Duck Pond Dynasty

Left to right: Elliott, Greg and Amber Fries; Ross, Scott, Lisa and Aiden Jenkins; Jo Ann and Doug Fries; Erin, Beck and Sam Fries. Photo provided.
The manicured entrance greets guests off Highway 99W in Dundee. Photo provided.
Winemaker Mark Chargin checks vines at one of the winery’s many vineyards. Photo provided.
Duck Pond offers a great variety, including wines for its second label, Desert Wind (not pictured). Photo provided.

By Karl Klooster

When the extended Fries family assembles for any occasion, they could just as easily be calling a Duck Pond Cellars management meeting. So this year, all the holidays, birthdays and wedding anniversaries the family usually celebrates are going to take a back seat to the 20th anniversary of the company Doug and Jo Ann Fries — pronounced freeze — began 20 years ago.

In 1993, the couple started the Dundee-based winery that has since risen to become Oregon’s fourth largest winery. But the history behind Duck Pond goes back many years before that. 

It centers on Doug’s love of growing. He farmed row crops in California’s Central Valley before moving to the Yamhill Valley in 1982, where he planted a hazelnut orchard. When the wine bug bit him in 1985, he put in his first 12 acres of Pinot Noir off Fulquartz Landing Road. He has been planting new vineyards ever since.

The same year their winery was built in Dundee, planting got underway on their 433-acre Desert Wine Vineyard in Columbia Valley’s Wahluke Slope AVA. Hylo, Delaney, St. Jory and Willow Creek vineyards, all in the South Salem Hills, were subsequently sited and planted over time; collectively, they total 270 acres.

In 2000, another Wahluke Slope site, Sacagawea Vineyard, added an additional 52 acres to the winery’s Washington properties. And most recently, in 2008 they acquired a site near Sutherlin in Oregon’s Umpqua Valley, which has become the 358-acre Coles Valley Vineyard.

Over the years, the winery’s total vineyard holdings in Oregon and Washington have soared to more than 1,100 acres. And from all reports, Doug has plans for even more. But to do that, he has to talk his wife, Jo Ann, into the expansion, and then convince his son, Greg, and daughter-in-law, Amber, as well as his daughter, Lisa Jenkins, and son-in-law, Scott Jenkins, not to mention winemaker Mark Chargin. Every one of them plays a key role in the operation of the company and, although Doug and Jo Ann retain majority ownership, making decisions is a group effort.

When they built their winery at the eastern end of Dundee in 1993, Doug and Jo Ann worked as a team. He handled growing and winemaking; she, administration.

In the meantime, Greg attended the University of California at Davis, where he studied agribusiness, vineyard management and fermentation science. After graduating in 1994, he oversaw production duties at Duck Pond the following year, and held the position until 2010, when Chargin was promoted to head winemaker.

It wasn’t long before Lisa began helping her mother run the office side of the business. She now oversees day-to-day administrative operations. Completing the family team, Lisa’s husband, Scott, serves as the company’s head of sales and marketing, while Greg’s wife, Amber, handles promotion and public relations.

“So what’s with the duck?,” people often ask. As with any business trying to incorporate a catchy name, it took a bit of creative thinking. Doug and Jo Ann lived on Duck Pond Lane, where there was indeed a duck pond. That attachment obviously stuck.

Since they adopted the web-footed moniker, many different duck depictions have graced the labels through the years, but none of them seemed quite right for their Columbia Valley wines. By 1997, the rapidly growing Washington side of their business called for a separate identity; thus Desert Wind was born. 

For the first seven years, the freshly picked grapes were trucked to Dundee, where the wines were made. Then, in 2004, Desert Wind Winery opened in Prosser, Wash. As management of the Washington operation grew, Greg needed help with winemaking. In 2007, Chargin moved from California to become his assistant. 

With operations spread hundreds of miles over three valleys, Columbia, Willamette and Umpqua, Greg needed to free up time to work with Doug on overall vineyard and facility management. Chargin was promoted to head winemaker in 2010, taking over responsibility for operations at both the Duck Pond and Desert Wind facilities.

Together, the two brands are available in 44 states and 28 foreign countries. Total production last year exceeded 138,000 cases.

It wasn’t always that way. Greg noted that Duck Pond started small and its growth was essentially organic. “Our goal was always to make good value wines,” he said.

With the winery a family affair from the outset, everyone has had to grow and evolve along with the business. They seem to have done a great job making the adjustments.

The Frieses recently invited media to join them in a day at Duck Pond to honor their 20th anniversary. With the entire family as our hosts, we went by luxury tour bus to visit their vineyards located in the Willamette Valley’s South Salem Hills.

At Hylo Vineyard in South Salem — also their nursery — we indulged in a wood-fired pizza lunch catered by Red Hills Market in Dundee. 

Returning to the winery, we directly compared the mature and the new. Deep orange-tinged Pinots from the early 1990s sat alongside purple, tannic 2012 just thieved from the barrel. A dramatic counterpoint. Next, the group had the opportunity to taste current releases from Desert Wind and then visit The Allison Inn’s Jory Restaurant for a gourmet feast paired with Duck Pond wines.

It was a fitting way to end a delightful day with one of Oregon’s closest knit wine families who share a common commitment to making high quality value wines.  

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