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In Memory of Gary Andrus

By Karl Klooster


Gary Andrus, owner of Gypsy Dancer, died Friday, Jan. 30 from complications of pneumonia. He was 63.

Personal passions marked Andrus’ life.

He will be most remembered as a man whose passion for Oregon Pinot Noir elevated it to another level. But he also made the U.S. Olympic team as a downhill skier, and he loved fly-fishing for trout, the most cerebrally challenging contest of man versus fish ever contrived.

It’s quite an accomplishment to have made outstanding wine in even one distinct growing region, much less in three. But Andrus’ 30-year career led him to success in California and New Zealand as well as Oregon.

In 1978, he founded Pine Ridge Winery in California’s Napa Valley. He named it after a noted ski area.

He jumped on the California wine bandwagon just as it was beginning to gather speed. And he rode it for all it was worth.

Constructed on a sloping site near Yountville, in the Stag’s Leap AVA at the southern end of California’s most prestigious winegrowing valley, Pine Ridge was ideally situated to take advantage of skyrocketing tourism.

Andrus acquired sites well suited for Cabernet Sauvignon and placed primary emphasis on that variety. He made AVA-designated wines that consistently earned acclaim.

By the time he sold the winery in 2001, its estate vineyards had come to exceed 220 acres. They featured plantings in the majority of the valley’s major sub-appellations—Oakville, Rutherford, Stag’s Leap, Carneros and Howell Mountain.

In the interim, Andrus brought his entrepreneurial bent to the Yamhill Valley. Focusing on the already storied Dundee Hills, he and his then-wife, Nancy, bought a prime piece of hillside land east of Breyman Orchards Road to establish a winery.

The fact that both Domaine Drouhin Oregon and Domaine Serene had chosen to make impressive investments in the same area just a few years earlier obviously didn’t escape their attention.

Andrus introduced innovative vineyard practices that brought earlier ripening. He is credited with leading the way in development of a new approach and style that now dominate the industry.

Within four years, the winery, which they named Archery Summit for a nearby promontory, was asking and getting a previously unheard of $60 per bottle. Other Oregon producers were selling premium Pinots for less than half that.

In doing so, this bold newcomer set a new industry standard. The unmistakable message was: If you’ve got something on a par with the very best anywhere, don’t be shy about backing that up in your marketplace positioning.

It was a calculated gamble, but it paid off.

More established players, confident their best wines were every bit as good, ultimately followed suit. In the end, even at a higher cost per bottle, these individual vineyard and reserve cuvée wines were still considerably less expensive than the renowned Burgundian Pinots to which they were continually being compared.

Andrus found it necessary to relinquish ownership of Archery Summit and Pine Ridge in 2001, owing to a divorce. But Archery Summit has continued to hold its status as one of Oregon’s finest Pinot Noir producers.

Archery Summit’s estate Pinot Noirs enjoy the admirable position of being on allocation. Members of the “A-List”—the winery’s direct sales club—get the first opportunity to purchase new releases. The remainder goes to a select group of retailers and restaurants across the country.

Andrus re-entered the industry in 2002 with the purchase of Intel engineer David Leventhal’s Lion Valley Vineyard, located on the slopes of the Chehalem Range southwest of Hillsboro. He and his second wife, Christine, renamed it Gypsy Dancer.

Leventhal, an inveterate Burgundy buff, planted his vineyards at 4,000 vines per acre. That’s a density unsurpassed in Oregon. In fact, it is almost exclusively seen in the Côte d’Or.

Given the running start of an existing facility, Gypsy Dancer’s first releases of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris were both of the 2002 vintage. And both garnered good reviews. Accolades for its 2003 Pinot Noirs, made from estate and Stoller Vineyards fruit, were even better.

The emergence of New Zealand as one of the few places on earth where the conditions were just right to grow great Pinot Noir grapes caught Andrus’ attention later in 2002.

Central Otaga is a wine district situated at the southern tip of New Zealand’s South Island. It is the only landmass in the Southern Hemisphere crossed by the 45th parallel—the touchstone latitude for Burgundy lovers.

This posed a challenge that Andrus couldn’t resist.

New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blancs had already been embraced as new darlings of the wine world, and the island nation’s Pinots were rapidly rising in reputation. So he bought 42 acres in Central Otaga’s Gibbston Valley and dubbed it Gypsy Dancer Christine Lorrane Cellars.

Results were good in 2003. But the next two years proved near disasters.

The young vines were hit with severe frost damage in 2004 and chilling rains just as the buds were about to flower in 2005. So they yielded only a few hundred cases.

Though 2006 brought favorable growing conditions, boosting production to 6,000 cases, the business couldn’t sustain its heavy debt load. Andrus had to sell out and focus his efforts entirely on Oregon.

Along the way, he mentored appreciative protégés, including Josh Bergström, whose own Pinots are now counted among Oregon’s finest. But over the past year or so, ill health limited his activities.

The Andrus wine legacy is carried forward by a daughter, Danielle Andrus Montalieu, and her husband, Laurent Montalieu. They own Soléna Cellars and co-own the NW Wine Company, the NW Wine Bar and Hyland Vineyards. ◊

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