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.

2 Responses

  1. Hi Bill,

    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.

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