Second generation blossoms
By KARL KLOOSTER
The dream of many successful business owners is to have their children take an interest in the work that provides the family livelihood, with the idea that one day they will want to take the reins.
As the Oregon wine industry matures, it's not surprising to see a second generation of growers and winemakers emerge. Enticed by the unique challenges and rewards of this fascinating profession, they are carrying forward a family legacy.
Each story has its own twists and turns, but the bottom line remains essentially the same: bringing forth something special from the soil and creating something even more special from it.
Unlike most agricultural commodities, wine is an end product worth many times more than the cost of the fruit from which it is made. A cherry may be baked, a pear canned or a nut dry-roasted, but none gains the added value of fine fermented grape juice.
Talent, dedication and sheer enjoyment of what they do describes the next generation of winery owners and managers. They have begun to make their own mark on a maturing industry, one well on its way toward world acclaim.
Here are stories about some of the local second-generation contributors, whose considerable talents and youthful vitality are already quickening the pace of that upward march. All of them grew up with the culture of viticulture and enology almost literally coursing through their veins, and their contributions appear destined to shape a bright future for Oregon wine.
Adam Campbell, Elk Cove Vineyards
Joe and Pat Campbell turned over management of Elk Cove Vineyards to their son, Adam, in 1999. The winery's co-founders held the helm of their winery just south of Gaston for years, guiding it from modest beginnings to a more than 45,000-case producer.
Adam was the only one of the Campbells' five children choosing to follow his parents into the business.
"All of us helped out when we were kids," he said. "But dad and mom encouraged us to pursue our passion. We weren't pressured to work for the winery."
After high school, Adam took two years off to work the harvest before entering Lewis & Clark College in Portland. He spent his junior year in Australia, then returned to finish out his final year at Lewis & Clark. Following his graduation in 1994, he joined Elk Cove full time.
By 1999, having worked side by side with his parents for five years, he was ready.
"My parents said, 'It's your baby now,' and retired to Portland," he said. "They love the winery, and they're still involved. Just not day to day."
Alex and Alison Sokol Blosser, Sokol Blosser Winery
Given the good fortune of having both a son and daughter ultimately making a commitment to the family's pioneering Dundee Hills winery, Susan Sokol Blosser was able to step back in January 2008.
As is typical for winery families, Alex and Alison were involved in the harvest even as children. But for both, the decision to join the family business didn't come until they had tested the waters elsewhere.
Alex said, "I loved the camaraderie of the wine industry especially during harvest, but my folks were running a business. And when it came time for me to get a real job, there was nothing open at Sokol Blosser."
He put in a year as a vineyard foreman at nearby Archery Summit, then decided he'd better get an education. Four years later, degree from Portland State in hand, reality struck when he realized that from a job standpoint, what he knew best was wine.
"I landed a sales job with Columbia Distributing in Portland and did well enough that mom took notice. She said the winery needed stronger sales and marketing, so why not come to work for the winery."
It didn't take long for them to reach an agreement. In 1998, Alex became a full-time employee of the family business. His sister, six years younger, earned her MBA and picked up experience with Nike and a high-tech company before coming on board in 2005.
"When we knew Alison wanted to get involved, we attended the Austin Family Business program at Oregon State," Alex said. "It was very valuable for planning transition and succession."
The two were named co-presidents in 2005. They share management responsibilities and decision-making.
Ben and Mimi Casteel, Bethel Heights Vineyard
Since the planting of its first vineyard in 1977, Bethel Heights has been an all-in-the-extended-family enterprise. Twins Ted and Terry Casteel, wives Pat Dudley and Marilyn Webb, and Pat's sister, Barbara Dudley, were the founding partners.
Co-ownership now includes six additional family members, with Terry and Marilyn's son, Ben, and Ted and Pat's daughter, Mimi, playing the most prominent second generation roles.
After a season making wine in Burgundy, and five years with Rex Hill, Ben returned to Bethel Heights in 2005. His father, Terry, retired the next year, passing the winemaking duties on.
Mimi studied ecology and worked as a botanist for the U.S. Forest Service before realizing, "I had left something very special behind at home." She also returned to Bethel Heights in 2005, and soon became general manager.
Ben and Mimi run the company day to day, but never have to worry about lack of ongoing support from family members.
"We all love the winery," Mimi said. "For me, it's been that way ever since I started putting sticks in the ground at about 10 years old."
Luisa, Maria and Michel Ponzi, Ponzi Vineyards
Generational transition got under way at Ponzi Vineyards back in 1993, when Dick Ponzi relinquished winemaking authority to his daughter, Luisa. Extensive training in France's Burgundy District and Italy's Piedmont District prepared her for the work.
Sales and marketing have long been older sister Maria's strong suit, and she racked up some high-performance sales success, as well quite a bit of world travel, before joining the winery in 1991. She immediately began working with her mother, Nancy, to promote the Ponzi brand in the marketplace.
Kid brother Michel contributes on the operations side. A computer whiz, he has streamlined Ponzi's administrative and financial functions, provided oversight of the family-owned Bridgeport Brewing Co. and overseen construction of their new winery.
Music is his first love, however. He composes in his home studio at the family's La Luce estate vineyard.
Jason Lett, The Eyrie Vineyard
The passing of David Lett in 2008 left management of The Eyrie Vineyard to his son, Jason. Jason, of course, had already shown his winemaking stuff with Black Cap, a brand he established at the now-defunct Urban Wineworks in Portland.
Following his father's philosophy of letting the wine make itself, Jason is carrying the Eyrie legacy forward with the support of his mother, Diana.
Jesse Lange, Lange Estate Winery & Vineyards
Though Don and Wendy Lange have no near-term plans for retirement from operation of their Dundee Hills winery, their son, Jesse, teamed up with his father as co-winemaker after graduating from Oregon State University. He has served as general manager of the business since 2005.
The family works together on strategic planning. Jesse's day-to-day management role allows Don time to pursue his love of writing and performing music, which gives him great pleasure, particularly with a glass of Lange pinot close at hand.