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Domaine Dobbes Defined

By Karl Klooster


A recent tasting of wines from 12 different producers was testament not only to the considerable winemaking talents, but also substantial management skills of Joe Dobbes. That’s because he made the wines for every one of them.

Combining winemaking ability with seemingly boundless energy explains how he can successfully coordinate so many projects at once—that, plus long experience. His youthful look belies the fact that 2009 marks Dobbes’ 20th year on the Oregon wine scene.

Over those two decades, he honed his winemaking expertise at Hinman Vineyards, Willamette Valley Vineyards, Eola Hills Wine Cellars and Tualatin Estate. Then he founded his own winery, Dobbes Family Estate—and launched the Wine By Joe brand—in 2003.

Apprenticeship stints in the Germany’s Nahe and France’s Burgundy regions brought an Old World perspective to his approach, marrying time-honored techniques with modern technology.

A total production of 84,000 cases for 2008 makes his winery in Dundee the fourth largest in Oregon. Of that, 20,000 cases will carry the Wine By Joe and Dobbes Family Estate labels, with the balance bearing other winery labels.

The custom crush aspect of Dobbes’ business keeps the multi-tasking winemaker and his 16-person staff constantly on their toes. It brings into play not only a diverse range of wine types and grape origins, but also a wide spectrum of winery owner expectations.

Together, all of these disciplines and demands constitute what could be dubbed Domaine Dobbes. Like a Burgundian négociant-éleveur, he brings together fruit from numerous different sources and, in the process of vinifying it, raises it to a higher standard.

However, unlike the négociant, who markets all the wines he makes, Dobbes markets only his own. He leaves the marketing of the others to the individual owners, all of whom have a close, personal involvement with their brands.

Proudly pouring at the Dobbes Extended Family Event, held in the winery on a sunny Sunday, were Alexeli, Barron-Wahl, Cliff Creek, Elstrom Estate, Fox Farm, Paschal, Quailhurst, South Stage, Trinity, Vitae Springs and Youngberg Hill.

Each owner had his or her unique story to tell. Here are several of them, recounting how they got into the wine business and why they’re so enamored with it.

AlexEli Vineyard & Winery

Just a year ago, in May 2008, brothers Anthony and Philip Kramer bought the Marquam Hill Vineyard, which was planted by the Dobbes family in 1982. They named their winery AlexEli—a combination of their middle names—and contracted with Dobbes to produce their wine.

Access to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Müller-Thurgau grapes from quarter-century-old vines gave them a large leg up in launching their new venture.

Dobbes knows the vineyard inside out. And the Kramers, both of whom are avid wine buffs, have placed their trust in him to craft wines that will quickly put them on the map.

Barron-Wahl Vineyards

Washington County’s newest winery is boutique Barron-Wahl, whose production was 360 cases in 2008. When Gordon Barron and William Wahl decided to make wine from their 10-acre vineyard near Sherwood, they turned to Dobbes.

Their first release, a 2006 Pinot Noir, captured a bronze medal at the 2008 Oregon State Fair.

Cliff Creek Cellars

Cliff Creek Cellars grows “big red” grapes in Southern Oregon, has Dobbes vinify them in Dundee and sells them through a tasting room in Carlton.

Three generations of the Garvin family are involved in the all-red enterprise, which encompasses Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and a Claret blend that has taken top honors in numerous competitions.

Elstrom Estate

Rich Elstrom owns a dandy little vineyard on Breyman Orchards Road, in the heart of the Dundee Hills, that yields organically grown Pinot Gris planted in 1977.

Elstrom Estate’s limited-production Pinot Gris comes from those grapes, as well as a Pinot Noir, combining grapes from vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills.

Paschal Winery

The close working relationship Dobbes enjoys with the Paschal Winery in Talent dates back to its first vintage in 1998.

Working with owner Roy Paschal and general manager Agnieszka Stachurska, he crafts a diverse portfolio of Rogue Valley wines for them. It includes Syrah, Tempranillo, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, a Bordelaise red blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec, a European red blend of Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Dolcetto and Syrah and a white blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Muscat.

Fox Farm Vineyards

Partners David Fish and Thomas Ratcliff refer to Fox Farm Vineyards as one of the smallest wine companies in Dundee. They source grapes from the Willamette and Rogue valleys, striving for wines of “extremely high quality at extremely sensible prices.”

To achieve this, they rely on Joe Dobbes, their “creative genius at the helm.” They said he has “the know-how, the background, the connections and the skill.”

They’ll be opening a tasting room in Newberg come July.

Quailhurst Wines

Marvin Hausman, physician, scientist, horseman and owner of Quailhurst Wines, harvests an average of 15 tons of Pinot Noir grapes annually from the boutique vineyard on his handsome 35-acre estate near Sherwood. Matt Novak of Results Partners tends the vines, and Dobbes makes the wines: vineyard-designate Pinot Noir, Rosé, Pinot Noir Port and a varietal white called Virtuoso.

South Stage Cellars

Don and Traute Moore planted the 13-acre Quail Run Vineyards just outside Jacksonville 20 years ago. They now own 280 acres spread over 10 vineyards but until recently sold all their grapes to others.

With the founding of South Stage Cellars, that has changed. A small portion of the couple’s production is now dedicated to their own wines, which are sold primarily at their tasting room and wine garden in historic downtown Jacksonville.

As with the others who chose to have their wines made Dobbes’ Dundee facility, the Moores consider it an excellent arrangement for their needs.

Trinity Vineyards

Steve and Cindy Parker shared a dream of owning a vineyard. They got serious about it in 1993 and found a place south of Salem on which a long-neglected one languished.

The couple brought the place they call Trinity Vineyards back from the brink, and are now growing Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris there, employing sustainable, low-yield practices.

They pick and take their Willamette Valley grapes to Dundee, as well as Syrah and Viognier purchased in Southern Oregon. Dobbes makes Trinity’s four wines, endeavoring to fulfill the Parkers’ hope of offering some of the best from both regions.

Vitae Springs Vineyard

Vitae Springs Vineyard, just south of Salem, is one of the oldest vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Its 35 acres consist of Pinot Noir, 25 acres, Pinot Gris, 5 acres, Riesling 2 1/2 acres and Grüner Veltliner, a few vines.

Owners Earl and Pam VanVolkinburg have sold grapes to others for many years, most prominently, St. Innocent Winery. They now have a small quantity of their own wine made under the Vitae Springs label. Current production stands at 520 cases.

Youngberg Hill Vineyard & Inn

When Wayne and Nicolette Bailey conceived Youngberg Hill Vineyard & Inn, their thinking was sky-high a soaring hilltop perch, a view to die for, first-class accommodations exuding both hominess and sophistication.

The bonus was sparse, mineral-laden soil, forming slopes so steep you’d think you were in Germany’s Mosel River Valley. The vines they planted and the grapes they yield have made Youngberg Hill both a luxury B&B and a top tier wine tasting destination.

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