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5/14/2009 Linfield to honor David Lett at commencement

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            McMINNVILLE -- David Lett, whose visionary work established Oregon's world-renowned wine industry, will be honored posthumously at the 2009 Linfield College commencement exercises Sunday, May 31, at 10 a.m. in the Oak Grove.

            Lett, founder of The Eyrie Vineyards, will be presented with an honorary doctor of science degree for his pioneering effort to establish the wine industry in the Willamette Valley. His son, Jason Lett, will accept the degree on behalf of his father and family and will present the commencement address, "Castles in the Air."

            David Russell Lett was born in Chicago and moved to Utah at an early age where he graduated from high school and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Utah following a stint in the Coast Guard.

            His plan to become a dentist was derailed after a visit to one of the few artisan wineries in the Napa Valley where, over the course of one day, he found his calling. He completed a Bachelor of Science in viticulture at the University of California at Davis and then spent several months in northern Europe researching specific climate requirements of Pinot noir and related varieties. He became convinced that Oregon's Willamette Valley offered the best climate in America for the varieties. At the age of 25, he arrived in Oregon in 1965 “with 3,000 grapevine cuttings and a theory."  In 1966, he and his wife, Diana, established The Eyrie Vineyards in the Red Hills of Dundee and they produced their first vintage in 1970. In tastings in France in 1979 and 1980, a 1975-vintage Eyrie Pinot noir put the wine world on notice that Oregon vineyards could produce world-class wines, a reputation that has continued to flourish. Lett was one of the first of many successful and renowned Oregon winemakers, earning the nickname "Papa Pinot." He served as mentor and employer to many other young winemakers who have gone on to establish their own successful wineries.

            Lett was a founding member of the Oregon Winegrowers Association, the Oregon Wine Advisory Board and the International Pinot Noir Celebration. He also was active in farmland preservation and agriculture issues in Oregon, and served on the board of 1000 Friends of Oregon for over 30 years. He received awards and honors from numerous organizations.

            Jason Lett is a second-generation winemaker and vineyard manager of The Eyrie Vineyards. He also started BlackCap Wines and is one of the founders of the Portland Indie Wine Fest, now in its fifth year. As the son of David and Diana Lett, Jason combines lifelong involvement with his family's vineyards, wine experience in New Zealand and Europe, and research in plant ecology. He likes to connect the rationality of research to the art of wine. He received a bachelor's degree magna cum laude from the University of New Mexico. In addition to the winery, he and his wife and two children tend a small farm.

            Linfield President Thomas L. Hellie will preside over the ceremony in which 627 candidates for degrees will be presented. There are 375 candidates for degrees from the McMinnville Campus, 143 from the Portland Campus and 109 from the Adult Degree Program.

            The Nursing Closing Convocation Ceremony for students from the Linfield-Good Samaritan School of Nursing will be held that afternoon at 2:30 p.m. in the Ted Wilson Gymnasium on the McMinnville Campus. Baccalaureate will be held Saturday, May 30, at 6 p.m. in the Ted Wilson Gymnasium. Rodney R. Romney, a Linfield alumnus and former trustee, will speak on "Finding a Sense of Sacred Purpose."

For more information about commencement, call 503-883-2202. 

(Photo by Doreen L. Wynja)