Linfield College establishes Oregon’s first wine history archive

New historical archive, research, signifies maturing of Oregon wine industry

McMINNVILLE, Ore. — A new Oregon Wine History Archive is one more indicator that the once-fledging Oregon industry has come of age.

Second-generation growers are now managing wineries and vineyards, while their first-generation predecessors have become the subject of research and historical preservation efforts — signaling a transition. What was perceived by some as a largely experimental venture is now a major economic force in the state.

Linfield College in Oregon recently established an archive that will house irreplaceable historical documents and memorabilia from early growers in the Willamette Valley.

Wine growers represented in the collection include David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard, Dick Erath of Erath Winery, Diana and David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards, Dick and Nancy Ponzi of Ponzi Vineyards, Myron Redford of Amity Vineyards, and Susan and Bill Sokol Blosser of Sokol Blosser Winery.

The new Linfield archive will document the colorful and sometimes quirky history of what was once an upstart industry. Early growers planted grapes in Oregon against the advice of experts, with what one called “more guts than brains.” One grower lived in a lumberjack shack with his family; another built his first winery with a leftover chicken-house roof. They lost crops to shoulder-high weeds and one frantically bought garden hoses in an attempt to save grapes planted in August. And they helped initiate the national movement toward green agriculture.

Primary source documents will include growers’ exploratory notes about winemaking, and early promotional materials, land-use maps, meeting notes, newsletters and articles from prominent national and international press, among other items.

In a show of long-term commitment, Linfield has secured a $1 million endowment to establish the Linfield Center for the Northwest, which sponsors, in part, research and educational outreach connected to the Oregon wine industry. Linfield faculty and students have collected oral histories and digitized historical documents, and they are currently producing a documentary about the history of the International Pinot Noir Celebration, held each year on the Linfield campus.

The small college is located near the birthplace of the earliest vineyards in the Willamette Valley, and Erath, who has helped fund research at the school, said, “They say all politics is local, and I think all history should be local. So it makes sense that these papers should be at Linfield.”

As of 2009 there were 387 wineries and 835 vineyards in Oregon, and the state is third in the nation in the number of wineries.