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The Lewis & Clark Wine Trail

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by Ellisa Valo

Starting from campus, the vinous adventurer can travel in just about any direction to discover a winery that is owned, operated, or staffed by a graduate of Lewis & Clark College.

Travel north and you may come across alumnus-owned Dimmick Cellars, which makes its wine in an urban Portland “microwinery” facility known as Hip Chicks Do Wine.

Head west through Oregon’s wine valleys and you can visit several wineries owned by fellow graduates, including Lemelson Vineyards, Francis Tannahill Winery, Anne Amie Vineyards, Brick House Vineyards, Elk Cove Vineyards, and many others.

Turn south toward California’s Napa Valley and you can catch up with alumni at the well-known ZD Wines and Groth Vineyards, as well as several smaller boutique wineries.

And if you travel east–way east–you might even share a glass of Sangiovese with Michael Falchini ‘94 at Casale-Falchini in Tuscany.

At first glance, Lewis & Clark may not strike you as a college that would cultivate winemakers. There is no agricultural program here. We offer no degrees in the wine arts. And yet, many of our graduates have chosen paths that lead not to boardrooms, but to barrel rooms.

As some of the leaders in the field, these alumni have helped raise the stature of the humble grape to America’s highest-value fruit crop and grow an industry that contributes an estimated $50 billion annually to the U.S. economy. More than 92 percent of that economic impact comes from California, Washington, and Oregon, three of the top four wine-producing states in the country.

We caught up with three wine professionals whose Lewis & Clark studies ranged from political science to philosophy to art history, and we asked: How did you get from here to there? Each tells a unique tale: One took the direct route, joining the family winery right out of college; another took the scenic route, exploring a thrilling career abroad before coming home to launch a second career in viticulture; and the third pursued a path somewhere in between the two, following her own passion until the lure of the family wine business became irresistible.

Regardless of the road that brought them to the wine life, each can no longer imagine being anywhere else. For them, a high-rise office will never have the allure of a subterranean cellar. A freeway commute is no match for an afternoon on a tractor. And a cup of coffee in a break room will never compare to the elation of a new vintage in the glass.

Cultivating Earth

“It’s so provocative to work with fruit grown in these little tapestries of soil. Coming to understand how each of these microsites translates into wine is a big part of what I’m here to do.”

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Doug Tunnell ‘72, the founder of Oregon’s Brick House Vineyards, came to the wine life via the scenic route. After studying philosophy and international affairs at Lewis & Clark, he enjoyed a long and successful career abroad as a CBS foreign correspondent before a cluster of small epiphanies led him to make a U-turn and head home, determined to plant his future in the fertile soil of the Willamette Valley.

Doug spent much of his 18-year news career in Beirut, covering Lebanon’s explosive civil war. Bouncing from one perilous situation to the next to capture a story firsthand was exhilarating work. But at some point, says Doug, “The business changed radically. The packaging of news became more important than the news itself. When that happened, I knew I didn’t have a future in it.”

In the late 1980s, still with CBS, Doug moved to a small town in Germany, where he developed a taste for white wines. One morning, he realized: “My neighbor and I are both going to work, but I’m climbing into a BMW and he’s climbing onto a tractor.” Doug liked the looks of that tractor.

After two years in Germany, Doug moved to France, and soon he was spending every free weekend exploring vineyards. When he heard the news that France’s Domaine Drouhin winery was buying 120 acres in Dundee, he turned to his wife and said, “Oh my God, we’ve got to buy an old farm and plant some grapes!”

Doug found his farm–40 acres surrounding an old brick house–just outside Newberg. In 1990 he planted his first vineyards and began growing organic grapes.

“Farming organically was fundamental to me,” says Doug. As a boy, he had grown up fishing and swimming in the Willamette River. “It was a Huck Finn kind of existence,” he says. “The only down side was that we were literally in the effluent of two pulp mills. When I finally started farming in the Willamette Valley watershed, it was my fervent desire not to contribute to the kind of pollution that I fished in, swam in, drank and ate from as a kid.”

Brick House has been certified organic from the start, employing chemical-free farming methods that respect the soil as a living system. In recent years, Doug has taken his commitment to natural farming even further, incorporating biodynamic principles that nurture the entire farm as a living and interrelated system. In 2005, Brick House became one of the few Oregon wineries to achieve biodynamic certification.

Doug’s goal for his wines is to express their “terroir”–the soil, site, and climate in which they grow. “We’re in a southeast-facing bowl with hills that roll due north, hills that roll from side to side, and ridges that roll to the west and east,” says Doug. “I’ve got ridgetops with 11 inches of topsoil and very red clay, and I’ve got swales with 41⁄2 feet of topsoil that’s white and full of silica. It’s so provocative to work with fruit grown in these little tapestries of soil. Coming to understand how each of these microsites translates into wine is a big part of what I’m here to do.”

One of his great pleasures these days, says Doug, is driving his tractor. “I really love the sensation of moving the earth, of turning the soil.” And then, of course, there’s the wine. “It’s a great thrill to be able to produce a product that people love and take away and share with their friends at the dinner table,” says Doug. “It’s every bit as thrilling as covering a great story.”

Cultivating Grapes

“Everything you need to produce wine–fruit, sugar, and yeast–is on the grape cluster out there in the vineyard. If you bring in high-quality grapes, then you can just let nature do its thing.”

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Adam Campbell ‘95 grew up among some of Oregon’s first commercial wine grapes. He was three years old in 1974 when his parents, Pat and Joe, started Elk Cove Vineyards, one of the state’s founding wineries. In those days, there were only about 200 acres of vineyards in all of Oregon; today, there are close to 15,000.

Adam spent every summer in the vineyards with his brothers and sisters, pruning, pulling leaves, and serving as “the main source of labor” for his parents’ fledgling wine business. Today, as the winemaker and co-owner of the family business, he is grateful for that background. “When you’re managing 25 full-time employees,” he says, “it’s nice to know that you’ve done every one of their jobs at one time or another.”

Joining the family business wasn’t a given for Adam. His parents encouraged him to get an education and explore other interests. As a student at Lewis & Clark, he studied political science, traveled, and considered law school. But after spending his junior year in Australia, he missed the vineyards. “Coming back for my senior year, I knew I needed to make a decision,” says Adam, “and the thing I was most passionate about was our vineyards.”

After graduation, Adam hit the vineyards full time, scouting out new land, planting new vines, and managing the existing vineyards. Within three years, he had doubled the winery’s vineyard acreage and significantly improved the quality of the vineyard work.

“By then, I started to feel some ownership over the grapes I had grown,” says Adam. “After three years of growing and tasting what was on the vine, I wanted to get more involved in producing wine that really reflected what I was tasting in the vineyard.” Adam joined his father as co-winemaker in 1997, and in 1999 he bottled his first solo vintage.

Today, says Adam, “my wine making philosophy is definitely rooted in the vineyard.” For him, that means taking an intensive, hands-on approach to vineyard management to grow the best possible grapes.

“Everything you need to produce wine–fruit, sugar, and yeast–is on the grape cluster out there in the vineyard,” says Adam. “If you bring in high-quality grapes, then you can just let nature do its thing.”

In the vineyard, Adam focuses on keeping yields low–even if it means cutting off half of his grapes, to increase the concentration of flavors in the grapes that remain. Next to choosing the optimal harvest date, he says, that may be the most important thing he does as a winemaker.

In the winery, he says, a gentle, hands-off approach is key to quality. Careful grape selection and the use of gravity rather than pumps to transfer grapes into tanks may be more work, he admits, “but ultimately you get less-marked wines.” His goal is to create the kind of wines he likes to drink: “wines that have power and finesse at the same time.”

In addition to grapes, Adam is busy cultivating the next crop of Campbells. He and his wife have three children. They hope their kids will grow to love the family business, but they plan to be low-pressure about it. “I’ll encourage them to get an education in whatever excites them, the way my parents did,” says Adam. “They should love to learn, first, and if that has to do with wine making, that’s great. If it had to do with marketing and sales, that would be even better!”

Cultivating Relationships

“Having a good experience with the wine, and then coming back and having another good experience–that’s what really creates a customer.”

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Suzanne Groth Jones ‘92 initially resisted the lure of the family business. Her parents purchased vineyards in Oakville, located in California’s Napa Valley, as an investment in 1981 and opened Groth Vineyards and Winery in 1982. Just three years later, wine critic Robert Parker gave their very first reserve cabernet 100 points. It was the first California cabernet ever to earn a perfect score, and it put Groth on the fine wine map.

As exciting as it was, says Suzanne, “I really didn’t want to do wine. That was my parents’ thing. I wanted to work in museums and the art world–that was my thing.”

As a student at Lewis & Clark, Suzanne says, “I was on a totally different path.” She created a self-designed major in art history, which she studied while on an overseas program to France, and developed a love for painting. After college, she moved to San Francisco, where she volunteered in a gallery and found work as a hotel concierge.

“I got really good at giving people advice about where to go in Napa,” she says. “After a while, people began asking me, ‘Why aren’t you in the wine business? You obviously love it.’ After about the tenth comment like that, I swallowed my pride, called my dad, and said, OK, I’m ready to learn.”

Suzanne’s father introduced her to a distributing company in the Bay Area, where she went to work learning the art of sales. After four years, she came to appreciate how solid Groth’s brand really was, and by January 1999, she was ready to join the family team.

“There’s no real trick to marketing our wines,” says Suzanne. “Our secret is simply to have a great relationship with our distributors and our customers.” As Groth’s first regional salesperson, she committed herself to maintaining the family’s excellent relationships with its longtime West Coast distributors. “Some of them have been selling our wine since the day we opened, so I kept running into people I had met growing up,” says Suzanne. “It was really cool, coming full circle and getting to work with them.”

When Suzanne had her first child a few years ago, she moved into a public relations position at Groth so she could stay closer to home. One of the first things she focused on was fostering better relationships with the winery’s best customers. Loyal fans were often disappointed when the reserve cabernet would sell out before they had a chance to buy any. Suzanne helped start a wine club that guarantees them an opportunity to buy. She also presents special events for club members, including bike rides through Oakville and wine-and-food-pairing seminars. “I really want to give them a taste of what we do,” she says, “rather than just a tourist experience.”

Groth’s wines continue to get favorable ratings in the press, but Suzanne doesn’t use ratings to promote the wines. “Our customers don’t buy based on numbers,” she says. “Having a good experience with the wine, and then coming back and having another good experience–that’s what really creates a customer.”

Working in the winery has allowed Suzanne to blend all of her interests. From her home studio overlooking a vineyard, she creates original paintings to announce each new vintage of reserve cabernet. She maintains cherished relationships with her customers–“I’ll never give that up.” And she is passing on her love of the family business to her son, Jackson. “If we succeed in showing Jackson that this is a thing worth keeping alive and being passionate about,” says Suzanne, “I think that will be my greatest success.”

Freelance writer and wine enthusiast Ellisa Valo diligently researched the products of each of the profiled wineries and can personally vouch for their quality.

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