There’s something magical about being in a wine region when it’s time to harvest. The vines are plump with grapes ready to be picked while the canopy of leaves are changing from dark green to bright orange and red. In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, the soil is just as vibrant ranging from yellowy-red silty clay to the distinctive dark red of Jory volcanic soil. If you’re lucky enough to be at Stoller Family Estate at the time, you’ll be hard-pressed to find more spectacular vineyard views.
With an almost perfect rectangle shape of sloping vines, it’s no wonder that the tasting room is situated directly adjacent to the vineyard.
As you sit with a glass of wine, it’s difficult to imagine that this perfectly planted property was once a turkey farm with 700,000 turkeys roaming the hillside. It takes vision to see beyond what many people considered marginal farmland and consider the potential that it could be high quality wine growing land. To understand the success and philosophy of Stoller Family Estate, you need to understand the entrepreneurial spirit behind founder Bill Stoller.
Bill was raised on the family farm near Dayton, Oregon. After Bill went to college earning both a business degree and MBA, he went to work with a staffing company that folded shortly after he joined. He and a couple of the employees bought it, changed the name from Acme to Express Employment Professionals, and turned it into the largest privately-owned staffing company in the world.
As he was building his ultra-successful company, Bill was bitten by the wine bug and took a wine appreciation course at Portland Community College. There he met one of the pioneers of Willamette Valley wine, Harry Peterson-Nedry. Harry started planting grapes in Oregon in the 1980’s and was the first to plant in what is now the Ribbon Ridge AVA. At the time Harry and Bill met, Harry was looking to raise capital for his vineyard and Bill become one of the original investors. Harry then decided to build a winery for the vineyard and he and Bill partners establishing Chehalem Winery in 1993. That same year, the Bill’s cousins decided they wanted to sell their property as the turkey famine had devasted the industry.
Bill looked at the property’s south-facing slope with rocky soil and thought that it would make for an excellent vineyard. In 1995, they planted 10 acres of Pinot Noir and 10 acres of Chardonnay on the former turkey farm with the plan that it would become one of Chehalem’s estate vineyards. At the time, planting that much Chardonnay was highly unusual as the most planted white at the time was Pinot Gris; there was still skepticism about how Chardonnay would fair in the region. But they were willing to take the risk and were one of the first vineyards to in the valley to get access to the Dijon clone vines that another Willamette Valley pioneer, David Adelsheim, helped bring over from France.
In 2001, Bill decided he wanted some wine for his own personal cellar and to give away to friends and clients. He asked Harry to make those wines which worked well until a couple of years later, he was making over 1,000 cases for him. With production and demand growing so quickly, Harry suggested he hire a winemaker. He interviewed a number of candidates before meeting Melissa Burr at a winemaker conference. Born and raised in the Willamette Valley, she held a degree in Science and was planning to pursue naturopathic medicine before also being bitten by the wine bug. She studied winemaking at Oregon State University and worked at several local wineries during harvest to get experience.
Though just 28 years old, Bill loved her passion for winemaking and her naturopathic background which complemented his vision of the way he wanted to approach every aspect of the winery. In 2003, Melissa joined Stoller Family Estate and 16 years later, she has overseen production as head winemaker increase from 1,000 cases to 60,000 cases. Today, the property is 400 acres and of that 213 acres are planted to grapevine to the following varieties: Pinot Noir (70%), Chardonnay (25%) with several other varieties including Riesling, Pinot Blanc, aligoté, Gamay Noir, Syrah, Tempranillo, and Viognier making up the balance.
Back to Bill’s vision. He didn’t just want to build a successful winery, he wanted to build a truly sustainable one. Stoller Family Estate is the first winery in the world to achieve LEED gold certification. The winery also B-Corp certified meaning they take a holistic approach in balancing their profit with purpose. B-Corp certified companies have to meet standards that not only take into account environmental impact but also social impact including how they compensate employees, how much is sourced locally, and how much they give back to their local community. With respect to winemaking practices, they are certified LIVE (an organization that supports environmentally and socially responsible winegrowing through third-party certification and education) and have experimented with biodynamic farming.
It’s safe to say that Bill has brought to Stoller Family Estate the same entrepreneurial spirit and drive that has been the basis for his success throughout his career. He’s also proving that to do so ethically and sustainably is a winning formula no matter what industry you happen to work in.
2018 Stoller Rosé of Pinot Noir
Whole clusters are pressed to make this mineral-driven, medium+ bodied Rosé that is redolent of cherries and cranberries. Bracing acidity balances and provides precision. Dried flowers and earth notes add complexity. Great as an aperitif or with shellfish.
Very Good+ (USD$28 at tasting room)
2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Chardonnay
Whole clusters are gently pressed to add structure and liveliness to this medium bodied Chardonnay raised in stainless steel. Apple and pear combine with citrus notes on the finish. The finish is mineral infused.
Very Good (USD $28 at tasting room)
2017 Stoller Reserve Chardonnay
25% new oak with balance of neutral barrels (averaging 3 years of age) are used to raise this wine that goes through 50% malolactic fermentation. The result is a textured wine showing notes of pera and golden delicious apple. Citrus notes are accentuated by the medium+ acidity.
Very good+ (USD$40 at tasting room)
2017 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir
This wine is raised in 15% new oak barrels. Loaded with flavours, we pick up red cherry, flowers, red apple, spices and mineral notes in this already complex wine. The body is medium and there is good intensity, especially for an AVA-level wine.
Very good+ (USD$35 at tasting room–very good value for this quality level)
2017 Stoller Reserve Pinot Noir
The older vines on the estate (now going into their third decade) are used to make the Reserve Pinot Noir. The dominance of the Pommard clone shows in this wines masculine personality. Black cherry and raspberry primary flavours receive support from the secondary notes of baking spices and earthy/forest notes. Great balance; ready to go now but will no doubt develop further for at least a decade.
Excellent (USD$50 at tasting room)
16161 NE McDougall Rd
Tasting Room: Open Daily 11am-5pm