If you didn’t know that Pattie and Mark Björnson were from Minnesota, a few minutes’ conversation would make it apparent. They’re exceedingly nice, smart and serious about ecology and about their work, earnest without any of that self-importance thing.
They also are quietly proud of having fulfilled their dream: starting a vineyard and opening a winery in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. They had lived in Minnesota, raising four kids, until Mark’s work took them to Oregon in 2005 and spawned a vision that had begun with a simpler goal, being organic farmers.
In short order, a 107-acre farm was theirs, and they started planting vines at the Eola-Amity Hills site. Their first wine, a 2009 pinot noir, has a lovely nose and nice cherry and herbal elements, charming, unquestionably Willamette juice.
They came back to the Twin Cities to get with friends, and over lunch I was enjoying hearing their story so much that I did a terrible job of writing down who said what. So here are Pattie or Mark on several topics:
The original plan: “We didn’t know. We thought we would grow and sell and might eventually have a winery. Well, next year we break ground on the winery. We want to get up to 30 acres [they’re halfway there], and we’ll still sell most of it.”
Their terroir: “It can be 90 degrees and the winds pick up and our acres cools down. … Our vineyard ended up with a little more black fruit [than other Willamette locales].”
The right elevation in Willamette: “The sweet spot is 350 to 750 feet. Above that, in a cool year, you’ll have difficulty getting ripe. We’ve had great wine from grapes grown at 1,000 feet, but one out of three years you get no crop.”
Clones: “We really like Wadenswil, one of the original two they used out here. It fell out of favor and now is hot again. It’s spicier and can ripen a little more slowly. We also use Pommard and 777.”
Yields: “We have contracts, but there is just a lot of trust [with clients], so they’re usually OK with buying by the ton. I like to do it by the ton. You go down from 4½ to 2½ tons [per acre] and get more quality, all things being equal it will be better. But from 2½ tons to 1½, that’s not necessarily the case.”
Their focus: “Our priorities are simple: care for the land, make exceptional wine and enjoy life’s journey.”
That’s a set of goals that fits equally well in Minnesota and Oregon.