Wedded winegrowers find way from Midwest to Oregon


It's a long way, both professionally and geographically, from high-tech in the Midwest to viticulture in the Northwest. But the married team of Susan Meredith and Frank Mitchell made the transition with sophisticated style and estimable substance, adding another interesting story to the Yamhill Valley wine world.

They met in the early 1980s, when both were living in Cincinnati. Mitchell was an executive with corporate giant General Electric, working in their power generation division, and Meredith was a marketing manager in the biochemical industry.

They married in 1984 and later moved to Washington, D.C., where Mitchell sold nuclear engines for aircraft carriers to The Pentagon. In addition to sharing a fast-paced, high-energy lifestyle, the couple also developed a liking for fine wines.

Burgundies were among their favorites. They joined a wine tasting group and began to collect wine, amassing a substantial cellar.

In 1989, learning of the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, they made spur-of-the-moment plans that changed their lives.

"We fell in love with the place from the moment we got here," Meredith said. "We had a great time at the IPNC and met the most wonderful people. "Call it fate, good fortune, serendipity. After we had been here, we knew it was where we wanted to live."

They soon began planning for what Meredith called "our next life,” with an initial goal of five acres and a view. Early the following year, they got a call about a piece of property. A few days later, Mitchell found himself standing atop a hill 700 feet above the valley southwest of McMinnville - a hill with a commanding view from southeast to southwest.

"At 104 acres, it was a bit larger than we had in mind," he said. "But it had 16 acres of pinot noir that had been planted in 1988, so that was a big plus."

They bought the property in 1990 and began coming out regularly from that time on to help tend the vineyards.

"Our first vintage was 1994," Mitchell said. "Yamhill Valley Vineyards made the wine."

Gradually, they began to add acreage, planning five acres of pinot gris in 1995 and four acres of pinot blanc in 1996. After Mitchell retired in 1997 they moved to Lake Oswego, but started spending more and more time at the vineyard.

In 2002, they had a new home built on a knoll right in the midst of their vineyards. From their hilltop haven, Mounts Hood and Jefferson stand prominently on the eastern skyline. And the breezes from the very-visible eastern entry to the Van Duzer Corridor cool the vines during summer ripening.

This atmospheric exposure benefits vineyards like theirs, and those of adjacent Maysara Winery, in several ways. It helps the vines recover from heat stress while also minimizing the possibility of mildew and botrytis.

Not only are they grateful for the breeze, but also the isolation.

Their pinot noir consists entirely of Pommard clones planted on their own roots, leaving their vines vulnerable to the devastating root louse phylloxera. However, it has not yet appeared in their vineyards.

Meredith is now retired as well. But retirement is a relative term when you're the actively involved owners of a 25-acre vineyard.

The couple have developed long-term relationships with Ken Wright Cellars, Raptor Ridge, Cuneo, La Bete, EIEIO and G&C Cellars, resulting in individual vineyard-designated wines that have won numerous awards over the years.

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