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Patty Green

OWP wine person of the year

By Jade Helm

Patty Green’s friends and peers have many colorful terms to describe the Oregon Wine icon: grape whisperer, hero, courageous, wildhearted, fiery, humble and one badass lady.

She was also, and in many ways remains, a teacher and mentor. Yet, it doesn’t appear Green sought this role or approached it in any sort of traditional way. 

“It is kind of hilarious,” said Jim Anderson, her business partner of 22 years at Patricia Green Cellars. “We used the same harvest worker job description every year, clearly stating, ‘This is not a learning winery beyond witnessing things and taking them in.’” Indeed, the job description also expressed, “We go to great lengths to explain the mundanity of this job to wholeheartedly discourage people from wanting to take it.”

But that was just it. With Green, there was so much to take in and “mundane” was not an apt characterization. With no formal vineyard or winemaking education, Green dug in and made her mark on the Oregon wine industry.

In the early 1990s, Torii Mor hired Green as winemaker to build the brand. In a few short years, she helped the winery grow to 6,000 cases and a national reputation for excellent Pinot Noir. According to Anderson, over the years, the properties she cultivated would be in such good shape, they would create their own labels; White Rose and Quail Hill Vineyards — now Blakeslee Estate — are examples of such success stories.

“Patty had a sort of skill and mindset to help others succeed,” Anderson explained.

When Green and Anderson formed Patricia Green Cellars in 2000, they wanted to make wines that interested them. The winery now makes upwards of two dozen distinct offerings of Pinot Noir a year. This expansive approach has not been for marketing’s sake — although the wines are well distributed and highly successful — but instead a nod to Green’s appreciation for a “sense of place.”

“This is sort of the essence of Patty, incredibly hard working, doing things that are comically difficult because she truly loves what she does, and managing to make it work,” Anderson added.

This combination of crazy, strong-willed success is infectious.  Just ask Matt Berson of Love & Squalor.  He had been working in the restaurant industry and was at a career and personal crossroads when Green asked if he wanted to come wash barrels. 

“Boy, did I ever,” Berson recalled. “Patty gave me a place to be and new things to learn, and a fantastic new community.”

He says Green would let him ask any kind of “stupid question,” as long as the tanks and hoses were properly cleaned. 

“I think she was able to help others out so easily because once you showed up here,” Anderson explained, “you sort of got a de facto bigger sister [who] was going to make sure that you got her input on things, well, whether you wanted it or not.” 

Berson offered a personal glimpse of Green. “I see her as among the last, of a generation of hippie/mad-scientist/back-to-the-land winemakers,” he said. “With the growth of our industry, and the expanded base knowledge of viticulture and winemaking in our region, there is now a modern model of how to make wine and also how to market and sell wine. All of this is fine, but back in the day a wide-eyed mountain lady with mud on her boots and a dream of Pinot Noir in her laugh could go on to have her own winery and to be known around the world for her expressive bottlings and become the Patty Green that everyone knows.”

Her teaching and inspiration reached beyond those who worked at Patricia Green Cellars.

“She [had] this raw passion and enthusiasm that had no issue with making the wines she wanted to make,” said Marcus Goodfellow, founder of Matello and Goodfellow Family Cellars. “[Patricia Green Cellars] reflected the culture and craft I wanted my wines to reflect and be a part of as well.”

She also affected her successors like Kelley Fox of Kelley Fox Wines, who became head winemaker at Torii Mor after Green’s successor, Bob McRitchie, left.

“Patty (unknowingly) taught me the importance of making wines that tell the truth of the vineyard; to respond to each vineyard in its own right; and to produce the wines naturally,” said Fox, who learned from the winery records Green left at Torii Mor. “I poured over them as if my life depended on it.

“Patty made Oregon wines that sung the vineyard,” Fox continued. “Her wines were truth-telling and beautiful. I know I am not alone in looking up to her as a hero. I pretty much idolized her in a way I cannot begin to articulate.”

Even as proprietor and winemaker under her own label, Fox turned to Green for guidance. “This past harvest, I was struggling with a far-reaching decision at the winery, and I remembered those notes of hers. Decision made.”

This is a bittersweet story. Although Patty Green passed away unexpectedly in early November at age 62, her legacy of mentorship lives on as those she taught and inspired continue to craft their own Oregon wines: Walter Scott, Love & Squalor, Kelley Fox Wines.

Her legacy also continues through Patricia Green Cellars, where Anderson will continue to make the honest Pinot Noir that has always been Green’s signature. 

“She reached out through these wines with a force of personality so big, open, bright, warm, compassionate and loving that people who did not even know her [understood] that. This is passed on through the wines made here [at Patricia Green Cellars] and hopefully by the people whom she helped get started who pay it forward to other new winemakers. That will be a legacy to be proud of.”

MORE ABOUT PATTY

Patricia Green grew up in Aurora, Illinois. After settling in Oregon in 1972, she briefly attended college in Utah and from there started extensive traveling. Green began making wine at the age of 17.

“I was a home winemaker,” she told Wine Press Northwest in 2013. “I started making wine when I was in high school, though my family didn’t know it.”

In her mid-20s, she began a career in re-forestation, up and down the West Coast, from Northern California to Alaska. Her early résumé also included concrete forming and commercial fishing out of Coos Bay.

In 1986, she began picking grapes for Richard Sommers at HillCrest Vineyard in Roseburg. She started working at the winery the next year.

She worked under winemaker Don Kautzner at Adelsheim Vineyard in 1990 and 1991. In 1993, she launched Torii Mor Winery in Dundee with the owners, serving as lead winemaker in her capacity as the sole employee — all the while still winemaker for La Garza in Roseburg, 1993–1994, and consulting winemaker there in 1995 and ’96.

After leaving Torii Mor, both Green and Anderson wanted to establish a winery with grapes they already had contracts with. They looked for a warehouse to convert.

“I had worked for Autumn Wind from 1993–1995 in a part-time capacity,” Anderson said. “The owners somehow found out we were looking around for places and asked us if we would be interested in buying them out while keeping it on the down-low. We began working on the purchase process in March of 2000 and actually signed the papers on July 23, 2000.”

Together, they founded Patricia Green Cellars. The two had acquired Autumn Wind’s cellar, vineyard and equipment in addition to its 22-acre vineyard — the 52-acre property now contains about 30 acres of vines. The earliest vines date back to 1984, making them some of the oldest planted in the Ribbon Ridge AVA.

Today, the winery produces about 12,000 cases of wine a year, mostly Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc, selling to markets in 23 states.

“This winery is her manifestation of living a life that has been free of self-imposed restrictions,” he noted. “By having a big picture and unique view of the world, she was able to create a winery where real and diverse wines are made in a rigorous yet creative manner.”

 

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