United by our interest in wine, in 1977 Ted Casteel, Pat Dudley, Terry Casteel, and Marilyn Webb abandoned the academic life and, together with Pat’s sister Barbara Dudley, bought 75 promising-looking acres northwest of Salem, with 14 acres of newly planted cuttings in the ground. We moved to the vineyard in 1978 (except Barbara, who had just accepted a position as Executive Director of Greenpeace USA) and started a new life. In 1979 we cleared and planted 36 more acres. In 1981 we harvested our first crop and started home winemaking in Terry’s basement. In 1984 we produced our first commercial vintage of 3000 cases: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Gewurztraminer, all Estate Grown.
For the first thirty years Ted was responsible for managing the vineyards and Terry made the wine. Pat and Marilyn shared responsibilities for marketing and business management. Over thirty years we grew our wine production to 10,000 cases, and made common cause with our fellow pioneers to establish the Willamette Valley as the home of New World Pinot Noir.
Meanwhile, five cousins grew up knowing the tidy rows and wild hidden places of Bethel Heights as their backyard playground, science lab and adventure park. Now they have taken their places as co-owners, co-workers, and stewards of this place.
In 2005 Ben Casteel (son of Terry and Marilyn) took over from his father as Winemaker at Bethel Heights. In 2007 Jon Casteel (second son of Terry and Marilyn) launched Casteel Custom Bottling, a mobile bottling company that serves wineries throughout Oregon, including Bethel Heights of course. Mimi Casteel (daughter of Ted and Pat) worked with the family at Bethel Heights until 2017 when she started farming her own vineyard at Hope Well, and launched her Hope Well Wine project. Jessie Casteel grew up among the vines at Bethel Heights, but now lives in Chicago. Jessie brings a creative outlier perspective to the direction of the family business, and serves as our ambassador in Chicago and points east.
Now there is a new generation of cousins – ten so far – who all come home to Bethel Heights for family occasions, to eat the blackberries and taste the grapes and pat the goats and walk through the ravine to Mr. Hatcher’s haunted house. This place is now for them too.
People often ask where the name Bethel Heights came from. We found the answer in a small booklet written in 1941 by John E. Smith called Bethel, Polk County, Oregon. According to Smith, “One of the earliest settlers in this vicinity was Rev. Glen O. Burnett who came to Oregon in 1846 and built his house half a mile or so north of the present location of Bethel School. To the heights eastward, he gave the name ‘Bethel Hills’, Bethel being the name of the church in Missouri that he had recently served as pastor.”
The property now known as Bethel Heights Vineyard was originally platted in 1909 and recorded under the name Bethel Heights Walnut Groves. A number of the original walnut trees and their children still flourish around the edges of the vineyard.