Susan Sokol Blosser - Wine was only the beginning
When Bill Blosser and I bought land in the Dundee Hills in 1970 to start a vineyard, the Oregon wine industry did not exist. At that time, Yamhill County’s claims to fame were its turkey industry and the Dundee police, who filled the town’s coffers by issuing speeding tickets to Portlanders hurrying to the coast.
Flash forward — one generation later, with over 500 wineries, Oregon has become a major player in the ultra premium wine industry — and the Yamhill Valley claims the largest share. Little did we know, when we and the handful of others like us planted pinot noir grapes, how this Cinderella sister of cabernet sauvignon would attract both French and California investment and earn international acclaim. It didn’t happen quickly — we started our vineyard 44 years ago — but by the 21st century, we reached a tipping point, and Oregon today is considered one of the world’s premier wine regions.
The most famous pinot noir wineries are in Yamhill County, which has evolved from being considered by Portlanders a pass-through to the coast to being a sought-after wine destination, a place to escape for great food, wine and relaxation. Jameson Fink, a Seattle wine blogger, included the Willamette Valley as one of his top 10 wine travel destinations in the world, singling out Yamhill County for his example. On any day, the tasting rooms of our county’s wineries fill with visitors from near and far.
The wine industry, which fundamentally is value-added agriculture, has produced an amazing economic multiplier effect. New businesses have come to supply the wine industry, and existing ones have found new revenue streams. Davison Auto Parts branched out to become a major supplier of winery equipment and lab analysis. The News-Register produces the Oregon Wine Press, a statewide wine publication. Cellar Ridge Construction designs and builds winery tasting rooms. From specialized farm equipment to wine label design, the county is now a hub for wine-related businesses.
In the hospitality field, The Allison Inn & Spa may be the largest high-end property to attract national awards, but the Black Walnut Inn, Le Puy Inn and Red Ridge Farms have built accommodations worthy of accolades from Leona Helmsley. Third Street Flats in McMinnville recently expanded to house more travelers, offering an urban alternative to the rural bed-and-breakfast inns. County towns are flourishing with business from wine tourists. The downtowns of McMinnville, Carlton, Amity and Newberg have tasting rooms, art and craft galleries, restaurants and diverse independent small shops. Dayton is not far behind. No fast food or big-box stores on these main streets.
Who knew how far-reaching value-added agriculture could be? Wine grapes were just the beginning, and Yamhill County has become much more than wine. Look what’s happening now. Talented young chefs from all over have targeted Yamhill County, drawn by the synergy between wine and food. New farms have sprung up around the county to supply its many restaurants and growing Farmers’ Markets. These farms represent the revitalization of agriculture. They are small scale, family oriented, organic, market-direct, branded and profitable.
Suddenly, as it has all come together, the Yamhill Valley has become home to a unique trifecta of celebrated restaurants, the highest quality food products, including olive oil, cheese, meat, fruits, nuts and vegetables, as well as famous wines. Many areas tout their food and wine, but I would argue that no other county in the U.S. has all three at the same standard of excellence. The collaboration among local vintners, chefs and farmers to build a world-class culinary scene represents the next phase of the valley’s evolution.
Starting in the 1970s, Oregon hillsides were preserved for agriculture, and it has paid off. By investing in the area’s natural capital — its hillsides, climate and soils — Yamhill County is now on the cusp of becoming a culinary mecca as well as an international wine region. It’s time to spread the word, and a local nonprofit, the Yamhill Enrichment Society (YES) has taken on the challenge of letting the world know.
Travel Oregon, the Oregon Wine Board, the Willamette Valley Wineries Association and Portland Monthly, as well as local business sponsors, recognize the potential and are helping promote Bounty Of Yamhill County (BOYC), a showcase of Yamhill County’s culinary splendor in action. Jameson Fink, in his blog about the top wine travel destinations, said: “If I could distill ... why I love the Willamette Valley into one weekend, it would revolve around the Bounty of Yamhill County event ... .”
Check out www.BountyofYamhillCounty.com, and see for yourself what all the excitement is about.
Guest writer Susan Sokol Blosser is a wine industry pioneer, community leader, environmental advocate and author. As Sokol Blosser Winery’s president from 1991 to 2008, she practiced a triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. The company was honored as one of Oregon’s 100 Best Companies to Work For as well as one of Portland Business Journal’s “Most Admired Companies in Oregon.” She turned over control of Sokol Blosser Winery to her children in 2008. In 2011, she started the Yamhill Enrichment Society (YES). This summer, her favorite pastimes are gardening, grandchildren and a new puppy.