It is hard to imagine, but Efren Loeza has been in the vineyard longer than the winery’s Founder, Jim Bernau. Efren came by this unique distinction through Willamette Valley Vineyards’ merger with Tualatin Estate Vineyard in 1997.
Efren began at Tualatin Estate Vineyard in 1979 at the age of 17 and has worked in the vineyard ever since. Even more surprising, the person who taught Efren his first lessons in vine care, Jose Ortiz, is still working at Tualatin Estate. Jose learned his skills from pioneering viticulturist, the late David Foster.
Efren came to Oregon from Michoacán, Mexico with his father Marcos, uncle Juan and three friends when he was 16 years old. He worked on a strawberry farm during the day, 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 has 11 brothers who all ended up coming to the United States to work and two sisters who went to California. His brother Miguel is now in his 30th year as the Foreman at Tualatin Estate Vineyards.
Originally hired by Foster to work at Tualatin Estate Vineyard, he told Efren “if you do good work, you could work here for 20-30 years.” He also told Efren “you ask too many questions, but because you do, you will run this place someday.” Efren worked with Foster for 14 years and is very proud to follow in his footsteps managing the vineyards.
When asked about his favorite memory of working at the winery Efren said it was when Founder Jim Bernau showed up at Tualatin Estate and asked him his name and if he liked working there. Jim told him he wanted to keep people who loved working there, like him. In 1997, Willamette Valley Vineyards merged with Tualatin Estate and true to his word, Jim kept Efren and the staff.
His least favorite thing to do is “dropping the fruit” from the vines. It makes him sad to have a vine with 35-40 clusters on it and cut half of the fruit that is lagging in ripeness or size. The process of thinning out the grape clusters is called green harvesting — removing the fruit that it still green when the rest of the fruit has turned color. This allows the vine to put its energy into a smaller crop of the remaining fruit is healthier, resulting in more flavor and concentration. Each vineyard and grape varietal has different amounts of fruit that has to be dropped depending on the winemaker’s preference and varietal being grown.
During harvest Efren sometimes doesn’t sleep well as he worries about the vines and the grapes. “If the weather app shows a week of sunshine, I can sleep that week. If it is a week of rain, I don’t sleep so well,” says Efren.
As Vineyard Manager for all of our vines from Tualatin Estate in Forest Grove to the Estate Vineyard in Turner, Efren has more than 500 acres under his supervision.
When asked about some of his proudest moments working at the winery he lists winning the Oregon Wine Board’s first Vineyard Excellence Award in 2016 and being recognized as Employee of the Year by his fellow employees. He’s also proud of designing many of our vineyards including the row design, trellis and vine layout — something a lot of vineyards have to hire outside consultants to do. He is very devoted to the land — Efren’s careful vineyard practices and stewardship of the land have earned LIVE and Salmon-Safe certifications for all of our estate vineyards.
In honor of Efren’s contributions to the winery and the Oregon wine industry, we planted Loeza Vineyard in his family’s name in 2015. The 39-acre vineyard is located in Gaston and is planted with Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. In 2020, we harvested the first crop from Loeza Vineyard for our estate wines.
Winery Chef DJ walks us through this delicious simple recipe that is the ultimate crowd-pleasing dessert course. It pairs beautifully with the fruit forward, versatile notes of our Whole Cluster Pinot Noir.
Make sure to post and tag us in your decadent creations!
Years ago, Founder Jim Bernau began experimenting with Pinot Noir by gently dropping hand-picked whole clusters in a chilled stainless fermenter, pushing all the oxygen out with CO2 and sealing the vessel tight. What happened next was magical — the berries started to swell and turn pink. When they burst, they released the most aromatic, fermenting Pinot Noir.
Willamette Valley Vineyards is honored to have 56% of our staff and 63% of our leadership team made up of passionate women dedicated to shaping the Oregon wine industry.
Below are just a few of the incredible women on our team, shaping everything from Wine Club to daily operations in the Tasting Room.
Wine Club and Ownership Manager
How long have you been with Willamette? 4 years.
What was your first experience with wine and what made you get into the industry? I grew up in Washington’s Columbia Valley, so wine was always on the dinner table and I was allowed to have small tastes from time to time. Eventually, I became the designated driver for wine tastings for my family until I could finally enjoy the tastings myself. I wanted to get into the wine industry because I have always gravitated towards the food and beverage industry and I love something that brings everyone together so naturally wine became a perfect fit for me.
What is your favorite thing about working for Willamette Valley Vineyards? I am challenged everyday when I come into work. There is never a boring day. I also love having Christine as a mentor and feel so lucky to have someone that believes in my growth and development at the company.
What is a memorable piece of advice you were given while working in the wine industry? It's easy to get caught up in providing the best possible experience to our customer and the business side of things, and it's just as important to remember that wine is something meant to be fun and enjoyable.
How long have you been with Willamette? 3+ years.
What was your first experience with wine and what made you get into the industry? I was a novice wine drinker before I started at Willamette Valley Vineyards, and now my knowledge and love for this industry has aged like fine wine! (pun intended).
What is your favorite thing about working for Willamette? I get to create memorable experiences to help people celebrate the best days of their lives; I can't think of a better way to spend my days.
What is a memorable piece of advice you were given while working in the wine industry? Don't get too hung up on the details, we are in the business of making people happy!
Tasting Room Manager (McMinnville, Tualatin Estate, Maison Bleue)
How long have you been with Willamette? Five years in April!
What was your first experience with wine and what made you get into the industry? I'm Italian, so I think it was peach wine when I visited my extended family in Caporciano, Italy when I was nine. Besides that, most of my experience with wine in my twenties was serving it to customers in bars and restaurants. I ended up moving to Dundee in the heart of Oregon’s wine country in 2016, and was ready for a change after managing restaurants for more than ten years. At the time, my best friend was the Sous Chef at Willamette Valley Vineyards and he convinced me I should make the change and apply. I figured tasting rooms would allow me to continue to connect with regulars, and do all the things I really love doing in the hospitality and service industry. Plus, there is wine! He was right!
What is your favorite thing about working for Willamette? Connecting with customers, meeting new people daily, building relationships with colleagues and customers and being a small part of so many amazing life memories!
What is a memorable piece of advice you were given while working in the wine industry? Don't be afraid to think out of the box or to try new things. It doesn't matter that you don't have as much experience as some people do. Wine can be taught, and we are all constantly learning as we go. We all come to the business with different experiences and strengths. Play to your strengths.
Estate Tasting Room Manager
How long have you been with Willamette? About one year.
What was your first experience with wine and what made you get into the industry? My first experience with wine was from my two older sisters. They would always go wine tasting on the weekends and I grew so envious of not being able to join them. Finally when I turned 21, all I wanted to do for my 21st birthday was to go wine tasting. I actually went to Willamette Valley Vineyards to celebrate. I quickly fell in love with an environment that is surrounded by wine. Little did I know, I would eventually become the Tasting Room Manager.
What is your favorite thing about working for Willamette/in the wine industry? I love being a part of a team that works hard to continue to grow and develop new ideas, experience and offerings. It's exciting to work on innovative ideas and see them come to life. Willamette is focused on finding ways to continue to be one of the greatest tasting rooms in the valley and it's exhilarating to be a part of.
What is a memorable piece of advice you were given while working in the wine industry? "Find a way to a YES." This statement has been said to me numerous times throughout this year and this has really shaped my way of thinking in situations. Willamette always looks to find a “yes” in every circumstance and I think this has really helped the company be successful, especially this last year with all the unknowns and regulations, Willamette continues to make every guideline work.
Winery Ambassador Manager
How long have you been with Willamette? I started May of 2015 — about to finish my 6th year.
What was your first experience with wine and what made you get into the industry? I have always loved wine and can't remember my actual first experience with it. It has been a part of so many memories in my life. My palate and knowledge are very much like wine, it gets better with age.
What is your favorite thing about working for Willamette? My favorite thing is getting to share our beautiful wine and rich history and watch others make lifelong memories. I get to learn something new almost every day and work with really great people. Everyday is rewarding and challenging.
What is a memorable piece of advice you were given while working in the wine industry? I have received so much amazing advice and knowledge during my career with Willamette. One thing that has always stuck with me is "don't just listen to others; listen to understand because feedback is a powerful tool."
Willamette Valley Vineyards donated $1 from each bottle sold in June to Self Enhancement, Inc (SEI). This local non-profit provides invaluable support, guidance and opportunities for underserved youth to achieve personal and academic success.
Our wine enthusiast customers were eager to support the cause and as a result, WVV was able to donate more than $24,000 to SEI!
SEI is one of the region's leading multi-service organizations, providing thousands of youth, families and adults with a wide variety of education and social services on an annual basis.
To learn more about Self Enhancement Inc., click the button below!
Winery Chef DJ MacIntyre shares one of his favorite vegetarian recipes to pair with our Vintage 44 Pinot Noir. We hope you enjoy this cooking tutorial video for a portobello mushroom and fried pepper burger.
Using a Vita-Mix or a high speed blender, add the chopped parsley, scallion, shallot, dried herbs, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. Start the blender on slow and gently pour the oil into the blender to make an emulsion. You will need to raise the speed of the blender to high as you start to add the oil. The vinaigrette is done when you have an evenly colored green emulsion that is thick and viscous. Remove vinaigrette from the blender and hold on the side.
Heat your BBQ grill up to 450° and cook your onion rings to desired temperature. Next, place the peppers on the grill and let cook for 8-10 minutes to achieve nice charring on all sides. Remove peppers from the grill and place in a bowl or Tupperware, then seal with a lid or plastic wrap and let sit.
Prepare your mushrooms first by basting all sides of the mushrooms with the vinaigrette and sprinkling a little salt and pepper to taste. Next, grill your mushrooms, about 5 minutes per side, basting them ever so often. While the mushrooms are grilling, remove the peppers from the bowl. The waxy skin should peel off very easily from inner meat. Then deseed the Anaheim pepper and cut to the size of the burger bun, roughly in half. Place the chevre in a separate bowl and slowly whisk in the remaining vinaigrette. You will not use all the vinaigrette, just enough to loosen the chevre to a creamy/spreadable consistency. Baste the mushrooms once more, then remove from the grill. After toasting the burger buns, spread the chevre mixture on each side, then add the grilled mushroom, pepper half and onion ring. Finish by placing the micro greens or arugula on the onion ring and the top half of the bun.
Serve and enjoy!
Winery Chef DJ MacIntyre shares one of his favorite patio pairing recipes. We hope you enjoy this cooking tutorial video for artisan flatbread.
Pairs with 2019 Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir
Beer Cheese Sauce
YIELD: 1.5 QUARTS
Garlic,minced fine - 2 tsp
Vegetable stock - 2 cups
Heavy cream - 2 cups
Your favorite beer - 1 can
Cheese (cheddar, brie, gouda, etc.) chopped into ½” chunks - 2 cups
Corn starch - ¾ cup
Bay leaves - 2 each
Black pepper, ground - 2 tsp
Kosher salt - 1 tsp
In a heavy duty stock pot over medium-high heat, add the garlic, vegetable stock and cream, then bring to a boil. Once a boil has been achieved, turn the heat to low. Add the spices and beer, then bring to a simmer. In a mixing bowl add the cubed cheese and cornstarch. When the beer broth is heated thoroughly again, add the cheese and cornstarch. Using a whisk, stir until the cheese starts to melt. Then use a hand immersion blender to break down the remaining ingredients into a thick creamy sauce. Strain cheese sauce through a strainer and refrigerate for 1 hour. Sauce should be very dense. Store refrigerated until needed.
YIELD: 14 EACH x 9 INCH
Fast Rising Yeast - ¼ tsp
Warm Water #1 - 2 Tbsp
Pizza Flour, “00” Mimosa - 1,375 grams
Warm Water #2 - 875 grams
Kosher Salt - 22.5 grams
Canola Oil - 2 ¼ tsp
Mix yeast with warm water #1 in a small bowl and let bloom for 5 minutes. Then add the flour, water #2 and salt to the mixing bowl, then mix with the dough hook attachment. While mixing, add the canola oil. Mix the dough until it is not sticking to the sides and is wrapping itself around the dough hook — add more flour if needed. Dough should only stick to itself.
Leaving the dough in the bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, then add another layer of plastic wrap over the bowl. Leave the dough out overnight at room temperature.
Portion dough into 9 oz. balls (approximately 1 ⅛ cups) and place into a greased white proofing tray or covered Tupperware. Refrigerate any leftovers. Proof dough balls at room temperature for 1 hour. Any longer and the dough will be over proofed and loose. Alternately, if it is summer and the weather is hot, try proofing for only 30 minutes.
Dust hands and tops of dough balls with flour before stretching and tossing. Dough should stretch but not be loose and “runny.” Stretch dough to about 10 inches in diameter.
At this point you are able to add the beer cheese sauce and your favorite toppings. Then bake or grill at 400-450° for 8-10 minutes or until crisp.
For the remaining dough, you can cook both sides of the flatbread skin on the flattop or griddle set at 200°. Then let cool to room temperature for about 20 minutes. Transfer them to a large air-tight container and refrigerate/freeze until needed.
Food and wine can provide comfort during challenging times, so Winery Chef DJ MacIntyre is sharing one of his favorite patio recipes. We hope you enjoy this cooking tutorial video for wild mushroom and herb crusted steelhead to pair with our 2017 Père Ami.
Wild Mushroom and Herb Crusted Steelhead
Pairs with 2017 Père Ami
Steelhead, filet, cleaned - 1 side
Olive oil - 4 Tbsp
Lemon juice - 2 Tbsp
Dried porcini mushroom, ground medium fine - 4 Tbsp
Dried shiitake mushroom, ground medium fine - 3 Tbsp
Dried black trumpet mushroom, ground medium fine - 2 Tbsp
Lemon zest, dried - 1 tsp
Granulated garlic - ½ tsp
Thyme, dried - 1 tsp
Rosemary, dried & ground - ½ tsp
Oregano, ground - 1 tsp
Kosher salt - 1½ Tbsp
Black pepper, ground fine - 2 tsp
Mix all the dry spices together with the mushroom powders in a bowl. Next, squeeze the lemon juice over the whole filet. Then cover the filet with the olive oil and season the entire fillet with the ground mushroom rub. Let the fish sit for 10 minutes, allowing the mushrooms to bloom. Place steelhead on a cedar plank and grill at 350° for 8-10 minutes or until desired internal temperature is reached (145° recommended). Serve with earthy vegetables and rice and enjoy!
Food and wine can provide comfort during challenging times, so Winery Chef DJ MacIntyre is sharing one of his favorite childhood comfort food recipes utilizing ingredients commonly found in your pantry. We hope you enjoy this cooking tutorial video for ranch stew garnished with hash brown waffles to pair with our Whole Cluster Pinot Noir.
YIELD: 4 QUARTS
White Onion, diced ½” - 1 each
Garlic, minced - 1 Tbsp
Canola Oil - ¼ cup
Ground Beef - 2 lbs
Canned Corn, drained - 2 cans
Canned Beans, kidney, white, pinto, navy & drained - 3 cans
Canned Tomatoes, diced - 3 cans
Mushrooms, fresh sliced ¼” or canned & drained - 1 cup or 2 small cans
Kosher Salt - 2 Tbsp.
Black Pepper - 1 Tbsp.
Bay Leaves - 2 each
Oregano, dried - 1 Tbsp
Thyme, dried - 1 ½ tsp
Basil, dried - 1 Tbsp
Chicken Stock - 4 cups
Cheddar Cheese, shredded - 1 cup
Green Onions, sliced - ½ cup
Jalapenos, fresh sliced -¼ cup
OPTIONAL: Green Tabasco - ½ cup
OPTIONAL: Tomato Paste - ¼ cup
In a heavy duty stockpot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onions and garlic, then saute until onions start to sweat and become translucent. Next, add the ground beef and cook until it starts to brown. Then add mushrooms, corn, beans, tomatoes, stock and seasonings. Add optional ingredients at this time as well. Reduce heat to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The stew should thicken slightly, ladle into bowls and garnish with cheese, green onions, jalapenos and a hash brown waffle.
Hash Brown Waffles
YIELD: 4 WAFFLES
Dehydrated Idaho Spuds Hash Browns -1 box (4.2 oz wt)
Sea Salt - 2 tsp
Shallots, minced very fine - 2 Tbsp
Sour Cream - ⅓ cup
Whole egg - 1 each
Garlic Powder - 1 tsp
Onion Powder - ½ tsp
Black Pepper, ground - ½ tsp
Rehydrate hash browns according to the product's instructions. Then pour re-constituted hash brown on to a food-grade towel and sprinkle with salt. Let rest for 10 minutes. Then squeeze out all excess water from hash browns — the dryer the better. Heat waffle maker. In a small bowl, whip the egg. Next, add hash browns, sour cream, shallots, and seasoning. Mix together well. Using pan spray, spray the inside of the waffle maker. Layer the hash brown mixture over the hot irons about ½ inch thick. Close the waffle maker and let cook for 15 minutes until nice and crispy. Serve with ranch stew or on its own and enjoy!
Although dormancy in the vineyard can make the vines seem stagnant and lifeless, there is actually a lot of activity happening beneath the surface. A sleeping vine is still a working vine! The dormancy phase helps vines tolerate the cold days of winter while also preparing them for the bud break, flowering and rapid cane growth that occurs in the spring.
Once harvest is over and all clusters have been picked, the vines move their attention to preparing for the cold winter ahead. The vines begin this process by growing new roots, also known as root flush, to absorb as many nutrients from the soil as possible while their remaining leaves continue photosynthesis. As the temperatures begin to drop, the water and nutrients within the vine move into the trunk and roots, causing the canes and cordons to become cold and develop hardiness (turning brown in the process). Sugars and protein complexes store themselves in the trunk creating cryoprotectants, a substance that prevents the freezing of the plant tissue. This storage of carbohydrates gives the vines the energy necessary for bud break in the spring.
Once the temperatures steadily increase, the vines once again show signs of life. The stored sugar in the trunk turns to sap and moves through the vine, escaping from the open pruning cuts — a clear signal that bud break is only days away. As bud break occurs, the vines are dotted with the first sign of green and will begin growing rapidly thereafter.
Once September rolls around and harvest begins, the jam-packed weeks of picking, sorting, crushing and fermenting fly by. With so much happening in such a short amount of time, it can be hard to follow all the steps in the winemaking process that occur after the fruit is harvested. Each step on the journey from vine to barrel (detailed below) is crucial to making our award-winning classic Oregon wines.
Grapes are transported to the production pad at the Estate from our different blocks on property and single-vineyard sites and are then sorted for quality. Wine grapes used to make our Pinot Noirs (excluding our Whole Cluster Pinot Noir) and other red wines are put through the crusher destemmer, then the juice (called must at this point) is placed with the skins into small bin fermentation containers. Wine grapes for our white wines are immediately sent to the press, with the skins separated from the juice right after pressing.
Sorting grapes as they arrive at the production pad.
Fermentation tanks in wine cellar.
After pressing, the juice for white wine and rosé is left to cold settle for a day, then racked off it’s solids into stainless steel tanks or barrels for fermentation. Reds will be placed in small fermentation bins or tanks, with the grapes separated from the stems or as whole cluster for our Whole Cluster Pinot Noir.
Once in tanks, yeast is added. Yeast consumes the sugar from the grapes and produces ethanol, carbon dioxide and other compounds, such as the esters (a chemical compound derived from acid) that create each wine's unique bouquet. We use a few of different yeast strains, trying to work with yeast that are neutral in order to let the fruit express its uniqueness if it's growing site.
Adding yeast to grapes in fermentation bin.
Tracking fermentation progress in wine lab.
Once the yeast is added, fermentation can begin. Red wines ferment at warmer temperatures than white wine, usually between 80-90 degrees, while white wine ferments at about 50 degrees. Red wines are purposefully kept warm to maximize the amount of color and phenolic compounds extracted from the skins, while whites and rosé are kept cold to preserve their fruit-forward notes. While the red wine ferments, carbon dioxide is released and remaining grape seeds and skins rise to the surface.
Once fermentation is underway, punch downs for red wines can begin. Our cellar workers use long metal poles with round disks at the bottom to submerging the grape seeds and skins back into the juice to extract color and aroma. Punchdowns are done twice a day and last anywhere from 12-15 days.
Punching down grape skins and seeds to extract color and aroma.
Barrels ready for wine to be transferred from fermentation bins and tanks.
White wines are left on their lees, which consists of no longer actively fermenting yeast, to keep the wines fresh and develop complex flavors and aromas. Reds are moved from their small fermentation bins to the press to separate grape skins from the wine before being moving into barrel.
Barrels add flavors and aromas such as vanilla, hazelnut or toast. The oak from newer barrels can also heavily impact tannins and allow for slow ingress of oxygen, making the wine smoother and adding complexity. Some barrels are inoculated (the addition of active malolactic acid bacteria cultures) to allow for Malolactic Fermentation, converting the naturally occurring Malic Acid (think green apple) into Lactic Acid (think cream), softening a wine and adding additional levels of complexity. We do Malolactic Fermentation for almost all of our red wines, as well as most of our Chardonnay.
Wines are left to age, being continually monitored, stirred and tasted to track their progress. As they age, some wine evaporates and/or soaks into the wood of the barrel, so barrels are topped off throughout the process. As maturation concludes, winemakers taste test each barrel, working on creating blends that perfectly balance the varietal character, oak, and best express the varietal terroir of the vineyard site.
Sparkling wine bottles.
Wine is then racked and/or filtered before being sent to the bottling line. After bottling, wines are left in the cellar to mature in bottle until they are ready for release.
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