Maybe I lucked out. Or maybe I saw it coming.
In 1980, we purchased the first vineyard on Ribbon Ridge. And by we, I mean us, with our own hands. With barely 800 acres planted to vine, the Willamette Valley had just begun to envision such luxuries as vineyard consultants and planting crews. We did it. Judy, the kids, and I with some of our closest friends. Ridgecrest was more than a vineyard. It was our life.
Back then, folks thought I was just plain nuts to plant Pinot Noir on this chilly rise located on the western edge of the Willamette Valley. They told me" You're the farthest west going out this way, you don't plant grapes that far out." Ridgecrest Vineyards was the first vineyard planted on a small ridge of ocean sedimentary soils that, 25 years later, was designated the Ribbon Ridge AVA. The common thought at the time was that the site was situated too far west for grapes - too windy, too foggy, too cool.
As fate would have it, things began to heat up.
Now one of the foremost vineyards in the Willamette Valley, Ridgecrest fruit exhibits a level of intensity that is sought after by many a winemaker.
Wynne and Ian
A Younger Harry
The Chehalem Years
The Willamette Valley was in its infancy. The “little sister” of the wine universe, we ached for an older sibling to guide us. We'd planted a vineyard. Now what to do with those grapes? Our simple goal was ripeness and expression of place, not extraction or imitation.
Teetering on the stilettos of our teenaged, sun-drenched neighbor to the south yielded nothing but sore ankles and regret. The mythical 45th parallel was not our scene. Apropos of nothing other than the length of sunny days, Bordeaux, Rhone, and the Po River Valley offered little else by way of comparison. (We might just as well have asked Nova Scotia or Detroit for advice on growing Pinot Noir.) We studied geology, meteorology, and topography, compared soil types, degree days, and terrain. Used words like “Burgundian” and “Côte d’Or,” and even toyed around with "Loiregon” in certain rogue circles. Nothing stuck. Tired of comparing ourselves to others, we finally put away the measuring stick.
Funny thing. In the process of finding our wine selves, we assembled a lifetime of knowledge. With no one to advise us, vintners turned to each other, building a community of wine professionals and a collaborative commitment that drives us still. We traded clones and techniques. We were harder on ourselves than any published critic dared to be. We embraced our quirky, incomparable home.
The results of our introspection took the form of Chehalem, the winery we founded in 1990, where we put into practice a hands-on, yet scientific approach to winemaking. The style was pure, and pleasurable.
Starting From Scratch (Again)
19,000 acres and 500 wineries later, the valley had changed. And I had changed. The reality of what we envisioned in 1980 bore little resemblance to our fledgling dream. Chehalem was a beautiful thing - bigger and more intricate than we could have ever imagined.
I returned to our "vineyard on the edge" and mused about what it meant to be at the forefront of a movement. I knew that those high-acid, white-knuckle harvests had staying power. I believed we were missing an opportunity here. Finesse is no fad in its most balanced form. With time, it blossoms profusely into depth and breadth. (Which is more iconic? A simple, Audrey Hepburn shift, or the ripped sweatshirt of Madonna?) Late October passes through the vineyard and chilly November punch downs underwent a uniquely Oregonian transformation in barrel. They matured in bottle, yielding balanced, cellar-worthy Pinot Noir.
I started to wonder, "what if we set aside a few barrels of Pinot Noir each year?" Chosen from the oldest plantings on Ribbon Ridge, vinified in a way that was meant to stand the test of time. And with that, we morphed into a new adventure, one that hinged on an idea so time-honored as to border on simplistic: how to best explore the true, lasting potential of this valley we so dearly love.
Perfectly ripe, tightly wound, cellar-worthy Pinot Noir was my aim. In 2009, my daughter Wynne brought her fine palate and technical skills to the project. And in 2018, we sold our interest in Chehalem in order to make wines solely from the vineyard that started it all. We came home to Ridgecrest.
2021 Yurt Tasting - Photo by Brittney Eisele
Which brings us to our current chapter
After 37 harvests on Ribbon Ridge and 20 years crafting our cellar-worthy RR wines, we might be starting to know these vineyards – the ins and outs, strengths, and peculiarities of each and every block. The parcels that were once Wynne's childhood stomping grounds have matured. As have we.
Our new RIDGECREST label allows us dig deeper – to experiment with all of those blocks, lots, and barrels that beg our attention every harvest. It gives us the flexibility to single out those rare birds we are loathe to blend with others because they are just so damned intriguing. Pinot Noir is the mainstay of the Ridgecrest label, with supporting roles played by Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, Pinot Gris and Gamay Noir (and soon Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay).
Welcome to Ridgecrest – a new perspective on what was once just a vision for a handful of doers, dreamers, and thinkers here in Oregon.
We salute the old, and welcome the new.