Grape Whisperers

Oregon winegrower recounts career and life


By David P. Beck

In an intensely personal memoir, covering a long career in Oregon’s wine industry, Allen Holstein’s new book, “Grape Whisperers,” describes the part he played in the North Willamette Valley’s emergence as the center of Pinot Noir production. This is a charmingly easy read about Holstein’s path leading him to Oregon’s nascent wine industry in 1979. He vividly describes his connections to the area's founders, in particular those residing in the Dundee Hills, and the role he played in the growing the region.

The book is not a general history of Oregon’s wine industry nor a description of parallel paths of other wine pioneers. In 120 pages, Grape Whisperers presents an entertaining and informative insider view. Holstein's authority is widely respected and he is credited with a deep knowledge of viticulture. As a keeper of journals and vineyard data records, Holstein is sought after for historical examples and antecedents of current problems.

Grape Whisperers describes temporal interactions with Holstein’s college roommate Ken Wright and his path to Oregon. Learn about the mutually beneficial relationships with Dick Erath, Cal Knudsen, the Drouhins and his role in the development of the Domaine Drouhin Oregon project. Holstein also shares details of his long-term relationship with Argyle and ROCO Winery's Rollin Soles.

Almost as interesting as Allen Holstein’s personal history and mea culpas are his insights of “emerging” issues, reminding the reader that they are not at all new. He discusses: climate change, labor, the challenges of producing affordable high-quality wine, how Oregon’s cottage industry entices investors from outside the state, as well as the validation that attraction provides the Oregon industry.

Holstein was not self-taught, having been a horticulture major in college in Kentucky. Today, many consider him a “master viticulturist,” earned by years of close observation, inventiveness and mistakes. Some successful leaders depend on luck, and Holstein says that it is better to lucky than smart. However, in his case, being smart carried the day. Holstein describes discovering the Dundee Hills as well as finding his own vineyard there, surrounded by properties eventually owned and farmed by some of the most prominent winemaking names in the industry. He does not list these neighbors, but he was particularly close to the Drouhin family and quotes Veronique Drouhin extensively in the book.

Unlike most founding Oregon wine pioneers who left another profession elsewhere, Holstein’s entire career was focused on growing grapes in the Dundee Hills.

Now retired, he has much to say. Grape Whisperers is well worth a spot on your gift list. (Available from your local, independent bookstore or online.)

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable