All in the wine family
After Oregon wine pioneer Dick Erath sold his winery to Ste. Michelle Estates in 2006, he began mulling ways to channel the rewards of his success over a period of almost 40 years.
He continued to manage his prized Prince Hill Vineyard on Worden Hill Road, in the heart of the Dundee Hills. And he began concentrating greater efforts on a 40-acre vineyard he first planted in 2004, just outside the small town of Willcox in Southeastern Arizona.
Naysayers derided the latter as a foolhardy venture. “You can’t grow winegrapes in Arizona,” they said.
But Erath had heard it all before. “They said exactly the same thing when I came to Oregon in 1968,” he scoffed.
At his Cimarron Vineyard, in the tiny farming community of Kansas Settlement, Erath is experimenting with the Italian varieties of sangiovese, nebbiolo and Montepulciano, as well as zinfandel, which has Italian ancestry.
“You select grape varieties most suitable to the growing season you have,” Erath said. He feels sangiovese, the grape used to make Chianti, could produce an elegant wine when grown on his sloping, high-desert terrain.
Spain’s tempranillo is also high on his list of promising varieties. The grape Spaniards regard as their noble red is responsible for wines that have long made Rioja one of the world’s renowned winegrowing regions.
Erath is seeing evidence of his initial expectations that several southern European winegrapes will thrive in the hills of southeastern Arizona, just as they have in the hills of Tuscany and northern Spain.
These down-to-earth endeavors aren’t, however, the culmination of Erath’s already considerable contribution to the wine world.
In 2008, he laid the groundwork for a foundation whose mission is to help advance young people’s knowledge of winegrowing and winemaking. To achieve this objective, he proposed to provide 50/50 matching funds for winery owners willing to assist in paying to further the formal education of a selected employee or employees.
His plan came to fruition in 2012, when the Erath Family Foundation began partnering with Chemeketa Community College. Now called the Willamette Valley Viticultural Scholarship, it is being coordinated by Nancy Duncan, director of development for the Chemeketa Community College Foundation.
Particular encouragement is given to students whose first language is not English. This is where Chemeketa’s English for Speakers of Other Languages, known as ESOL, enters the picture.
Gaining greater proficiency in English is an important element of the Erath scholarships. But the core mission is rooted in the school’s highly regarded course of study in viticulture and enology.
Chemeketa launched its wine studies program in 1999.
The effort took a quantum leap in 2002, with completion of the Northwest Viticulture Center, now known as the Chemeketa Wine Studies Center. It is situated just west of Salem, at the southern end of the Eola Hills.
Working in a state-of-the-art winery, and tending an adjacent seven-acre vineyard, teaches students skills that can only be learned in a hands-on environment. As the school summarizes it, “Estate-bottled wines are produced by winemaking students from grapes grown and managed by vineyard-management students.”
The scholarship will match up to $2,000 a year for any winery employee interested in participating in Chemeketa’s wine studies program and taking one of its ESOL or ENL classes. Students may work toward a vineyard operations certificate, a vineyard management degree, a winemaking degree or a wine sales and marketing degree and still qualify.
Since the scholarship program began in the fall of 2012, Duncan said, eight employees and eight students have already participated, and six more have signed up for the coming year.
She said she likes to connect with vineyard and winery owners to discuss the value of the program to themselves and their employees. She said it represents an investment carrying both short and long-term value.
“Our goal is to support vineyards’ and wineries’ investment in educational opportunities for their employees,” Erath said. “By training the next generation of vineyard managers and winemakers, we’re ensuring the success of this booming Oregon industry for years to come.”
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 503-687-1227.