In 2020, the Laurelwood District was designated its own American Viticultural Area (AVA), a sub-appellation of the Chehalem Mountains AVA. It is known for having some of the highest concentrations of Laurelwood soil that blew in somewhere between ten and fifty thousand years ago (aka windblown Loess). Of the approximately 25 wineries that call that AVA home, none will make you feel more welcome than the ‘Wine of the Potter’.
Nestled on the northern slopes of the Chehalem Mountains, the Potter’s Vineyard is a 5-acre property, 70% of which is densely planted with more than 5,000 vines using three-foot by six-foot spacing.
It was originally planted in 2001 by Laura Volkman. Laura started producing high quality Pinot Noir from her estate vineyard in 2004 but decided to sell the property in 2012 due to an unexpected illness.
Enter the Potters. Bill & Sandy Sanchez were initially planning to retire to the area with their pottery wheel and kiln, and plant some vines. But their retirement plans turned more serious when they met Laura, saw her vineyard and knew it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
When the reality of buying a business settled in, Bill tells us how he asked Sandy if she was ready for that kind of challenge and without hesitation she answered: “I’m not afraid of hard work”.
They purchased the property in 2012 and Laura stayed on through harvest to impart her winemaking knowledge to ensure a smooth transition and help maintain her legacy. In the relatively short time we came to know Bill & Sandy, we learned of their deep respect for Laura, and the importance of paying homage to those that helped paved the way for them.
“Laura studied under Mike Etzel at Beaux Freres and Mike studied under Dick Ponzi. So, if you look at the pedigree…guess where all the knowledge is? There’s some in the books but a lot of the knowledge of this area and terroir is handed down. We are very fortunate for Ponzi. What he did with those early founders brought us all up to where we’re at so we can be in business today…so we owe them a lot.”
And how does the Potter moniker fit? Bill & Sandy craft handmade clay art and their beautiful tasting room includes a Clay Art Gallery that features both Bill’s work and those of local artists. Bill has been a Potter for over 45 years, a passion that began in high school and became his ‘therapy’ after he graduated with a Ph.D. in Animal Nutrition.
Both are now retired (Sandy is a former special education teacher) and fully dedicated to The Potter’s Vineyard & Clay Art Gallery.
Together they make a formidable team welcoming each visitor for a truly memorable experience that consists of tasting award-winning wines, surrounded by beautiful art. In case that doesn’t sound enticing enough, Bill and Sandy recently ‘hired’ on a new Chief Greeter—their Labrador Terra—whom we can personally attest to also being a very convincing salesdog!
The first Potter’s Vineyard Pinot Noirs were released in 2014 but due to potential trademarking challenges, they rebranded the wine label to Vino Vasai Wines. The name is a nod to Sandy’s Italian heritage and translates to ‘Wine of the Potter’.
They aren’t just a small production winery, they’re a very small production winery at less than 1,000 cases per year. But they are living proof that being small doesn’t equate to limited impact as evidenced by their 5 Double Gold Medals and Platinum Award, and this year being named a “Winery to Watch” by Great Northwest Wine Magazine.
They kept the name ‘Potter’ for the vineyard which is where Bill is most content (other than at his Pottery wheel). The half-artist/half scientist is as passionate about explaining how his kiln works as he is when talking about what’s happening in the vineyard. His science background is at the root of his approach in the vineyard which is that the key to growing premium grapes begins with the nutrition of the vines.
Listening to him is both informative and fascinating as we covered everything from flowering, to row spacing, to yeasts:
“Yeast is a fungus…powdery mildew is a fungus, that’s the biggest threat that we have here. So that Hypha, that spore, gets on the cluster and the plant can sense it. It calls to the immune system that ‘we’ve got a problem here’ so they start turning the genes on to defend themselves. Those are called the defensive genes. They sit there and they’ve got the army ready to go if there’s a penetration then they’re ready to fight them off. So when you add that to your spray program ahead of time, not alive, it’s almost like a vaccine. It’s not a live fungus but it’s the end product and the plant gets confused so it’s all ready to go once the true invasion happens. You’ve enhanced the immune system of the plant.”
He’s been applying his own research since day 1, continuously studying ways to do what works best for the soil in particular: “I’ve been farming without tilling since we got here. A vineyard manager yelled at me one year and said, ‘you’ve got to till every other year!’ which is common here. But I felt like I want to stress the vines a little bit anyway and thought they could handle it. They’re 20 years old now. I kept doing it and now, with the guy I’m working with, we don’t till, we disk instead. The disking brings up the big dirt clods, but the bulk of the soil is together, it’s not being destroyed. When you till, you’re mushing those soil particles. By just turning the big clods, that’s disking not tilling and it keeps the soil microbiome going good and then the nitrogen from the clover, pea and vetch and other things that we do in the cover crop, that all gets turned down in it too.”
Other than their 20-year-old estate vineyard they use for Pinot Noir, they also produce Chardonnay from a 40-year-old vineyard, and Cabernet Sauvignon from a 30-year-old vineyard. Yes, you heard that right, Cabernet Sauvignon from a winery in a region known for cool climate grapes. That fruit is actually sourced from Washington State, as is the Chardonnay. The Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Konnowac Vineyard which we first encountered when we interviewed Washington winery Pomum Cellars who own that vineyard. Add to the tasting a rosé and sparkling blanc de blanc and this is not your average Willamette Valley wine lineup [see Tasting Notes below].
This year marks multiple milestones for Bill and Sandy. It’s their 40th wedding anniversary, the 20th vintage for the vineyard, and their 10th vintage as proprietors. Looking back on the last decade, Sandy’s prediction about the hard work has certainly materialized, but thankfully they both still enjoy it which means visitors will get to continue feeling right at home in their tasting room and clay art gallery for a while yet.
2018 Blanc de Blanc
Notes of apple and honey intermingle with a lemon zest finish. The palate is light and slightly creamy in texture. There are nice mineral notes that infuse the finish, which is long a dry. Reminded us of some the new English sparklers that have hit the market.
Very Good+ (USD$48 at the winery)
2019 Reserve Chardonnay
Apple, melon and peach all come to mind at various points during the tasting of this creamy, textured Chardonnay. The fruit is balanced by notes of almonds with hints of citrus on the finish. Made form the Wente Clone, they seems to have more success with this clone than most in Oregon. The balance between steely tension and creamy texture is just right.
Excellent (USD$38 at the winery)
2019 Dario Pinot Noir
An Oregon Pinot for just $25? Unheard of! The price has been rolled back to the original release price of 10 years ago. Get it while it lasts because this is a screaming bargain! Cherry flavours with floral tones and hints of earth make for a complex and smooth wine that gives immediate pleasure.
Very Good+ (USD$25 at the winery)
2018 Barrel 17 Pinot Noir
This wine is made from 2 Dijon clones: 667 and 777. This wine really impresses with its dark cherry notes and more structure than the wines tasted before this. Complexity comes from earth and savoury notes; it comes across as more “serious” than others in the line up, seeking to gratify more intellectually than hedonistically. A candidate fot the cellar and a delicious wine.
Excellent (USD$48 at the winery)
2018 Cabernet Sauvignon
We don’t often see winemakers doing both Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. But we are glad that they added this Cab to their line up. The fruit for this wine is sourced from Konnowac Vineyard in the Yakima Valley of Washington which is now owned by another rising star, Pommum Winery. Cherry and blueberry notes sit atop a rounded body with medium tannin and medium acidity, which together make the wine very approachable right now. The finish is long and savoury.
Very Good/Excellent (USD$45 at the winery)
Potter’s Vineyard / Vino Vasai Wines
14725 NE Quarry Rd,
Newberg, OR 97132
*Tastings by appointment.
June 2, 2022
Pottery and lovely wines? What’s not to love!
June 2, 2022
And great people…win-win!
May 26, 2022
They seem like such amazing people. I am all in favor of no-till! Vineyards really need to protect the microbiome and keep moisture in the soils.
I loved watching the pottery video.
May 26, 2022
Wonderful people and clearly have great for the land and the people that visit. Also, quite a talent on the pottery wheel–mesmerizing & we picked up some pieces to bring home.
May 26, 2022
What an interesting article – looks like a must visit. Love the pottery connection – another link to the earth.
May 26, 2022
Exactly. Not to mention the Sanchez’ are salt of the earth people. A great combination!