By Karl Klooster
I got to know Trudy and Keith Kramer back in the early 1990s.
They were among a still small and tenaciously self-sufficient group of dedicated people forming the second wave of winery owners in Northwestern Oregon. When they arrived on the scene in 1983, Yamhill County was only beginning to emerge as the heart of the Willamette Valley.
Those who chose to join the little band of vine- and wine-inclined pioneers embarked on what was initially derided as a foolhardy misadventure; and they had to do almost as much groundbreaking as their predecessors.
The Kramers came to their calling honestly. Having taken up the hobby of home winemaking while students at Washington State University in the 1970s, they continued the pursuit after moving to Warren, Ore., a small rural community south of St. Helens.
The objects of their oenological efforts in those days included oranges and berries, which, according to Trudy, turned out to be surprisingly good. They entered wines in amateur competitions and came away with numerous awards.
Winegrapes first captured their attention in 1980 - Pinot Noir, in particular.
"We took a class from wine writer Matt Kramer in Portland," Trudy said. "The class on the wines of Burgundy included one from Matt's cellar that he said was the perfect Pinot Noir. It was phenomenal - a Domaine de la Romanée-Conti."
Romanée-Conti (Ro-ma-nay Kohn-tee) is, in fact, the most famous, costly and coveted Grand Cru Burgundy in the world. Already hugely expensive 30 years ago, it's limited to multi-millionaires today. Its outstanding 2005 vintage, for example, commands nearly $30,000 a bottle!
Captivated by the distinctive character of Pinot Noir, as well as its white counterpart, Chardonnay, the Kramers began visiting area wineries to taste young wines.
It wasn't long before the die was cast. They would buy land somewhere in Yamhill County. They would grow their own grapes and make their own wine.
Pinot Noir would be their flagship wine, but not their only one. What they grew would depend on the suitability of the place.
Finding that suitable place, where they could also make their new home, took some time.
They ultimately came across a sloping hilltop parcel in the coastal foothills just southwest of Gaston. The vineyard is, today, part of the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA.
As with everything they have done from that time to the present, the Kramers put in the vineyard themselves.
In 1984, they planted their first Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Between 1986 and 1988, they added Pinot Gris, Muscat and Müller-Thurgau.
Today, they have 18 acres of producing vines - seven acres of Pinot Noir clones Pommard, Wadenswil and Dijon, three acres of Dijon Chardonnay, three acres of Pinot Gris, three acres of Müller-Thurgau and one acre of Carmine.
Two additional acres are ready to plant, and four more were recently cleared. The newest block will be devoted to Pinot Meunier and Grüner Veltliner, eventually bringing total estate acreage to 24.
The soils are Peavine and Willakenzie, silty loams ideal for grape growing.
With vines that top out at the 700-foot level, their fruit ripens relatively late; but it gains additional depth and nuance of flavor from longer maturation.
In only their second vintage, the Kramers' 1990 Pinot Noir took Best of Show at the 1993 Oregon State Fair.
When the Kramers opened their tasting room in 1990, it marked a coming out. It was the winery's commercial introduction to the world. And that is reason enough to celebrate it 20 years later as a major milestone.
The tasting room has been a major center of activity for the 2,000-case operation ever since. Visitors often encounter the always-outgoing and ever-energetic Trudy there when they drop by.
Her assistant, Marilyn Blen, is usually on hand, along with tasting room associate Julia Shotola and, of course, the faithful winery Labradors, Cassie and Kosmo, plus a new pup: Brody, the Pug. They eagerly greet everyone.
Trudy is the face of the winery. She serves as president and treasurer, co-winemaker, tasting room manager, office administrator, marketing and sales director, even website designer.
Daughter Kimberley Kramer-Krieger plays a role on the winemaking side as well.
She's a specialist in sparkling wines. She tackles with gusto the time-consuming task of making beautifully balanced bubbly.
It's because of Kim's desire to make a Champagne-style brut that her parents are planting Pinot Meunier. With Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, that will give them an all-estate blend for the classic French sparkler.
Keith serves as company vice president and secretary. But his primary role is vineyard manager and winemaker. He also manages their forestland and serves as their head coffee roaster.
During a trip to the Far East, the Kramers stumbled across a small coffee roasting operation. They concluded it didn't look all that hard to brew up a great cup of java, so they bought a roaster of their own and began experimenting.
Trudy said they've learned the technique of roasting just to the point where the oils are peaking, which results in fullness of flavor with no bitterness. Their brand is called, appropriately, Wine Country Coffee Roasters.
Visitors to the tasting room can indulge in a fragrantly fresh cup, as well as a diverse portfolio of wines that includes reds, whites, roses, sparklers and sweet dessert offerings.
The best part is the relatively low pricing, augmented by a 20-percent case discount. While that complements the 20th anniversary theme, it has long been part of the Kramer winery-direct policy.
Address: 26830 N.W. Olson Road, Gaston
Hours: noon-5 p.m., daily (Apr.-Oct.); noon-5 p.m., Thurs.-Sun. (Nov.-Mar.)