Stave the Music
Artisan uses wine-soaked oak in grape guitars
There are jobs and there are passions. At the intersection is bliss. Rarely does this occur and even rarer still would be someone’s good fortune to experience it twice.
Meet Loren Schulte, a guitar player and woodworker whose fondness for wine led him to craft his first wine-soaked oak stave guitar for a Clark County vintner in 2015.
Schulte and his wife were sitting in Gary Gougér’s tasting room enjoying his Petite Sirah — their favorite — when he noticed a toasted oak stave hanging on the wall with “Good luck, Gary” written on it. He remarked how it resembled the side of a guitar.
After Gougér explained his winemaking process that day, Schulte proposed an idea, “What do you think of this? You give me the wood, and I’ll make you a guitar, and we’ll do a joint-promotion [of the project].”
“He was all over that idea,” Schulte recalled. “He was really excited about it, so we did it.”
Gougér Cellars Winery, located in Ridgefield, Washington, uses oak staves — as opposed to barrels — to accomplish the levels of toast that Gougér is looking for depending on a variety of winemaking factors. According to Schulte, the staves — roughly three feet long by three to four inches wide — were on the slight end for a guitar side, but useable.
Schulte edge-glued multiple staves — six pieces of Gougér’s oak alternating with five strips of Macassar ebony — to create the back. He chose unused staves for the sides of the guitar. A veneer section on the back of the headstock and the center lamination along the back of the neck sandwiched between Honduran Mahogany complete the winery-acquired oak.
“We went through a lot of wood until we found suitable pieces. The highly toasted pieces — that wood would not bend — so we had to use lightly toasted oak for the sides,” Schulte explained. “Oak, after it comes out of a barrel, is purple, so I had to scrape all that off and sand until it was useable.”
A musician for 50 years, Schulte began woodworking out of necessity to build furniture for his growing family. His foray into guitar-making happened the same way.
“I couldn’t afford the guitar that I wanted, and I was firmly convinced that was the only thing standing between me and super stardom, so I said, ‘Hell, I can make that,’” Schulte joked.
Fame and great fortune has yet to come, but Schulte has enjoyed a viable career, taking lessons from and playing with blues greats like Mary Flower and Terry Robb. He’s crafted just over 70 musical instruments to date — including ukuleles and mandolins — with a goal of 100 “before they throw the dirt on my face.”
Yacolt’s Moulton Falls Winery was a logical follow-up to Schulte’s oak stave guitar series. Owner Joe Millea showcases local musicians every weekend night at his Northwest-themed tasting room.
Millea said, “I saw the guitar that he made for Gary, and quite a few musicians that play here play guitars that [Schulte] made, so I knew his craftsmanship would be amazing. I only gave him one piece as opposed to all the pieces that Gary gave him.”
According to Schulte, he was able to use more of Gougér’s oak staves because their wood sources and types are different; Moulton’s being smaller with protruding nubs that had to be removed.
After all the hours of artistry and finishing — oak is known for its porous nature not lending to a quick finishing process — each winemaker is thrilled with the instruments. Gougér intends to display his one-of-a-kind guitar when his tasting room expansion is complete but, for now, he enjoys listening to professional musicians strum it when they visit the winery.
“It’s a beautiful piece of art,” Gougér said. “It sounds stunning to me when a person who knows what they’re doing plays it. The acoustics just sound superb.”
Moulton Falls held a VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) benefit concert April 10. About a dozen musicians played the new guitar, as well as other instruments made by Schulte. But the first to break in Millea’s guitar was Grammy award-winning artist Doug Smith.
On a rainy evening in March, Smith played to a nearly standing room-only crowd — including Schulte; in his capable hands, the piece came to life. As his fingers worked up and down the fretboard, Smith wore a contagious smile that moved the entire crowd into an almost Kumbaya moment in the tasting room.
According to Schulte, oak is a wonderful tone wood and, although Millea’s sports only one stave, it’s a remarkable accent piece. Curly maple, Adirondack spruce, Honduran mahogany, Mexican ebony, Macassar ebony and Gabon ebony complete the instrument retailing for approximately $3,200.
Viki Eierdam is the wine columnist for The Columbian and a freelance writer. She lives in Battle Ground, Washington.