Pronounce It Purchased
By Karl Klooster
Folks like me can empathize with Todd and Caroline Biggio (Bee-zhee-o) Hamina (Ham-uh-nuh). Throughout our lives, we've encountered situations where our names were mispronounced, misspelled and otherwise abused.
Caroline, whose maiden name was Biggio, faces a double whammy via her addition by marriage. But, as is the case with most of us, she and her husband have learned to suffer this unintentional slight stoically. In fact, it may work to their advantage. Something a little out of the ordinary can also be memorable, a positive attribute when a name and its identification with a product come into play.
After reading this, I'd wager that the name Biggio Hamina will stick in your mind in relation to fine Willamette Valley wine, even if you still struggle to pronounce it, let alone spell it.
For Biggio and Hamina, the enjoyment and appreciation of wine came early in life.
Caroline was born into a wine-loving Italian family. Her dad, well beyond being just a basic 'rosso' or 'bianco' guy, was a collector with a sizable cellar. In the Old World tradition, her parents shared a sip or two with her at mealtime before she reached the legal age. But the statute of limitations ran out on that minor misdemeanor some time back.
Todd liked wine well enough to get a job selling it right out of school. He worked for a distributor in Colorado before pulling up stakes and moving to Oregon in 1996. His goal was to learn the business from the ground up, in a very literal sense.
His first job was as a member of the vineyard crew at Archery Summit, where he learned about grape growing while getting to know some people who would prove important to his future. Not long after arriving in the Valley, he met Caroline.
She had earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management, then worked her way west from Ohio. Landing in McMinnville, she helped open the Third Street Grill in the historic quarters now housing Bistro Maison.
"We met on Sept. 4, 1996," Todd said, astounding his wife with the precision of his recollection. "We were married not quite two years later, in June 1998, at Archery Summit."
Caroline said a good chef friend from Aspen came out to cater their wedding.
"He prepared a six-course, plated dinner for 100 people," she recalled. "It was fantastic."
Meanwhile, Todd's wine education continued apace.
Archery Summit founder Gary Andrus and general manager Andy Humphries generously imparted their knowledge. They sent him to U.C. Davis for enology courses and promoted him to assistant winemaker.
The couple bought 40 acres outside Newberg, where they began to raise a family.
Todd was hired as winemaker at Patton Valley Vineyard outside Gaston in 2000, and worked there through 2004. He moved on to Maysara, in the coastal foothills southwest of McMinnville, for the 2005 and 2006 vintages. Then he set out on his own.
During this period, Caroline had become immersed in the industry as well, taking part in harvest, attending tastings and absorbing wine talk all around her.
It was a major decision, but one they had discussed for some time.
"I had made a lot of contacts and lined up some great sources of fruit," Todd said. "We were ready."
The newly founded Biggio Hamina Cellars made its first home in the custom-crush, alternating-premise facility Dean and Ann Fisher developed at ADEA Wine Co., on Highway 47, south of Gaston.
The winery joined five others, all with hands-on owners, in a highly collaborative environment where the group openly shared their experiences, gaining knowledge from one another in the process.
"Starting out with the difficult 2007 vintage was actually a good thing for us," Hamina said. "We didn't have previous inventory or debt, and with the input of the other wineries at ADEA, we made better wines than we would have otherwise."
The second vintage for them was the 2008, a nail-biter until the closing weeks when it blossomed into what many feel will be one of the best ever, particularly for Pinot Noir.
Though not yet released, the lush, ripe wines from 2009 complete the winery's portfolio to date. Allowing no moss to grow under their feet, they will make it their last crush at ADEA.
Todd and Caroline are now putting the finishing touches on their own winery, just off Highway 18 at the south end of McMinnville. Its realization was a combination of fortuitousness and serendipity.
A new building, now in the final phases of construction, will house the winery. Owned by Harold Washington and Eric Wolff, it was offered while still in the planning stages, allowing them to shape it to their needs.
"I got to know Eric's wife, June, at Archery Summit," Todd said. "We've been friends for years.
"It was an opportunity we decided we couldn't pass up. We're taking half the building, which gives us 5,000 square feet of space."
They're putting in a tasting room with a commercial kitchen, which will allow Caroline to hold cooking classes and cater for small groups.
The winery will be capable of processing up to 6,000 cases per year. They're currently producing 1,600 to 1,700, which gives them plenty of room for growth.
Biggio Hamina focuses on site-specific production. Current offerings include three individual vineyard-designated Pinot Noirs from 2007 and a 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot.
Fruit from Ana Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA, Deux Verts in the Yamhill-Carlton District AVA and Maysara in the McMinnville AVA are vinified separately. Retail per bottle, before case discounts, is $36 - modest for individual vineyard bottlings.
A Pinot Grigio - they use the Italian name for the variety - comes from Cougar's Mark Vineyard west of McMinnville. Deux Verts is the source of their Syrah and Melon de Bourgogne.
Describing their approach, and how their new digs complement it, Hamina says, "We're like the Burgundian negociant-eleveur. We contract for grapes grown to our specifications, make the wine and sell it next to the main route through town."
Biggio Hamina Cellars
Address: 1722 S.W. Hwy. 18, Suite 3, McMinnville
Hours: Check website for hours.