By Karl Klooster • Staff Writer • 

Old barn reborn

Andrea Johnson photoSanjeev Lahoti and Angela Summers inside the huge dairy barn, which now has been dismantled.
Andrea Johnson photoThe barn, below, measured 22,000 square feet.

Ecological awareness and sustainable practices should be mandatory for every person and business.

Regrettably, we have a long way to go in that regard. But when extra attention is taken to follow the philosophy, it sets an example deserving of wide recognition.

Such is the case with a marriage of two entities outside Yamhill in the North Willamette Valley — an old dairy barn and a new winery tasting room, which will soon share a commendable common bond.

Earning environmental accolades are the former Laughlin Dairy Barn and the Saffron Fields tasting room, still on the drawing boards at this point.

The former, once an important figure in the now-diminished local milk industry, has been carefully deconstructed for the benefit of the latter, a promising newcomer to Oregon’s wine scene. Much of the reclaimed wood — disassembled one board at a time — will be incorporated into the tasting room.

Planning, overseeing and personally participating in the barn dismantling is a local man whose name has become synonymous with wood in this corner of the state.

Rich Mathis, owner of the Wood is Wonderful Foundation in Sheridan, has provided recycled wood for projects all around the Willamette Valley in recent years. The fruits of his efforts can be seen on the facades of wineries like Dobbes Estate in Dundee and Raptor Ridge in the Chehalem Mountains outside Newberg.

Interior finishings at the Willamette Valley Vineyards Wine Center and Community Plate Restaurant, both on McMinnville’s Third Street, bear Mathis’s mark. So do a couple of McMenamin Brothers properties.

Closely coordinating with Mathis are key staffers at Cellar Ridge Construction.

The McMinnville-based company is noted for the creative incorporation of wood into its structures. It is responsible for the much-admired reconstruction of the McMinnville Public Market building on Northeast Eighth Street, for example.

Impressed by its work, Saffron Fields owners Sanjeev Lahoti and Angela Summers chose Cellar Ridge to translate their vision to reality. Co-owner John Mead is overseeing the project.

He said the tasting facility will be graced with a contemporary style combining copper, stone and masonry elements on the exterior. Encompassing 3,281 square feet, it will accommodate hospitality, dining and office space inside.

“The wood from the barn has a wonderful patina and rich grain that can’t be duplicated,” Mead said. “We are using it strictly for accents on the exterior.

“Much more will be incorporated into the interior finishings, including furniture that will be designed and built by Rich, as well as some other artisans.”

As part of his payment, Mathis will get half the wood from the 22,000-square-foot barn. Everything that remains from the other half will be retained by Saffron Fields for future use.

Mead estimated about 15 percent would be incorporated into the tasting room. He said the owners plan to develop a winery on down the road, and plan to use the rest of the wood on that project.

The couple is firmly committed to sustainability. In addition to strict adherence to sustainable cultivation practices in their vineyard, they intend to apply the same discipline to adjacent farmland.

Saffron Fields will include an orchard and vegetable garden integrated into a landscape designed by Hoichi Kurisu, former director of the Portland Japanese Garden. It will incorporate art from Summers’ extensive collection.

Not surprisingly, it was a passion for pinot noir that first drew the couple to Oregon.

Both chemical engineers from Houston, they first visited the Willamette Valley over Thanksgiving in 2003. After more than two decades working in Texas, they decided it was time for a new life adventure.

With vineyard potential in mind, they began a serious search around the Yamhill Valley. And the Laughlin Road farm soon caught their attention.

They looked a bit further before confirming it was what they wanted. Four months later, they bought what would become Saffron Fields Vineyard. 

It wouldn’t be until 2007 before they installed a manufactured house on the Laughlin Road site to live in while working in Oregon. Their home base is still in Houston.

That year, they hired Results Partners Vineyard Management to plant 10 acres of Pommard clone pinot noir. In 2009, they put in another 16 acres — four each of Dijon 777, 115 and Wädenswil clones.

Noted winemaking consultant Tony Rynders of Tendril Cellars, who built a sterling reputation as Domaine Serene’s award-winning winemaker, purchased their first grapes. Delighted by the quality, they had Rynders make 50 cases for them from the small but superb 2010 vintage.

With that decision, Saffron Farms became both a producer of wine as well as a grower of grapes.

Henceforth, they plan to devote an increasing portion of each harvest to their own label, slowly expanding the brand presence as their 26 acres of estate vineyards mature.

Both Rynders and Chris Berg of Roots Wine Company have been retained to craft varieties for the Saffron Fields Vineyards label.

The Laughlin Barn dismantling was completed. Sept. 14.

Groundbreaking for the tasting room will take place within a month. Mead projected completion for early summer 2013.

Cary Laughlin, grandson of patriarch C.F. “Sport” Laughlin, is doing the excavation. Given the reuse and recycling theme, this could be categorized as, “What goes around comes around.”  

Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 503-687-1227.

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