I have the good fortune of meeting lots of winemakers. I have met some of the icons in the industry, people who helped establish their regions and set trends. But, when I was in the Willamette Valley as part of the Wine Writers Educational Tour, we attended a seminar with the Willamette Valley wine pioneers. This was not just a discussion of the people or a tasting of their wines but they, the original wine pioneers of the Willamette Valley, were there. It was not lost on me how legendary this panel was. These are the people who built the Willamette Valley and they shared their stories which I wrote about in the Napa Valley Register and you can read here.
“It takes a village to raise a child. This is my village and I am the kid,” declared Jason Lett as he welcomed a group of wine writers to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Jason’s father, David Lett, first saw the potential of Pinot Noir in Oregon.
A Utah native, David Lett moved to San Francisco for dental school in 1963 and was introduced to Napa Valley. He decided instead to study viticulture at UC Davis and after graduating, he moved to Oregon. According to Willamette Valley Wine, Pinot Noir was the first post-Prohibition vitis vinifera variety planted in the north Willamette Valley and the reason Lett came to Oregon. After studying the geography and climate of western Oregon, he had an idea of what would do well in the cool climate. Lett planted his vines in the Dundee Hills, establishing the Eyrie Vineyard, and produced his first wine in 1970.
As Jason spoke about his father, he sat alongside Richard and Nancy Ponzi, David Adelsheim, Harry Peterson-Nedry and Susan Sokol-Blosser.
As I sat down for a seminar at the 2018 Pebble Beach Food & Wine Festival titled “The Future is Female: The Next Generation of American Wine,” I was excited to listen to a panel of women discuss taking the reins of their family wineries. As I looked at the panel of women sitting in front of me, I sat up a little straighter as I was so proud and inspired to see only women sitting there.
On one end of the table was Esther Mobley, the wine, beer and spirits writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. After graduating from Smith College, Esther worked harvests at two wineries, worked in retail and at a restaurant and then followed the path of a writer, working at Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator and now the San Francisco Chronicle. On the other end of the table was Christie Dufault, a former sommelier at top restaurants who today is the associate professor of wine and beverage studies at The Culinary Institute of America. In between these two formidable presences were four women who are taking over their family wineries.