Posted by: David Stewart | August 9, 2009

A first for Oregon wines, but at what cost?

At Home in the Vineyard by Susan Sokol Blosser is a fascinating book which tells the beginning of the wine industry in the Willamette Valley of Oregon from the voice of a pioneer. Sokol Blosser was probably the first winery we visited when we moved to Oregon in 1984.

The book is a mash-up of several non-fiction genres: memoir, business case study and history.  Having recently read a similar book by the founders of the Lonely Planet guidebooks, it fills in a lot of “how did they do that?” information gaps.

The book is not very technical about the winemaking work, going into more detail about the farming aspects and business/distribution work.

Sokol Blosser was not the first Oregon winery, but they did have a few firsts:

  • They had the first winery building that was built specifically as a winery. (The other local wineries were adapted from other uses).
  • They had the first tasting room in a winery in the area. This has now become a requirement it seems to be in the business.
  • Unfortunately, theirs was one of the first wineries in Oregon where the phylloxera aphid was discovered in 1990, requiring many acres of vines to be destroyed.
  • Their first wine of “estate grown” grapes was 1977. Ironically, we have a bottle of Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir from 1979 in our rack. It was collected by my sister Susan, but has dropped into our hands now. It is likely to be no better than vinegar, but we’ll find the right moment to check that out.
  • Susan was one of the first to adopt sustainable and organic methods in the winery.
  • During the 1990s, they were perhaps better known for their concert series held on the property, rather than their wines.

Susan Sokol Blosser is a fascinating woman. Besides running the vineyard and winery businesses, she held a number of other roles:

  • She taught a year at Beaverton High School, my children’s alma matter.
  • She served on the school board in Dayton, Oregon, worried that her kids might not get a good education there.
  • Wrote for the McMinnville News-Register in their Living section.
  • Ran for the Oregon state legislature.
  • Was a mom for a kids, some of whom joined her in the business of the winery.

But in spite of these various success stories, I can’t help but feel a little sorry for her. It seems like she was so committed to nurturing her business, career and parenting that she forgot to nurture her marriage.


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