1977 – 2017, FORTY YEARS OF ROOTS IN THE GROUND
Forty years ago we were looking for a place just big enough to support two families, and small enough to let us do all the work ourselves. We found it in 1977 – the old abandoned Bethel Heights Walnut Groves in the Eola Hills with fifty acres “suitable for vineyard” according to the classified ad.
What we found here was a living landscape – a geological mosaic of benches and slopes covered with healthy living soils, a crystal clear stream running down the middle through a deep, wooded ravine, and a rich diversity of wildlife to share it all. Sheer magic.
The first un-rooted grapevine cuttings planted on those benches and slopes have been knitting themselves into the landscape for forty years, learning to speak its language from the moment they put out their first roots.
As stewards of this place, we have always sought to respect the magic we found here, and to share it with others through the wines it brings forth.
The first vines were planted at Bethel Heights between 1977 and 1979. That was before the discovery of phylloxera in Oregon, so we just stuck un-rooted cuttings in the ground and let them make their own roots in place.
More than forty years on, these are some of the last own-rooted Pinot noir and Chardonnay vines surviving anywhere in the Willamette Valley. Although phylloxera is finally taking its toll and production is diminishing, these old vines are still producing some of the finest wines of their entire career: the Flat Block, the Southeast Block, the West Block and the High Wire Chardonnay. These are our Legacy Blocks.
Our younger vineyards, including the adjacent Justice Vineyard established in 1999, and the adjacent Lewman Vineyared established in 1992 and added to our estate in 2020, are all planted on phylloxera-resistant rootstock, and include many new clones and vine spacing variations that were not available in the early days. Now fully mature, these second-generation vines have brought some interesting new voices to the table.
BETHEL HEIGHTS VINEYARD
Elevation: 480’ to 620’
Soil: Volcanic (Nekia series)
49.6 acres planted
24.3 acres own-rooted vines
44.5 acres Pinot noir
5.3 acres Chardonnay
2.0 acres Pinot blanc
Elevation: 400’ to 480’
Soil: Marine sediment
24.4 acres planted
19.1 acres Pinot noir
5.3 acres Chardonnay
Elevation: 460’ to 525’
6.4 acres planted, all Pinot noir
BETHEL HEIGHTS is one of the oldest vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills, an independent hill chain in the center of the Willamette Valley. It is a geological/topographical mosaic of rocky south-facing benches and slopes. Its volcanic soils were formed over many millennia from innumerable distinct lava flows. We did not fully appreciate the true geological complexity of these soils until we started making wine here, and discovered surprising differences between wines made from blocks just a few feet apart.
JUSTICE VINEYARD sits adjacent to Bethel Heights on the south, at a slightly lower elevation, where the underlying primeval sea-floor is tilted up and exposed to the surface below a very thin layer of volcanic topsoil. Grapes grown on these ancient marine sediments have a very different life experience from those grown in the volcanic soils at Bethel Heights, and the wines from Justice tell that tale quite dramatically.
LEWMAN VINEYARD sits adjacent to both Bethel Heights Vineyard and Justice Vineyard. It shares the volcanic basalt soil typical of Bethel Heights Vineyard, with intriguing variations that we are just beginning to explore.
Early pioneers who settled in this neighborhood in the 1840’s were struck by the powerful, predictable marine winds that blow straight at us from the sea – funneled in through the Van Duzer Corridor, the lowest point in Oregon’s Coast Range, due west of Bethel Heights. Harking back to their classical education, those windswept pioneers named the hills for Aeolus, god of the winds in Greek mythology; hence the name Eola Hills.
“On most warm summer afternoons, the winds rise as the sun starts its descent. Cool ocean air pours into the valley. The mercury plummets 35 degrees. Wine grapes grown in the path of these winds are cooled quickly from the day’s heat, amplifying their aromatic qualities, and preserving their bright, fresh fruit flavors.”
More: Wind Powered Pinot – Wine & Spirits
Because of the dominating effect of these marine winds on our climate, the Eola-Amity Hills generally experience cooler average temperatures during the growing season than other parts of the Willamette Valley, allowing our grapes to ripen on the vines long into the Fall, reaching full flavor potential without losing the bright acidity and fine-grain tannins that give great wine its structure and balance.