Dates of Coury planting misrepresented

By Rusty Gaffney

Oregon Wine Press’ September article, “David Hill Turns 50,” commemorates the planting of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley in 1965 by Charles Coury, the forefather of David Hill Winery. Certainly, the owners of David Hill Vineyards & Winery, Petar Stoyanov and Milan Stoyanov, are to be congratulated on this year of historic celebrations in the Oregon wine industry. There are, however, some historical inaccuracies in this article, which in fairness to David Lett of The Eyrie Vineyards and his accomplishments, and respecting Coury’s considerable contributions to the Oregon wine industry, need to be clarified.

The article states, “Charles (Chuck) Coury became one of the Oregon wine pioneers in 1965 when he planted the vineyards still growing at what is now David Hill Vineyards.” My exhaustive research indicates this is inaccurate. David Lett’s personal journals indicate that David Lett was the first to plant Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley when he put vines into the ground in his Corvallis nursery in February 1965. The Courys, who spent the first half of 1965 living in California, did settle in the Willamette Valley in 1965, and put their initial cuttings into the ground in April 1965, not in Forest Grove, but at David Lett’s nursery in Corvallis, two months after Lett’s initial plantings.

According to the land deed, the Courys acquired their vineyard property in Forest Grove in October 1965, which seems late in that year to clear the land and plant vines. I have been unable to find any evidence to indicate that Coury planted vines in Forest Grove before 1966. Shirley Coury’s obituary states that the initial planting in Forest Grove was in 1966. The obituary reads, “With her husband, she established Charles Coury Vineyards in 1966 on David Hill in Forest Grove, where they were among the earliest participants in the fledgling Oregon wine industry.” In addition, an entry in Lett’s journal from January 1966 notes that Lett made cuttings for Charles Coury to plant, presumably in Forest Grove.

On this, the historic 50th anniversary of the first planting of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, Lett holds the distinction of being the first to plant Pinot Noir (and Pinot Gris) in the Williamette Valley. Coury was the second to plant Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley. Lett and Coury established their first estate vineyards in 1966, Lett in the Red Hills of Dundee; Coury in Forest Grove.

In addition, the title of Coury’s master’s thesis has often been incorrectly quoted in available wine literature as “Cold Limit Amelioration Hypothesis,” and was cited as such in the article under discussion. Coury’s master’s thesis is public record and was published in 1964. It was titled “Wine Grape Adaptation in the Napa Valley, California.” In this thesis, there is only one mention of Oregon.

Coury’s achievements are considerable. His legacy will include working with other early Oregon vintners to establish a viticultural research center at Oregon State University, taking part in the formulation of ideas that led to Oregon’s labeling regulations, and, along with Lett and Richard Sommer, establishing quarantines on vine material brought into Oregon. Coury also introduced the Pommard selection to Oregon in the early 1970s as part of a joint nursery venture with Dick Erath, as well as another Pinot Noir selection rumored to have come from Alsace, Germany. The latter selection was widely planted in the 1970s and is commonly referred to as the “Coury clone.”

Rusty Gaffney, M.D., is the creator, editor and publisher of The PinotFile at

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