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Willamette Valley Vineyards

Willamette Valley Vineyards
 

Celebrating 41 Harvests and The First Crop from Loeza Vineyard

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.

Time Posted: Apr 2, 2021 at 11:30 AM
Willamette Valley Vineyards
 

Perfect Pairings: Chocolate Hazelnut Torte with Whole Cluster Pinot Noir

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. 

View The Recipe Here

Make sure to post and tag us in your decadent creations! 
@WillametteValleyVineyards

Whole Cluster Pinot Noir

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.

 

Purchase Whole Cluster Pinot Noir

 

Time Posted: Mar 17, 2021 at 4:09 PM
Willamette Valley Vineyards
 

Get to Know the Women Behind Willamette Valley Vineyards

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. 

 

Tayler Herman
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.

 

Julia Rentz
Hospitality Coordinator

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! 


 

Lauren Druse
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. 


 

Rylee Cutchin
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. 

 

Crystal Ashley
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."

Time Posted: Mar 8, 2021 at 12:12 PM
Willamette Valley Vineyards
 

Self Enhancement, Inc. Donation

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! 

Learn More

 

 

Time Posted: Jul 21, 2020 at 4:15 PM
Willamette Valley Vineyards
 
December 31, 2019 | Willamette Valley Vineyards

Vines During Winter Dormancy

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. 

Time Posted: Dec 31, 2019 at 12:00 PM
Willamette Valley Vineyards
 
November 29, 2019 | Willamette Valley Vineyards

After Harvest - From Vine to Barrel

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.

Processing Grapes

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.

Fermentation Tanks

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.

Yeast

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.

Fermentation Begins

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.

 

Punchdowns

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.

Wine is Moved into Barrel

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.

 

Aging

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.

Wine barrels.

 

Sparkling wine bottles.

Filtering and Bottling

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.

Time Posted: Nov 29, 2019 at 10:00 AM
Willamette Valley Vineyards
 
October 25, 2019 | Willamette Valley Vineyards

2019 Harvest Update

Harvest started on September 5th with a pick for our sparkling wines. Following a short break to allow further flavor and brix (sugar) development for our still wines, in mid-September, we battled early fall rains finding pockets of sunshine whenever we could to bring in the crop. In the cellar, fermentations are active and our Pinot Noirs are being punched down by hand twice daily to extract color and aromas before being put to rest in barrel. An early look shows that despite the rains, the color is concentrated and there is depth in flavors.

 

The past few vintages, we experienced warmer than average summers; however, 2019 has been a throwback to traditional Oregon summers and falls, with mild steady temperatures and no extreme heat spikes. The accumulated heat units of this vintage are most comparable to the 2018 vintage. The early onset fall rains created a challenging harvest, including condensing the pick times, but our incredible harvest crews timed their picks during the sun breaks giving the grapes just the right amount of time to develop complexity, rich color and concentration of flavors. Our winemakers expect the 2019 vintage to be an excellent representation of a classic Willamette Valley vintage. 

 

But don’t just take our word for it. We popped into our Winemakers’ office and got their feedback on this year’s harvest!
 

Joe Ibrahim - Winemaker

What is your favorite part of harvest? 

I love all of harvest! Leading into harvest, I love the anticipation of new wines and what will come of the new vintage. When I'm in the middle of it, I love the focus, challenges, problem solving and adrenaline. In the end, it's a great feeling to look back on all the hard work and I feel most proud of what we have accomplished working together alongside an amazing, passionate and dedicated team. 


What is the most challenging part of harvest and why?

Every harvest has its own challenges; there are a lot of moving pieces to coordinate while keeping your eye on making world-class wines. We produce several small-lot wines and we make wine from many different varieties from nearly every growing region in the state! 

Was there anything different or notable about this harvest that made it stand out from others you have worked on? 

This fall had amazing weather leading up to harvest. The weather then turned rainy and cold just as the grapes were ripening, which caused us to rush and pick as fast as we could. We all felt the pressure of a compressed harvest window. I'm happy to say we managed to get everything in on time and the wines are looking really fantastic!

Everyone involved in harvest has to adjust to a new schedule. I am so grateful to our amazing team and their families for not just their willingness, but also their excitement to place their normal schedules aside for 4-6 weeks each year and join in the fun of making wines together that we are truly proud to share with everyone.

 

Gabi Prefontaine - Associate Winemaker

What is your favorite part of harvest? 

My favorite part of harvest is visiting the different vineyard sites to decide on picking dates.
 

What is the most challenging part of harvest and why? 

The most challenging part of harvest is when we have used all of our available fermentors, but we have additional fruit ready to come in. It is a game of Tetris on the production pad as receiving fruit timely is important to wine quality.
 

Was there anything different or notable about this harvest that made it stand out from others you have worked on? 

The weather made harvest very challenging as we had to pick the same amount of fruit as the previous year, but had to bring that fruit in over the course of 4 weeks instead of 6 weeks. It was very challenging, but the fruit was ready and our team made it happen.

 

Time Posted: Oct 25, 2019 at 10:00 AM
Willamette Valley Vineyards
 
September 30, 2019 | Willamette Valley Vineyards

Our Duck made an honorary Beaver!

This will come as a surprise to you having seen our Founder in yellow and green all these years ... Jim Bernau (former UO Student Body President and avid Duck) received the Joan Austin Honorary Alumni Award from Oregon State University this past Thursday evening!

Jim's support of OSU started back in the mid-1990s when he made a personal gift to the university to establish the first professorship for fermentation science in the nation. His groundbreaking work on behalf of the Oregon wine industry and ongoing leadership was also cited in the granting of this recognition.

Jim says there is only one day a year he isn’t championing OSU research and academic programs — the Civil War.

As many of us at the winery are OSU grads, we are delighted to finally see our Founder in black and orange!

Pictured above: OSU President Ed Ray presenting Founder Jim Bernau with the Joan Austin Honorary Alumni Award (left). Founder Jim Bernau surrounded by our OSU Alumni Staff and friends Nicole Markel, Betty O'Brien, Jan Green Bernau, Caitlin Craig, Christine Clair, Chris Day and Cara Pepper Day (right). Photos by Hannah O'Leary. 

Time Posted: Sep 30, 2019 at 10:00 AM
Willamette Valley Vineyards
 
August 30, 2019 | Willamette Valley Vineyards

Wine Pioneer Bill Fuller Makes Vintage 44 Wines at the Age 82

A passion for wine led Bill Fuller, Founder of Tualatin Estate Vineyard, to achieve a successful career in winemaking and by doing so, carved a path in the Oregon wine industry for other aspiring vintners. Continuing to inspire us, Bill is still making wine at age 82.

Bill’s Story

In 1971, Bill Fuller began exploring sites in the Willamette Valley and eventually moved from California to Oregon with his family to pursue his dreams of starting his own vineyard and producing cool-climate Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. As one of Oregon’s original winemakers, Bill planted the Tualatin Estate Vineyard in 1973 in Forest Grove, Oregon. The name “Tualatin” originates from the local indigenous people and means “gentle and easy flowing” referring to the Tualatin River that flows near Forest Grove.

Many Firsts in the Industry

Bill Fuller’s Chardonnay and Pinot Noir both took home the “Best of Show” for the “Red” and “White” categories in the same year at the London International Wine Fair, a first-ever occurrence in the wine fair. His 1989 Chardonnay was the first Oregon wine to be named on the Wine Spectator Top 100 list.

 

Bill Fuller and Tualatin Estate Staff at Vintage 44 Release Party

Creating our Vintage 44 Wines

Bill Fuller retired in 1997 after merging Tualatin Estate Vineyard with Willamette Valley Vineyards. Sixteen years later, Winery Director Christine Clair asked if Bill would come out of retirement as a Consulting Winemaker to assist in the making of wines produced from Tualatin Estate fruit. Bill agreed and rejoined the winemaking team to create the Vintage Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that expresses the classic techniques of his winemaking.

This August, we released the Vintage 44 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made by Bill Fuller with a sold-out celebration at Tualatin Estate Vineyard. Bill shared some of his many winemaking stories and signed bottles for guests.

 

2017 Vintage 44 Pinot Noir

Ruby in color, the wine opens with aromas of ripe red cherries, raspberries, cedar and violets. Medium-bodied, silky textured with bright acidity that carries fresh red fruits, florals, earth and wood spice notes into the palate. The finish is long-lived with integrated tannins. 

Purchase Wine

Vintage 44 Pinot Noir with corks

2017 Vintage 44 Chardonnay

Light gold in color, the wine opens with aromas of lemon, toasted pineapple, pine and spice. Rich and supple in texture, flavors of golden apple, vanilla, brown sugar and brioche lift from the palate and flow into a lingering, round finish.

Purchase Wine

Vintage 44 Chardonnay with flowers and wine glass

 

Time Posted: Aug 30, 2019 at 12:00 PM
Willamette Valley Vineyards
 

Summer Wine and Fun

Summertime in Oregon is the perfect time to get outside, gather with friends and explore our beautiful state. We took a moment to ask some of our Winery employees about their favorite summer activity, and of course, favorite summer wine. We hope you enjoy hearing from our staff and get some inspiration for your next summer activity!

 

 

Joe, Head Winemaker

Favorite Summer Activity: Cooking on his smoker

Favorite Summer Wine: Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir

Winemaker Joe holding rosé and smoked meat

Employee Tayler relaxing with her dog Chief

 

Tayler, Wine Club & Ownership Manager

Favorite Summer Activity: Relaxing outside with her dogs

Favorite Summer Wine: Bernau Block Pinot Noir

 

Cora, Tasting Room Associate

Favorite Summer Activity: Floating the river

Favorite Summer Wine: Pinot Blanc

Employee Cora holding wine at the river

 

Julia, Hospitality Coordinator

Favorite Summer Activity: Hiking at the coast

Favorite Summer Wine: Dijon Clone Chardonnay

 

Rich, Chief Financial Officer

Favorite Summer Activity: Camping on the Breitenbush River

Favorite Summer Wine: Pinot Gris

CFO Rich holding Pnot Gris next to the Breitenbush River while camping

Kara holding a metal from the Shamrock Run in Porltand

 

Kara, Wine Club Assistant

Favorite Summer Activity: Participating in local runs and 5Ks

Favorite Summer Wine: Pinot Blanc

 

Jose, Winery Ambassador

Favorite Summer Activity: Playing Sunday soccer

Favorite Summer Wine: Méthode Champenoise Brut

 

Jose playing soccer

Spence golfing in a tropical place

 

Spence, Estate General Manager

Favorite Summer Activity: Golfing 

Favorite Summer Wine: Estate Rosé of Pinot Noir

 

Betty, Tasting Room Associate 

Favorite Summer Activity: Trips to the Oregon Coast

Favorite Summer Wine: Tualatin Estate Pinot Noir

Betty and husband cheersing wine on the beach

Suzanne doing yoga while holding a bottle of wine

 

Suzanne, Winery Ambassador

Favorite Summer Activity: Teaching Saturday yoga at the vineyard

Favorite Summer Wine: Pinot Blanc

 

Time Posted: Jul 30, 2019 at 12:00 PM
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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