Ankeny Vineyard new owner Rod Phelan. ##Photo provided
Ankeny Vineyard Pinot Gris. ##Photo provided
Ankeny Vineyard located outside Salem. ##Photo provided

Ankeny 2.0

New owner hits “refresh”

By Jade Helm

On a recent Saturday, the scene outside Ankeny Vineyard was hopping, age-of-COVID hopping. Artisan pizzas — the special featured estate rosemary and table grapes — were lined up waiting to be slid into the wood-fired oven, while tasting flights were set up in front of eager guests. A local band played old-school tunes as the sun set over the Coast Range.  And new owner, Rod Phelan, grinned invitingly as he performed jobs from parking director to tableside greeter. This is Ankeny 2.0 with an upgraded plan for just about everything.

When Phelan purchased Ankeny in 2019, he became the latest steward of a site rich with history. During Oregon’s early days, the property was owned by pioneer Tom Cox, who farmed produce for his store: the first mercantile in Salem. In 1980, Joe Olexa founded Ankeny Vineyard and continues in retirement to live in his home on the property. “I am glad Joe is here,” Phelan explained. “He knows more about this property than anyone, and he is excited to see the updates we are making.”

One of the biggest changes is the addition of Drew Voit as winemaker. A bit “wine famous,” Voit was named one of Wine Enthusiast’s cutting-edge winemakers in 2019.  His resume includes previous stints at prestigious Oregon wineries Domaine Serene and Shea Wine Cellars; he also produces his own wine under the Harper Voit label — jokingly, winemakers mentored by Voit are sometimes known in Willamette Valley as “Drewciples.”  Needless to say, it remains no small feat to replicate Voit’s brand of “high-risk, high-reward” winemaking.

Voit plans to bring his “no compromise’’ approach to craft super-premium Pinot Noir in addition to the solid wines Ankeny has produced in the past. “The Pinot Noir vines planted in 1982 are the oldest vines I am currently working with,” Voit noted. He was drawn to the project, in part, because of Phelan’s vision and ambition. “He believes in the site. We can do something lasting,” Voit added. Estate 2019 vintages on the current tasting menu were crafted by Voit; they include a delightfully delicate sparkling Muscat; a crisp pear, citrus and mineral-driven Pinot Gris; a rosé of Pinot Noir stuffed with stone fruit; and the dark-fruited, spicy Olexa Block Pinot Noir.

Changes in the wine offerings are, of course, coupled with changes in the vineyard. Here, Phelan takes the lead, aided by professional vineyard consultation and the experienced input of Voit and Olexa. It may be his first venture into winegrowing, but Phelan is no novice to agribusiness. He has worked in farming communities across Oregon and the country for more than 35 years, focusing on agricultural residue products for fuel and feed. Phelan will take advantage of the older wide-spaced vineyard rows to produce lower yields and advancing to LIVE certification in the future.

It was not just his experience agribusiness and an entrepreneurial spirit that inspired Phelan into the wine business. During business travel to Italy, Australia, Argentina and throughout the Pacific Northwest, he sought wine experiences. He noticed how “grumpy people aren’t out wine tasting.” The wine industry and, in many ways, Ankeny Vineyard seemed the perfect fit for Phelan’s passion for connecting with people. 

Consider Ankeny as a party waiting to happen and Phelan the man ready to throw a bash, without an ounce of pretension. Not to mention, the pizzas are incredibly tasty and creative — the chicken pomodoro comes highly recommended — and the charcuterie board for two, with pickled hibiscus and roasted hazelnuts dusted with “magic,” remains a screaming deal at $10. Everything is geared toward enjoying friends, wine and food. In addition to estate wines, the menu includes a Cabernet Sauvignon from Walla Walla and Rogue Brewery beer.

The surroundings feel memorable, too. Tucked into the Ankeny Hills in South Salem, the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge sits to the south, where thousands of migratory waterfowl enjoy the farmland, riparian forests and seasonal wetlands.  Adjacent to the vines and tasting room are estate gardens.  When COVID social distancing rules began, Phelan’s team spaced tables in garden nooks, in addition to the permanent patio seating. Even with restrictions, Ankeny can safely host more than 100 people.

Understanding the importance of social activity and with a love of connection, Phelan is planning ways to continue live music events through the upcoming winter.  Expect tents for rainy days, heaters for cool winds and, very likely, Phelan outdoors directing parking.


Ankeny Vineyard

2565 Riverside Drive S., Salem


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable