Continuing from Part 1 of Laurel Ridge History, David purchased Finn Hill in 1974 eager to pursue his dream of running his own vineyard. Despite David’s passion being with wine, grapes, and Pinot Noir, he never desired to run his own winery. His heart was with the farm, and his passion was centered on cultivating an exquisite vineyard. He loved wine but his philosophy was rooted in the belief that great wine came from even better grapes, and that’s what he wanted to focus on.
He planted his first acres of grapes between 1980-1981. Just as David scoured the Willamette Valley for years searching for the perfect vineyard site, he spent months researching grape vines and varieties, looking for the perfect vines to plant on the Finn Hill Estate. The vines he selected were own-rooted meaning they weren’t grafted on rootstock like many grapes are. Side note: similar to apples or oranges, majority of grape vineyards planted in the United States are selectively bred and grafted in order to be resistant to pests and diseases specific to American soil types. Fun, huh?
When David Teppola planted his vineyard in the Willamette Valley (what would later end up being in the heart of the Yamhill Carlton AVA) it was still early enough that vineyards weren’t suffering from diseases and pests, indicating that the grapes could be own-rooted. Unfortunately, this resulted in the death of vineyards across Oregon as the root louse, phylloxera traveled north from California, killing hundreds of acres of vineyard across the state in the mid 1990s. David had cultivated his vines for nearly fifteen years before he lost his vineyard; a vineyard that had produced award winning Pinot Noirs, and even produced Oregon’s first vintage of Sparkling Wine.
David persevered, managing Laurel Ridge while supporting local vineyards around Oregon and Southern Washington, continuing to produce wines until his passing in 2006. His wife, Susan, took over the day-to-day operations at Laurel Ridge and was finally able to realize David’s dream of replanting the Finn Hill Estate Vineyard in 2015. Connection to the land and the vineyard truly is the foundation of the Laurel Ridge philosophy and is what makes Laurel Ridge Winery Oregon grown and owned since 1986.
The history of the Oregon Wine Industry can be likened to that of the Oregon Trail- paralleled story lines of excitement, fervor, pilgrimage, disease, destruction, and rebirth are dominant themes in both. But unlike the Oregon Trail, the tale of the modern Oregon Wine Industry is accompanied by the captivating views of the Willamette Valley and the joy that is enjoying a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir with loved ones while taking these views in.
After prohibition ended in the early 20th century, fruit wines dominated the scene until winemakers from California began exploring Oregon in the late 1960s. Many believed that Oregon’s Willamette Valley would make a fantastic place to grow grapes, notably Pinot Noir, as the climate was so similar to other winemaking regions in France and Germany. They weren’t wrong. The first vineyards in Oregon were planted in the very late 1960s and early 1970s, putting Oregon on the map as a potential American Viticultural Area.
Around the same time that the first Oregon vineyards and wineries were being established, our founder David Teppola was preparing to pursue his lifelong dream of living on a farm and running his own vineyard. A dream over 15 years in the making since he had studied abroad in France and first fell in love with what he called the “Wine of Kings”, Pinot Noir. Having spent his formative years in Portland and graduating with a degree in Philosophy from Lewis and Clark College, it was only fitting that his true passion in life was wine, right?
Between 1971-1974, David explored land for sale across Willamette Valley. He tirelessly sought the perfect combination of land size, slope, location, sun exposure, and soil type. He would settle for nothing but the perfect vineyard site. He finally found a potential vineyard site rich in Willakenzie Loam soil. At the time, the coveted soil type for Oregon Winemakers was Jory soil, which was known to be nutrient rich and excellent for growing grapes. Willakenzie Loam soil, on the other hand, was generally believed to be nutrient-poor and wholly undesirable for grapes.
David believed differently, though. It was his conviction that the nutrient profile of Willakenzie Loam soil would actually produce more complex, nuanced, and subtly distinct grapes, not only perfect for producing Pinot Noir, but award winning Pinot Noir at that.
Against the better advice of his colleagues, David purchased the farm, then planted with Bartlett Pears and Italian Plums, in 1974. He renamed the estate Finn Hill Vineyard, a nod to his Finnish roots, and began clearing land for his Pinot Noir vineyard almost immediately. Only time would tell if his conjecture about Willakenzie Loam soil being suitable for growing Pinot Noir in Oregon would be a success or a catastrophe.
Read more about our story here- Laurel Ridge History: Part Two