Profile: Mark & Pattie Bjornson, Bjornson Vineyard
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.
Time flies when you’re planting grapes and building a winery (i.e. having fun)! Somehow I missed this, but thanks for the write-up. As a follow-up, we’ve now got 28 acres of vines, a winery built, and if I don’t tear my hair out – the wine production area will be open this fall for harvest (it better be because we have agreements with several winemakers to process ~100 tons). Next year we’ll open the tasting room and you and your wife have an open invitation. Cheers.
Cheers back at ya, Pattie. Look forward to visiting in the near future.