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At Belle Vallee
Cellars in Corvallis, Joe Wright bottles more than 6,000 cases of
Pinot Noir using skills learned through an intense indoctrination at
Vineyards. Under the tutelage of winemaker Joe Dobbs, Wright says, he “got
14 years of experience in seven years.”
career has followed a circuitous route. A native of Los Angeles, he
spent three years in Aspen, Colorado managing an upscale wine store before
moving to Oregon. Still fascinated with selling wines, he almost
accepted an offer to work for a distributor, but decided instead that “it
would be smarter to get my hands dirty a little.”
Wright became the
"cellar rat" at Willamette Valley, where he learned the ins and outs of
winemaking from the ground up. After seven years of total immersion
working with Dobbs, Wright progressed to cellar master before deciding to
set off on his own. “I’ve come full circle,” he says. “Now I have to sell my
presides over the only winemaking facility in the city of Corvallis, 14,000
square feet, half of which is devoted to production, and the rest filled by
a tasting room and case storage area. His 2002-vintage wines include
more than 6,000 cases of various styles of Pinot Noir, along with Cabernet
and Merlot crushed from Rogue Valley grapes.
Wright agrees the
mentoring process is a great way to train.
“My first harvest
at Willamette Valley we crushed 200 tons of fruit for 30 different kinds of
wine! We were hustling year round, eight days a week, making wine, but you
had to do it to get the job done, and to gain an understanding of what
you’re doing and why. I learned a ton!"
Mentoring can be as
rewarding to the established winemaker as it is to the fresh young talent.
Marty Clubb of
L’Ecole No. 41 in Walla Walla region
than one newcomer, including
Eric Dunham four years before Dunham Cellars
became a reality.
“Historically I hire people who are
fairly open and train them,” he says. “You develop a kind of style and
philosophy," which Clubb wants reflected in His L'Ecole No41
wines. "When you bring in somebody who does it other ways, you have
the potential for conflict, of battling over style.”
It was in 1995 that Clubb hired
Dunham, after a brief internship at Hogue Cellars. Dunham was allowed
to use the L'Ecole facilities for his own winemaking as well, after hours.
The first Dunham Cellars vintages were crushed at L’Ecole, until 1999, when
the fledgling winery moved to its current home.
Clubb calls those early years working
with Dunham a win-win situation.
“It was a good transition for both of us," he
recalls. "I could keep Eric on while I trained someone new. If
he was still just doing a few hundred cases, he could have stayed here.”
Clubb has lost other assistant winemakers he
trained, but seems genuinely pleased to be making what is clearly a
contribution to the industry as a whole. His winemaking roots, after
all, date back to the mid-‘80s when the first vintages of L'Ecole were
crushed at Waterbrook Cellars. The downside of mentoring, Clubb explains, is
turnover. Clubb no longer actively seeks young talent for the purpose
of training them.
“When Eric started with us it was just him
and me, and we were doing seven thousand cases. Now we’re up to 26
thousand cases and have more than 10 employees. It’s difficult to run a
business when you’re constantly turning over.”
departure from L’Ecole was probably preordained.
“I’ve wanted to be a winemaker ever since I was a little
kid,” Dunham recalls.
reach this goal, Dunham first earned an AA degree in
irrigation technology in order to earn an income.
Next, he spent seven months at Hogue Cellars as an
intern. "I forced my way into the lab,” he laughs.
There he learned as much as he could about chemistry and
Dunham's next giant step toward his winemaking dream
came on his way to enrolling at Washington State
University for a degree in viticulture. Marty
Clubb offered him a job as assistant winemaker at
L’Ecole No. 41... “and I had to take it!”
Cellars bottles about 22,000 cases a year at its
facility at the Walla Walla Airport.
opportunity to mentor and be mentored is something that
sets the winemaking industry apart from many others.
In fact, according to winemaker Januik perhaps the best
way to learn the business -- from crushing and bottling,
to marketing and distributing -- is to work for someone
“My advice?" Januik considers. "If you really want
to learn this trade, quit what you’re doing, and go work
with somebody making wines for a few years. I
can’t emphasize that strongly enough. People
should find a mentor, and work with them seriously.
It’s one of the things that sets our industry apart.”
So who is Januik mentoring? Well, there are his
two sons, and dreams of a million cases a year.