Oregon stormed the wine world’s elite ranks in 1979, when The Eyrie Vineyards’ 1975 South Block pinot noir beat out all the French Burgundies in a blind tasting at the Gault-Millau French Wine Olympiades in Paris.
The late David Lett, who founded The Eyrie Vineyards in Dundee, and other Oregon wine pioneers recognized that the state not only sits at the same latitude and shares climatic similarities with some of Europe’s premier wine regions, but has its own unique microclimates, soils, and other growing conditions—terroir—suited to producing world-class wines of complex flavor and aroma.
In the years since the international wine community first sampled Oregon’s potential for greatness, ever more innovative winemakers and determined farmers have toiled to cultivate a thriving wine industry in the state. Despite daunting competition from more well-established wine regions, periodic cool and wet growing seasons that hamper grape maturation and cause mildew problems, and other obstacles, wine has grown into a vital Oregon business.
Today the industry includes about 450 wineries and employs about 13,500 people in related jobs in the state, according to the Oregon Wine Board. Some 850 Oregon estate and commercial vineyards (the former have attached winery operations, while the latter strictly grow and sell wine grapes) produced a record 41,500 tons of fruit in 2011. And a whopping $2.7 billion in annual impact on the state’s economy can be directly or indirectly linked to wine, according to a 2011 report by Berkeley, California–based Full Glass Research.
What’s more, Oregon vintages consistently earn glowing reviews on par with those from the world’s most well-known wine regions. Last year, Wine Spectator magazine rated more Oregon wines at 90 points or higher on its 100-point scale than it did those from California, Italy, France, or Australia.
Each of these facts is a meaningful arrow in the marketing quiver of Tom Danowski ’83, a brand-management expert who became executive director of the Oregon Wine Board in December 2011. Danowski, who earned his undergraduate degree in advertising from the UO journalism school, served in marketing and management roles for the likes of Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Seattle’s Best Coffee, and Chateau Ste. Michelle—the Northwest’s largest wine producer—before taking on the task of extending Oregon wine’s reach.
“An exceptional opportunity lies in front of the Oregon wine business for a couple of reasons,” says Danowski, who occasionally lectures on brand management and business strategy at the UO’s Charles H. Lundquist College of Business.
One of those reasons is that “Oregon wines being made right now are some of the best wines ever made,” a heady claim Danowski says is validated by those Wine Spectator ratings—“a very important quality marker.”
The pace at which Oregon wines have earned that distinction has accelerated in the past decade. Danowski notes that fewer than eighty Oregon wines had received the 90-plus marks by 2001; by 2011, the number had more than tripled, to 272.
Danowski says another reason to be optimistic about further growth for Oregon’s wine industry is the high regard it already enjoys among wine and cuisine insiders.
“It is known very favorably by many inside the industry,” Danowski says. “That is a huge benefit, but we have a chance to build greater awareness within that community.”
With the overarching goal of boosting national and international sales, one of Danowski’s priorities at the Oregon Wine Board is reaching out to wine and food media members, tourism professionals, restaurateurs and chefs, and others in the wine distribution chain. He and his staff work with winemakers and grape growers throughout the state’s sixteen American viticultural areas (AVAs) to host tours that allow wine-industry influencers from around the world to “kick the dirt in our vineyards” and drink in the complete Oregon wine experience.
As for those who buy wine in the restaurant and retail marketplaces of the world, Danowski says there is an emerging level of recognition for Oregon wine but little awareness of its consistently high quality ratings.
“One of the first things the wine consumer considers is the quality and esteem of the winegrowing region,” he says. “So it’s hugely important for us to continue to advocate the quality of Oregon wines and establish an esteemed brand for the entire region.”
Danowski sees his role, and the mission of the Oregon Wine Board, as “breaking the trail” for the industry and making it easy for individual wineries to follow up with their own brand-oriented marketing efforts.
While much of Oregon’s existing wine cachet is built upon the success winemakers here have had with pinot noir, Danowski says that image is evolving.
“Pinot noir makes up almost 60 percent of our crop, and right behind that comes pinot gris,” Danowski says. He lauds King Estate, the state’s largest winery, for establishing that white varietal as another signature Oregon product.
In third place, and growing rapidly in acreage planted, is Chardonnay. Danowski says cooler-climate Oregon Chardonnays tend to contain more fruit acids, and thus offer more crispness, broader food-pairing possibilities, and sometimes greater “ageability” than their more-famous California counterparts.
“Pinot noir usually starts the Oregon wine conversation,” Danowski allows, “but now it’s also an invitation to broaden that conversation to include two important white wines. It makes you look more serious as a wine region when you can add two or three world-class varietals.”
With international business accounting for less than 10 percent of Oregon wine sales, global markets present vast potential. Danowski mentions Tokyo, London, and Vancouver, BC—centers of cuisine and commerce with high levels of discretionary income—as prime targets for industry outreach.
While the world’s wine illuminati might be delighted by their first taste of the next great Oregon vintage, they shouldn’t be surprised.
The secret, after all, was uncorked more than thirty years ago. And all signs suggest that Oregon’s wine industry is improving considerably with age.
—Joel Gorthy ’98
COURTESY KING ESTATE WINERY
On a warm afternoon at King Estate Winery twenty miles southwest of Eugene, a black-shouldered kite glides over acres of pinot noir grapes in search of gophers. A kestrel hovers, then darts down to earth, rising back up with a mouse in its talons.
“Ground squirrels are a problem for us,” says King Estate gardener Jessie Russell, striding through an oak grove and pausing at the vineyard. “Voles girdle a plant. Gophers are the biggest fiend—they eat the roots.”
Unchecked, rodents can decimate a vineyard, but using poisons to address the problem can compromise the quality of soil and wine. To help ward off devastation to King Estate’s 430,000 vulnerable vines, founder Ed King III ’82 has introduced raptors to control pests on 1,033 acres of hills and wetlands.
Birds of prey are expert hunters, snatching up their targets without disturbing vines. And they’re voracious: two barn owls can eat more than 1,000 rodents annually. Harnessing this natural prowess, the staff at King Estate has partnered since 2008 with Eugene’s Cascades Raptor Center to introduce owls, kestrels, and red-tailed hawks as an alternative to rodenticides. On still mornings, vigilant hawks scan the scene from perches on the propellers of tall wind machines used to protect the vines from frost.
Many relationships go into a bottle of wine: grapes and yeast, winery and raptor center, vine keepers and sharp-eyed hawks that glide above the rows and rows of fruit.
Fall camp means two weeks’ worth of hot, twelve-hour days filled with full-on, sweaty drills, team-building, and precise practice. It means intense pressure to memorize the playbook and learn how to perform on and off the field at all times. It means going all out, losing the fear of making mistakes so in crunch time you won’t make any. Sure, the football team does some of this stuff, too, but we’re talking about the Oregon Marching Band.
“Sometimes I think there aren’t enough hours in the week for them to get ready,” says Eric Wiltshire, director of athletic bands. “But the kids have a remarkable capacity for just doing it. And they do.”
Like the Oregon football team, the OMB, as they like to be called, is on a roll. Numerous appearances on ESPN’s College Game Day, a gig at the BCS National Championship in 2011, two Rose Bowl parades and halftime shows in the last three years, and even a stint this spring making music for Wheel of Fortune’s “College Week” of all things is pretty fun stuff.
Oregon has had a band since 1908. In 1916, it changed campus life forever. Director Albert Perfect and journalism student DeWitt Gilbert ’18 weren’t happy with the UO’s school song, a “borrowed” “On Wisconsin”! (gasp!), and set out to rectify the situation. That spring, they premiered a bouncy little ditty they’d written called “The Mighty Oregon March.” It quickly became our iconic “Mighty Oregon” fight song and saved us from certain embarrassment last January when fate matched us up against those Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl.
In 1929, the OMB performed its first halftime show. A decade later, when the Tall Firs won the first NCAA championship in basketball, the OMB led the rousing parade from the train station back to campus. In 1958, the Ducks football team made the Rose Bowl, giving the OMB a chance to sparkle in its first march down Colorado Boulevard.
In 1970, though, the OMB was dead. The student government ceased funding the group—deriding the “military” look of marching bands. “And many members of the band no longer wanted to participate,” remembers Burnette Dillon, who arrived on campus that year as the group’s new director only to learn the band no longer existed. But alumni and fans complained, the University responded, and the OMB returned to the field the next year, with the School of Music requiring its majors to participate. “After that, they had a cartoon of me in the paper standing atop the ladder leading a band that was in shackles,” laughs Dillon. “There was a rebellion against any kind of regimentation. It was the times.”
Today, the all-volunteer, 220-member OMB is enjoying a growth spurt. “We had 153 members in 2006 and I think we’ll be pushing 250 before long,” says Wiltshire. With music majors comprising only 20 percent of the group, the OMB boasts members from many parts of campus. “It is so much fun to be together and support our school,” says senior human physiology major and tenor sax player Sierra Hill. “We’re a tight-knit group.”
You see them everywhere on game days. “We get to the stadium around 7:30 a.m.,” says Hill. “We rehearse for two hours on the field, then split up, some playing for students entering the stadium and others heading to the Mo Center or PK Park and the tailgaters. Then there’s pregame and halftime.”
Amazingly, all their music and intricate field moves are memorized. Wiltshire and assistants Sean Wagoner ’94, MMus ’97, DMA ’01, and Micah Brusse arrange all the music and chart every move each individual makes. Is getting the right people to the right place playing the right music at the right time difficult? “We practice so much that eventually it just turns into muscle memory,” says Hill with a shrug.
Last year it was on to the Rose Bowl, where the biggest challenge was the parade. The route extends nearly six miles. “We were very concerned about our physical preparation,” says Wiltshire. “Eating properly is very important.” Members were told they would each burn between 4,000 and 6,000 calories during the sixteen-hour day. Saxophonist Hill downplayed the concerns. “We’re used to having long days,” she says. “It really wasn’t as hard as they said it might be.”
For Hill, an especially strong memory is of standing on the field at the Rose Bowl performing the “The Star-Spangled Banner” before a worldwide TV audience. “It was awesome how everyone in the stadium came together for that moment. The whole crowd was unified and listening. Then those jets flew over. It was amazing!”
The experience was equally satisfying for Wiltshire: “The Rose Bowl people are so good about featuring the bands and respecting the tradition they embody,” he says. “That’s why it is so important for us to represent ourselves well there—to rise to their high level and stay there. A lot gets thrust upon you during that week and our group responded and adapted.”
It is not surprising, though, that Autzen is the OMB’s preferred venue. Says Wiltshire: “As we’re waiting in the tunnel about to enter Autzen for that first game of the season, I always tell the band, ‘You are about to have an experience you will remember for the rest of your life.’” And they do.
—Paul Roth, MS ’92
It’s a safe bet that not many insurance agents can bench press 300 pounds. Or, as Scott Vossmeyer ’05 says with all modesty and only because he’s asked, “only 300 pounds.”
There’s also a certain amount of irony in a 6-foot-3, 230-pound State Farm insurance agent who loves to crash full-speed into other guys on the football field. And Vossmeyer loves football. If afforded the opportunity, he’d be behind center, reading the opponent’s secondary, motioning his tight end, shouting an audible, barking a hard count as 50,000 fans cheer. He’d be the leader, the guy everyone trusted.
But you don’t always end up where you expected.
The former University of Oregon quarterback and linebacker got serious about football in his junior year at Crescenta Valley High School in La Crescenta, California, not far from the Rose Bowl. Physically gifted, with both size and speed to go with a rocket launcher for an arm, the versatile prep player impressed his coaches on both offense as quarterback and defense as a linebacker. He was soon dreaming of playing football at the next level.
His first goal–egad–was USC, the alma mater of many of Vossmeyer’s relatives. “When you grow up in Southern California, USC was one of those things. It’s where people wanted to go,” recalls Vossmeyer from his office in La Cañada, California.
In his first game as starting quarterback for La Crescenta, he had a great first half. He broke his leg in the second half. His recruitment got put on hold.
He returned his senior season and set the school record for passing yards. But USC fired Vossmeyer’s recruiting coach and the university stopped calling. Dreams of Trojan glory were not to be.
Vossmeyer fell in love with Oregon and picked the Ducks over schools that would have offered him a chance to start immediately. And that was a problem: the Ducks were stacked at quarterback. There was Joey Harrington ’01, a future first-round draft pick and Heisman Trophy finalist. Harrington’s backup was eventual NFL quarterback A.J. Feeley ’00. Then Jason Fife (who played in the NFL) and Kellen Clemens ’05 (you guessed it: NFL) split time as starter before Clemens took over. Vossmeyer languished on the bench while logging time on special teams. Going into his redshirt junior season, he knew he wouldn’t get a chance to start. Frustration set in, and Vossmeyer realized he would have to switch positions for a chance to play. And hey, he liked hitting guys.
“That’s kind of what got me in trouble as a quarterback,” says Vossmeyer, now thirty. “Because I’d take off with the ball and go heads-up with the linebackers.”
He asked linebackers coach Don Pellum ’85, MS ’87, for an opportunity. “I just wanted to play,” Vossmeyer says. “I just wanted to give it a shot.”
He got a shot.
“Scott was a tough guy,” Pellum says. “That’s not to say that quarterbacks aren’t tough, but it’s to say that Scott was unusually tough. He’s a big guy. He certainly looks like [a linebacker].”
A torn knee ligament sidelined Vossmeyer his junior year, but it all came together when he was a senior. Finally.
“The biggest thing about Scott is he loved being on the field,” Pellum says. “Whatever role it was.”
Vossmeyer loved his time at Oregon. The team took trips to places like Lake Shasta every summer, and the players were very close, he says, like family.
After he graduated with a degree in public relations, Vossmeyer knew that playing in the NFL wasn’t realistic. Despite his physical gifts, his lack of playing time meant he wasn’t getting much attention.
There are, however, other options for a collegiate player looking to play professionally. He talked to former Ducks who had played in Germany and decided he wasn’t ready to hang up the cleats.
“After I heard Scott’s story, about his transfer from quarterback to linebacker, I was excited,” says Andreas Mees, who coached the Saarland Hurricanes in the German Football League in 2006. “That’s the kind of player I like, [someone] who does everything for the team, even change position.”
The one season Vossmeyer spent in Germany, alas, didn’t go as planned. He returned to quarterback, but before the season even started the team’s entire starting offensive line had been sidelined with injuries. He often found himself at the mercy of defensive linemen who seemed hell bent on killing him.
“I was running for my life,” he says.
The team finished with a three-and-nine record; Vossmeyer finished with a separated shoulder.
“In the beginning, it was all about football,” Vossmeyer says. “I wasn’t satisfied about how everything ended at Oregon. I wanted another chance to go out there and throw the ball and prove to myself that I could still do it.
“But once I was there and I started to get beat up, it became more about being there and appreciating it.
“The whole atmosphere there was so different. Here it’s all about working out and fast-twitch muscle reflexes and protein shakes and being prepared, and over there, it was just more a love of the game.”
Of all the European countries—many of which have at least one football league—Germany has most enthusiastically embraced the game.
“The crowds there would have those old World War II bombing sirens that you’d crank, and they’d be blasting those when the other team was on offense. And it’d just be, ‘Reeeeeeeeeeowwwwwwww,’” Vossmeyer says, laughing.
It wasn’t Autzen, or the NFL, but it was special.
After the season, he returned to Southern California and had a decision to make: Have shoulder surgery and play for an arena team that was interested in him or get started on his off-field career?
He chose to follow in the footsteps of his father, Richard, a State Farm agent for thirty-one years. Today, Vossmeyer has completed the long agent-certification process. September 1 marks his one-year anniversary; business is good.
But is he satisfied with how his life has turned out?
“I’ve learned to live with it, is what I would say. You know, I would’ve loved a shot at playing at the next level, and seeing if I could compete.
“It’s hard for me to look back and say, ‘Yeah, I wish I would’ve done that.’ Because my experience at Oregon was so great and the people I met in Germany and everything else.
“I’m satisfied,” he continues, pausing. “I’m satisfied. I still have football in my blood. I need to be around it. I’m frustrated when it’s not football season. I love coaching.”
And that’s the salve: coaching. In his spare time he works with local high school quarterbacks.
“I learned a lot from Jeff Tedford [the Ducks’ offensive coordinator and quarterback coach in 2001 and current head football coach at Cal] about quarterbacking and how to be a coach—all of that stuff they just pound in your head. So I’ve got it there, and even though I didn’t always do it right, it’s something I can see and recognize.”
“He was very coachable, and very attentive and very smart,” says Tedford. “Being a student of the game; being responsible and the leadership component of the position—he was always very good at all those things.”
Even though Pellum and Tedford know firsthand about Vossmeyer’s . . . aggressive . . . nature, they both gave the same answer when asked if they’d buy insurance from him.
Says Pellum: “Absolutely. Not a question. Because I trust him.”
Says Tedford: “Oh absolutely. Knowing what I know about him. You always want somebody you could trust.”
Like a quarterback.
—Matt Tiffany, MS ’07
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A Simple Country Doctor
A physician finds compassion and community in a rural Oregon town.
“Why Burns?” friends will ask. They don’t want to come out and say it, but what they mean is, “What in the hell is out there for you?” They see empty buildings and sagebrush, the realities of an abysmal economy that has plagued this part of Oregon for more than thirty years, since the mill went silent. I don’t have a pat answer. For ten years I have lived here because I choose to. “Why Burns?” is not just a question of why I would move to this remote and unique frontier community, but also, “Why are you you?”
I came to medicine later in life than some. For my first twenty-three years, I moved gradually away from my rural upbringing, from a farm boy who sheared sheep for gas money to a social worker with a UO degree living in suburban Portland, with a wife and a monthly rent payment that was a struggle to meet on a nonprofit salary.
Then life changed dramatically, as it often does, through the least dramatic of events. A summer weekend brought another counselor and me to the golf course, to decompress and discuss our joint frustrations. Two pleasant young men celebrating their graduation from medical school completed our foursome. Later, as we loaded our clubs back into my Civic, I said to my colleague, “You know what? I don’t think those guys are any smarter than we are.” That night I informed my wife and visiting father, “I think I am going to go to medical school.” My wife, in her unshakable fortitude, replied, “Oh, and how long would that take?” “As far as I can tell,” I said, “I should be making a paycheck in about ten years.” My father’s reply carried his simple and always poignant wisdom: “Well, in ten years you will be ten years older either way; pumping gas or as a doctor.”
So I went back to school, working the nightshift as a mental health counselor. I loved everything I did, from obstetrics to surgery, emergency care to primary care. Initially I was determined to pursue neurosurgery. One afternoon I informed a friend in the lab (a Hungarian neurosurgeon) that I intended to apply to a neurosurgical residency. He shook his bearded face slowly and said in a heavy accent, “No, no, no, you not be a neurosurgeon.” Offended, I made my case defensively: I had excellent grades, great board scores, research. . . . “No, no, no, you like your patients too much,” he explained. “A neurosurgeon has to love the surgery. He like the patient, but the surgery he love.”
He was right. I did love the people I cared for. I decided I would not be a neurosurgeon, but trauma surgery seemed to be a profession with enough testosterone and adrenaline to keep anyone intoxicated for a lifetime. Before I could apply for the training that I was convinced was my future, however, I was assigned a six-week rural rotation in Burns.
On this rotation I put in my first sutures, ran traumas in the ER, delivered my first baby. Taking care of people was not just about seeing someone in the office; you saw them everywhere they needed you (even the frozen food aisle of Safeway). The doctors here really knew their patients; not by meticulous review of their medical records, but because they went to church with them, hunted with them, sat next to them at high school basketball games.
One day my attending physician and I saw a young woman, halfway through her pregnancy, with complications that needed a specialist evaluation urgently. She and her husband had driven nearly 100 miles to get to us, and when the doctor informed them they would need to drive another 130 miles to the specialist, her husband said, “I don’t know, Doc, I drove in the ranch truck and I don’t think it will make it that far.”
Without pause the doctor reached in his pocket, took out his keys, and said, “My Suburban is in the parking lot, it is full of gas, just leave it there when you get back into town.” My view of what it means to be someone’s doctor changed in that moment.
I returned to the university and told the chair of the surgery department that I would not be pursuing a surgical residency. Instead, I would obtain training to be a rural physician. As she tried to talk me out of this—“It is a waste of your skill to be a family doctor . . . we could get you a fellowship at Duke . . . you will never make a decent income in a practice like that”—I could only think, “She really doesn’t know.” I was fairly certain she had never delivered a baby before dawn, smiling at the cherubic fussiness of a newborn; then held back tears as she consoled a family about the loss of a grandmother; then taken a deep breath and moved on to reassure a middle-aged man that he was not having a heart attack. She had never pulled the keys out of her pocket.
I was in Wisconsin training to prepare for a rural practice when a relative attending a wedding in Burns somehow passed on the information that I was going to be a family doctor. I was asked to consider setting up my practice there, and I knew it was a done deal before I ever got on the plane from Wisconsin.
Practice in Burns was everything I expected and more. I loved the variety, I loved being the last and only line against misery and illness in this community, and I loved caring for people that I cared about. I became a professor for the university, teaching medical students in the same rotation that had changed my life. I had no desire to convince students to be rural doctors, only to teach them to be good and caring doctors, and to that end I hope I have been successful.
So, why Burns? Why live where I look out of my window at a smokestack that stands silent over the remains of a city 100 years past its heyday, where cattle outnumber people, where my phone number is in the book because I know someone would just knock on my door if it were not? Because Burns is beautiful. Sure, I could point out the joy of being on Steens Mountain, looking over the Alvord Desert. The humbling enormity of wide-open space and the majesty of the Malheur National Forest. But these features, however stunning, are not the most inspirational attributes of this small, dry piece of Oregon. Burns is beautiful because it is full of beautiful people—generous people who look you straight in the eye, smile, shake your hand, and actually care when they ask you how your day is going.
Recently, two nice young women from Portland came to our Emergency Department. They were on a long-distance bike ride but one had developed an infection in her leg, easily treated, but making further travel by bike impossible. Their car was in Prairie City, about ninety miles away, and we have no car rentals in our community. They were in a pickle. Without pause I found myself saying, “My van is in the parking lot, it is full of gas. . . . ” I reached in my pocket and handed them my keys.
Kevin Johnston earned a BS in sociology from the UO and an MD from OHSU. He practices medicine in Burns, Oregon, where he lives with his wife, Tammy, and their four daughters.