Winery Owners Go to Town

By Karl Klooster

In terms of tourism, there can be no argument that the growing prominence of Oregon’s wine industry has been a big financial boon for the Yamhill Valley.

But some less obvious contributions from winery owners are proving to be of considerable benefit as well, particularly for certain communities. A prime example is the role Ken and Karen Wright are playing in advancing the interests of Carlton.

Their generous support and personal involvement should be given due credit for helping to enhance that city’s economic base and infrastructure over the past several years.

Borrowing a page from the Wright’s winning playbook, Dave and Deolinda Coelho have taken an active interest in their hometown of Amity since opening the Coelho Vineyard winery and tasting room there in 2005.

The couple’s leadership led to the establishment of the Amity Downtown Improvement Group in 2007. Deolinda Coelho, who serves as the group’s president, recalled that its beginnings were about as grass roots as it gets.

“Several of us got together here at our office and started tossing around ideas about how to get things moving downtown,” she said. “At first we talked about basic stuff like street cleanup, weed pulling and grass maintenance. It gained momentum from there.”

They put together an initial fundraising event at the Mia Sonatina Winery. About 80 people showed up, which put enough cash in the coffers to cover operating costs.

AmityDIG, as the group came to call itself, became an official nonprofit in 2008. Meetings are now held on second Thursdays at city hall.

In addition to Coelho, officers include Jo Spencer, vice president, Kristie Buxton, secretary; Frances DiBala, treasurer; and Eve Silverman, member at large.

Silverman took on the assignment of applying for participation in Oregon’s Main Street Program, which she has been pursuing ever since.

The two-year process led to a formal visit from Main Street Executive Director Sherri Stuart in late June for an evaluation tour. She said a strong occupancy rate and a predominance of owner-operated businesses were pluses.

Sidewalk upgrades, matching lampposts, potted trees, turning lanes and bike lanes could all be part of initial improvements, the group was told. “It’s amazing how far relatively small grants would go to make things look a lot better,” Coelho said.

At AmityDIG’s second annual fundraiser in August 2008, Amity Vineyards and Kristin Hill Winery poured alongside Coelho as the momentum grew. Local business people really began getting behind DIG’s principles of pride in ownership.

A beefed-up third annual fundraiser last year found the three wineries joined by the Methven Family and Dukes Family vineyards. Enhanced promotion helped boost attendance to more than 150, filling Coelho’s tasting room to capacity.

In an expansion of its efforts toward visually enhancing downtown, the group is considering a sign ordinance and discussing installation of a large public flagpole.

The suggestion of a street fair has also arisen at recent meetings. It’s a major undertaking, but the Coelhos are the kinds of savvy promoters who’ve shown their ability to stage successful events.

Almost from the day they opened the doors of their tasting room, their large space has played host to well-attended dances and sold-out wine dinners.

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