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Fourth on Third

McMinnville descendant adds wine to pioneer legacy

Jeff Woodard, owner of newly opened Woodard Wines, displays a selection of favorites from his inventory.Photo by Marcus Larson

Woodard Wines

Where: 323 N.E. Davis Street, McMinnville
When: Address: 323 N.E. Davis Street, McMinnville Hours: Tues.–Sun., 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
Website: www.woodardwines.com">Phone: 971-237-2502 Website: www.woodardwines.com

By Karl Klooser

Until this May, there had never before been a stand-alone retail wine shop in Mac’s central district. Now the city boasts Woodard Wines, which is much more than simply a retail store.

The business has been Jeff Woodard’s dream for years, and he is delighted to have secured a high-profile space. “It’s a great spot for tourists and locals,” he said. “They’ll get a huge breathe of Oregon in one stop.”

Once potential customers step through the door, they won’t be able to resist being drawn in by the proprietor’s infectious enthusiasm. “I’ve personally selected every wine here. I know them all and can guide a customer to precisely what he or she is looking for.”

Woodard approaches his work with a level of energy and vitality attributed to inherited genes. Far from denying that possibility, he celebrates it. Justifiably proud of his family heritage, he will readily relate that his great-great-great grandfather, Jacob Conser, came to Oregon in 1847, making Woodard a sixth-generation Oregonian.

Conser quickly took up a claim along the Santiam River east of Salem. His enterprise made the single greatest impact on the area during its settlement period. He first founded Santiam City, which unfortunately was in a flood plain and later suffered the consequences. He went on to found Jefferson, then-called Conser’s Ferry, in 1851.

In addition to his ferry service, Conser built mills — flour, grist and lumber. He established an education center and opened a hotel bearing his name, all in Jefferson. He also became a member of the first Oregon state legislature in 1859; then served many years as a Marion County judge.

Jeff Woodard’s direct McMinnville connection goes back two generations, when his grandfather, Les Woodard, started a business on Third Street, Les’ Appliance. Jeff’s father Ron Woodard helped manage the family store before starting his own business, Woodard Appraisal. His grandmother ran Ginny’s Hobby & Crafts, and his mother, Leigh Woodard, owned the Candy Basket, a popular confectionary for many years downtown. Now Jeff has founded Woodard Wines, the fourth in his family on Third Street.

It’s no exaggeration that Woodard tastes everything he puts on his shelves. “How else can you wholeheartedly recommend something?” he asked.

Though only 33, his cumulative knowledge stretches back more than 15 years. “Don’t tell anyone,” he quips. “But I started tasting and fell in love with wine when I was in my mid-teens. I helped work the 1999 and 2000 vintage at Ponzi when I was 18 and 19 years old.”

Blame the underage introduction on his older sister, Lindsay. She was already immersed in wine while Jeff was still attending Linfield. She encouraged him to work at Ponzi and volunteer at IPNC. He graduated in 2003. She founded her own winery, Retour, in 2005.

By that time, the wine industry in the Willamette Valley was attracting major attention, and Woodard was already immersed in it, having worked a year for Jim Bernau at Willamette Valley Vineyards.

His address book bulged with names, numbers and e-mail addresses of prominent Oregon wine people. His next job as northwest sales manager for Vin 65 expanded listings to the entire region.

He then worked in sales for Zenas Wines and Archery Summit before landing the position of wine director at Carlton Winemakers Studio in 2009. Five years simultaneously serving the needs of a dozen wineries, built immeasurably on the foundation of knowledge and experience, has given him the confidence to go out on his own.

Woodard mentioned that there are so many people who gave of their time and freely imparted their knowledge and advice; it’s difficult to name them all, but a joy to thank them, because they know who they are.

He felt, however, that two people deserved to be pointed out: Jimi Brooks and Michael Stevenson. Of course, there’s also Steve Doerner and Eric Hamacher and …

Though his business has only been open briefly, Woodard can look around and know his decision was right. Merely going down the list of suppliers and resources that gain him access to rare and unique wines is verification.

As a result, Woodard Wines not only boasts an inventory of limited-production releases from small Oregon wineries, it also features hand-selected wines from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Hungary. And these aren’t an accumulation of brands readily available elsewhere. They come from the portfolios of importers who scour the European continent seeking out little-known finds and securing exclusives to export a portion of their production.

With his knowledge of and passion for wine, supported by dozens of wine people from Oregon and elsewhere, Woodard is well suited to succeed in making his dream of entrepreneurial success a reality.

He does, however, have one regret: With the time commitment he has made to get the business off the ground, at least for a while, he’s going to have to give up his favorite pastime: fishing.

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