Wine Center Opening in Mac

November 2009

By Karl Klooster

Next month, downtown McMinnville will become home to a brand new business. It’s the brainchild of Jim Bernau, the founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards, and one of his employees, Meg Murray.

Always brimming over with innovative ideas, Bernau put together the state’s only stockholder-owned and -financed winery operation in 1988. While maintaing handcrafted quality, he grew his brand into the third largest winery in Oregon, with distribution in all 50 states and many foreign countries.

His latest venture, The Willamette Valley Vineyards Wine Center, combines elements that could only have been conceived by someone wearing the hats of both entrepreneur and industry booster.

Scheduled to open Saturday, Nov. 21, the Center, located at 300 Third St., is designed around sustainability, a philosophy and commitment that runs deep within the Oregon wine industry.

Murray said they decided to locate in McMinnville because it is the perfect place to begin a wine adventure. She will manage a staff of eight employees, offering tasting, retail sales, interpretive displays and detailed information about Willamette Valley wine touring, lodging and dining options.

Visitors will be able to take advantage of a concierge-style service wherein employees suggest possible touring alternatives, assist in planning itineraries and help to make reservations and arrange appointments.

The Center’s interpretive element sets it apart from other retail outlets. Visitors will be able to view displays explaining the region’s geology, showing examples of actual soil types.

Enlargements of American Viticultural Area maps will give them a comprehensive perspective of key growing areas, as well as the extent and specific locations of vineyard development within them.

Bernau said they intend to point out the long-term potential of the Willamette Valley’s wine future. Within the super-AVAs’ 3.3 million-acre boundaries, more than 100,000 still-unplanted acres have been identified as well suited to winegrapes.

That fact, along with all the attributes that brought Oregon’s wine pioneers here in the late ’60s and early ’70s, will be conveyed within the Center’s 2,800-square-foot floor space.

Fittingly reflecting the fundamental “green” theme, the flooring is made from recycled cork.

On the left, as you walk through the front entrance, a large wall features a 9-foot by 5-foot area upon which will be projected ever-changing wine country images, including photographs by award-winning photographer/author Jánis Miglavs.

One particularly impressive fixture is a 19-foot-long wooden table designed to seat 20 people for formal tastings. The massive piece incorporates backless bench seating and was custom made for the space from reclaimed poplar.

The central focus, of course, will be on the local industry’s ecologically sensitive practices, including L.I.V.E. and Salmon-Safe, as well as the values and benefits of organics and Biodynamics.

Though primarily concentrating on the Willamette Valley, staff members will also be prepared to provide information on the industry statewide.

Selected wines will be available to taste from Willamette Valley Vineyards’ current portfolio and others. Tasting options will be divided into three categories, beginning with a complimentary tasting of three WVV wines.

The second category, three reserve wines, will cost $5 per person. The fee will be refunded with a purchase of $50 or more.

The third is a comparative flight with four to six wines from other area wineries. Tasters will have the opportunity to compare WVV to the other selected brands at $10 per person, which will be refunded with a purchase of $100 or more. WVV will not be selling other wineries’ wines but rather referring customers to their location to visit and purchase.

With proof of residency, all Yamhill County residents will receive an additional 5-percent discount.

Though the new facility in McMinnville is a one-of-a-kind in Oregon, this is not WVV’s first venture into wine tourism promotion beyond its own facility in Turner on Interstate 5, south of Salem.

In September, Bernau partnered with The Salem Convention and Visitors Association’s Travel Salem to open a tasting room and retail outlet at their Travel Café Visitors Center in downtown Salem.

“We wanted a partner that exemplified the best of the tourism industry—innovation, sustainability and an internationally recognized brand,” said Travel Salem CEO Angie Morris. “We got all of that and more with Willamette Valley Vineyards.”

Bernau described his newest contribution to the Oregon wine scene as “A gateway with a mission.”

To reach as many people as possible in striving to carry out that mission, Murray will keep the gateway doors on McMinnville’s Third Street open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. ◊

Willamette Valley Vineyards Wine Center

Address: 300 Third Street, McMinnville
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.–7 p.m.
Information: 800-344-9463;

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