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Linfield College partners with Southern Oregon to explore wine history

Southern Oregon wine pioneer Richard Sommers, courtesy of HillCrest VineyardLinfield College has embarked on a unique new wine history project with Southern Oregon.

Linfield’s Oregon Wine History Archive, founded in 2011, is home to collections from some of the most significant wineries, vineyards and wine organizations in the Willamette Valley. The collection includes irreplaceable historical documents and memorabilia from early growers in the area. Now, a new grant from the Oregon Wine Board will allow the school to broaden its outreach and ensure that historical materials are preserved in Southern Oregon as well.

Linfield College will partner with the Southern Oregon Wine Institute, Southern Oregon Historical Society, Southern Oregon University and Douglas County Museum to preserve the wine industry history of Southern Oregon. The Umpqua and Rogue Valleys are home to some of the first winemakers in the state and of particular significance to the Oregon wine story. Several wineries have historical roots in the pre-prohibition era, and Southern Oregon wine pioneer Richard Sommer produced Oregon’s first pinot noir in 1967. Today, the region is home to nearly 80 wineries.

“It’s human nature to believe history began the day we were born,” say Dyson and Susan DeMara, proprietors of HillCrest Vineyard, the oldest estate winery in Oregon. “But it’s important to learn about and honor those who have helped us arrive where we are today.”

An initial survey of Southern Oregon wineries will provide a working knowledge of historical materials in the region. Partner institutions will gather and preserve items such as photographs, diaries, scrapbooks, planting notes, wine recipes, maps, newsletters, wine labels, newspaper articles and advertising materials from early days to the present.

Also, an oral history series called “Pioneer Profiles” will capture vital firsthand knowledge and memories of early winemakers. The effort will be modeled on research conducted by Linfield College students and professors, who collected and digitized oral histories from Willamette Valley wine pioneers. Transcriptions will be available for researchers, wine tourists and wine aficionados on DigitalCommons@Linfield, and oral histories and collection information will be made available at each partner institution.

It’s a story worth preserving, according to Linfield College archivist Rachael Woody. “By partnering with our southern institutional peers, and with support from the Oregon Wine Board, we can begin to preserve and promote a fuller picture of Oregon’s wine legacy. Hopefully, this will be the first of many projects together.”

For more information about the Oregon Wine History Archive, contact Woody at rwoody@linfield.edu or (503) 883-2734.