Really Deep Roots

By Karl Klooster

Darlene Looney is justifiably proud of the fact that Aramenta Cellars, the winery she and her husband, Ed, founded in 2000, makes wine from grapes grown on the very same land relatives began farming back in the early 1900s.

The Evans family rapidly forged a prominent presence on Ribbon Ridge after Darlene’s great-grandparents, W.T. and Tillie Evans, headed west from Nebraska and bought 80 acres there in 1905. Her favorite great aunt Ethel Aramenta Evans—yes, the winery was named after her—married George Colby Carter, Jr. whose own grandfather is credited with naming Ribbon Ridge.

It’s particularly interesting to note the close personal bonds these pioneering families formed even when there were no intermarriages.

The Evanses and Carters were closely connected because of Aramenta and George, of course, but the Strothers, who bought part of W.T. and Tillie’s property in 1920, grew almost as close over the years.

Ed Strother, Jr., also known as “Honk,” passed along family stories of those early days on the Ridge to Darlene. So did Joli Sandoz, a daughter of Ed’s older sister, Ann. The families often visited one another.

In the early days, the area was called West Chehalem. Farmers were by necessity self-sufficient and built everything themselves from scratch, regularly helping one another with construction projects.

During harvest, a threshing crew went from farm to farm operating an often-cranky contraption that, when it worked as intended, did make bringing in the crop more efficient, and helping store hay bales in the barn loft.

As much as such accounts afforded a glimpse of their work-a-day world, the most revealingly personal ones came from recollections of childhood experiences. Ed and Darlene especially enjoy sharing them with family, friends and even interested journalists.

Particularly compelling was the story of Aunt Lou, who wasn’t actually a relative but rather a neighbor who became a close family friend and loved visits from children who lived nearby.

Her name was Louisa, the daughter of a French Canadian trapper at Fort Vancouver, where she lived for several years as a young girl.

As a youngster, she was oblivious to the history being shaped there by Dr. John McLoughlin, chief factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. But as a spry, charming woman in her 70s, she could spin a meaningful tale about those times.

According to her accounts, everyday life at the fort was far from dull, with Indians often around and the frequent arrival of “voyageurs,” as she called them—wagon train pioneers welcomed and aided by McLoughlin after their long, hard overland journey.

Given this rich heritage, it’s little wonder that Darlene remained close to her family and the land. When she and Ed met in 1961, these bonds strongly influenced the course of their relationship.

The Looneys had moved to Newberg from Southern California that year, but the untimely death of his father curtailed Ed’s plans to finish college. He went to work at Tektronix so he could help support his mom, but still found time to meet folks around town.

A particular girl who caught his eye was Darlene Evans, who lived on a farm northwest of town. They married just a year later and within another five years had saved up enough to buy 30 acres of Ribbon Ridge land from one of Darlene’s relatives.

The couple tended a commercial orchard there from 1967 to 1991, then bulldozed the trees and raised cattle until 1999. In the meantime, Ed had gone to work for Tuality Valley Fire & Rescue, where he remained until his retirement in 1995.

Owning the Ribbon Ridge property was a priority for the Looneys, but what to do with it was another matter. When Gary Andrus, founder of Archery Summit Winery, approached them in 1999 about leasing land to put in a vineyard, they agreed.

Just a year later, the Looneys decided to plant seven acres for themselves, with the goal of starting up their own small winery. Ed laid out the vineyard in 2000, the starts went in the ground, and plans were laid to launch the Aramenta brand.

The wisdom of their decision was realized when the Archery Summit wines from the 17 acres of leased property began to come online.

The Dundee Hills winery’s already impressive reputation for Pinot Noir was further augmented by the addition of Looney Vineyard to their estate holdings. The Looneys hadn’t asked that the vineyard be named for them. But they didn’t mind.

Aramenta Cellars made its first wine in 2002, all 54 cases of it. The first year for the estate Pinot Noir was 2004, and five years later, the winery expects to bottle a total of 1,200 cases from the 2009 vintage, including 225 cases of estate Pinot.

“We buy fruit from Eola Springs Vineyard north of Rickreall and from Vidon in the Chehalem Mountains AVA,” Ed Looney said. “But eventually, we’ll be all estate.”

Fittingly, it’s a hands-on, all-in-the family affair. The winery was built by family members on the footprint of an old barn. Honoring family matriarch, great-great grandmother Tillie Evans, the winery produces a Cabernet Sauvignon that bears her name.

In addition to Aramenta reserve and Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs, sons Wayne, Mark, Robert and son-in-law John McGeehey, who is married to the Looney’s daughter, Tracy, make The Brothers Pinot. They are also partners in a construction company.

Family, both in the past and the present, obviously means a lot to these close-knit, winemaking kin who have added to their heritage by prominently ensconcing themselves on Ribbon Ridge. 


Aramenta Cellars

Address: 17979 N.E. Lewis Rogers Lane, Newberg

Hours: Daily; 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m.

Phone: 503-538-7230



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