fuller

Consulting Winemakers

We are proud to be partnering with some of the most talented and acclaimed winemakers in the wine industry.

Bill Fuller
In 1973, Bill Fuller moved from California to plant the Tualatin Vineyard as one of the original Oregon winemakers. Bill was recognized for many firsts in our industry. His Pinot Noir and Chardonnay took home Best of Show for Red and White in the same year at the London International Wine Fair and his 1989 Chardonnay was the first Oregon wine to be named to the Wine Spectator Top 100 List. In 1997, Willamette Valley Vineyards merged with Tualatin Estate Vineyard and Bill retired. Bill rejoined our winemaking team for his 40th vintage in 2013, and continues to make small lots of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under his own bottling as well as assist with blending decisions for Tualatin Estate designates.

Andrew Davis
Andrew Davis is the Consulting Winemaker on our sparkling wines, which debuted with the 2014 vintage. As Owner of The Radiant Sparkling Wine Company, Andrew provides specialized equipment required for the efficient production of méthode champenoise sparkling wines as well as the technical knowledge to assure our sparkling wine is of the highest quality.

Founded in 1983 by Oregon native Jim Bernau with the dream of creating world-class Pinot Noir,
Willamette Valley Vineyards has grown from a bold idea into one of the region’s leading wineries, earning the title “One of America’s Great Pinot Noir Producers” from Wine Enthusiast Magazine


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