By Mark Stock
Greg Cramer isn’t afraid to tell you how the future is full of delightful unknowns. Twenty years ago, the man with a doctorate in chemistry was working on food safety issues for the USDA. Today, Cramer owns MarshAnne Landing with his wife, Fran, in the Umpqua Valley of Southern Oregon. Initially simply a tasting room, MarshAnne’s headquarters is now home to what Cramer calls “cultural tourism.”
The private setting, where estate wines like Tempranillo and rosé of Grenache are poured, has turned, by default and public praise, into a lauded little music venue. Every year acts ranging from opera to chamber orchestras to Elvis impersonators occupy the winery’s indoor alcove and outdoor deck. This year, there are 15 shows scheduled, including mainstays like the Oregon Mozart Players and Eugene Opera.
“Wineries have a unique opportunity to provide a venue for something truly special,” Cramer said. Lovely acoustics, an eclectic mix of artists, newsletters and word-of-mouth advertising have placed MarshAnne Landing on a certain pedestal. Cramer is extremely excited at just the mention of a few of this summer’s performers, including a Portuguese duo traveling to Oregon on a government grant. “The group is a real surprise, and they’re so good we thought one day wasn’t enough, so we made it two.”
Music wasn’t absent entirely from Cramer’s crystal ball. The one-time concert choir singer describes his scariest moment in musical terms, an A-flat to be exact. He doesn’t sing much anymore, at least not in public, but he’s just as fascinated as ever by strong vocalists. In fact, the tone Cramer uses when talking about challenging arias or gifted cellists is that of a physicist discussing the Higgs boson. That is to say, fascinated, enamored and totally absorbed.
The cultural tourism angle extends beyond just music. MarshAnne Landing offers a gallery featuring sculptures, quilts, pottery, glasswork and jewelry. Naturally, there’s the wine, leaning prominently on Rhone varietals like Syrah, Cab Franc, Merlot, Chardonnay and Viognier. Cramer dubs his wines “landing fluids,” playing off the extraterrestrial sound of his label (as in “martian”). He prefers the phrase “out of this world” to describe both his wines and the musicians he hosts at his winery.
MarshAnne began in the late 1990s when Cramer and family visited to climb Mount Hood. He fell in love with the Pacific Northwest and knew the potential for other-worldly grapes in Southern Oregon. They planted in 1999 on a former stagecoach stop in the hills outside Roseburg and opened the tasting room in 2006. By 2007, the Cramers had hosted their first musical performance, a jazz show. Today, the Cramers have a devoted following of concert-goers who continually tell him that “nobody is doing what you’re doing with music.”
And it’s quite true. The setting is very homey, intimate and often catered by Cramer himself. Audience members — of which there are about 40 to 60 on any given show night — hang out and talk with the artists, over wine and bites. Artists like Svetlana Kotova and Craig Einhorn play just feet from their fans. Essentially, it’s a living room performance with superb acoustics by skillful musicians from all kinds of genres.
Cramer jokes about hosting a show last autumn during harvest. As MarshAnne’s winemaker, Cramer has his hands full that time of year. But his love of music prevailed, and he went on with a show, against a rational person’s better judgment. Yet, some winemakers have their superstitions, stated or otherwise, and many involve music. Perhaps it was the music wafting from the tasting room that set the stage for a wonderful 2012 vintage.
MarshAnne Landing’s 16 acres are not far from HillCrest Vineyard, Oregon’s oldest wine label, founded in 1961. Cramer turns out about 1,000 cases per year, which keeps him and his wife plenty busy year round. And as grape-friendly as his site is, Cramer’s tasting room is just as much a center for cultural tourism as it is small-batch wines. Cramer seems to believe in context, and when top-notch wine meets top-notch live music along with a slew of other art installations, enrichment is achieved.
I can’t help but ask Cramer whom he might want to host; any musician, dead or alive. He pauses briefly, but fires back with an almost prerecorded response: “David Gustafson, tenor,” he says. The oratorio singer is part of the San Francisco opera and took on what Cramer describes as “the most challenging music” during his performance at MarshAnne Landing. For a discerning fine arts enthusiast to choose a relatively unknown name who performed at his own place is pretty special; the acoustics and scene when the stage is set out in Oakland, Ore. must be something special indeed.