Cliff Creek Owner Passes Away

By John Darling

Described as a “very busy man” who pioneered cable TV in Oregon, then at age 69, started Cliff Creek Cellars in Sams Valley, Vern Garvin left a legacy that three generations of his family will continue.

Garvin died Nov. 18, after a year’s illness. He was 78.

With an eye to “big, bold reds,” the Garvin family put in 70 acres of grapes in their Sams Valley Vineyard, north of Medford, one of the hottest growing areas of Oregon and, drawing on a love of farming from his boyhood on a dairy farm, Garvin put his first vintage on shelves in 2003.

 “He appreciated the farming aspect of it and believed as much in dry farming as you can do in Sams Valley,” said his daughter, Ruth Garvin of Portland, a founder of the corporation along with her mother, Dorothy, and brothers, Lee and Roy Garvin. Lee and his wife, Cristi Garvin, have three children, Kelly, Teri and Cory Garvin—and all the Garvins, working with winemaker Joe Dobbes of Dundee, are continuing Vern Garvin’s vision.

The most notable wines from Cliff Creek Cellars, said Ruth Gavin, are the Syrah, which scored 90 points in the Wine Spectator and, in 2004, was listed on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100. The 2004 Claret was Best of Show in the World of Wine at Del Rio Vineyards and scored an 89 in the Wine Spectator.

The Cliff Creek label goes on 2,500 cases a year and their “Red, Red Wine,” an affordable ($13 to $15) everyday table wine or spaghetti wine totals 2,000 cases a year, says Ruth, who handles marketing.

Vern was raised in Brookings, worked in logging, served in the Korean War and graduated from Oregon Institute of Technology. He and his wife started a television repair service in Brookings, soon branching out into two-way communications for the marine and timber industry, then an answering service and emergency dispatch.

Vern bought half of KURY radio, then brought FM radio to the South Coast. He was granted a cable TV franchise (only the third in the nation) in 1964, then engineered and built Skyline Cable, according to the obituary written by the family. He installed the first commercial satellite dish west of the Mississippi, bringing many channels to the South Coast, then built more cable systems in Port Orford and Cottage Grove.

Vern got his fixed-wing and helicopter licenses in 1957. He was a Mason and Shriner and he and his wife loved camping, fishing and traveling the world. He established a scholarship within the Masons.

Some 20 years ago he bought the McDonough Farm in Sams Valley. It was over 100 years old—and Vern grew grapes on it with age-old principles that today are called organic and sustainable, said Ruth.

 “If you called it organic,” says Ruth, “he would just say ‘I’m doing the right thing, that’s all.’”

Vern sought the more complex and intensive fruit flavor, practiced low watering and believed in low yield and allowing the vine to struggle, said Ruth, noting the same applies to human life: “Life can’t be easy all the time or you don’t learn anything, he would say.”

Vern and his wife Dorothy were both educated at OIT and were equal partners in everything, says Ruth. “He was the vision and she put the pieces together and handled the finances. She let him shine and people wouldn’t know (what she did).”

 “They lived, loved and worked together for 54 years, a rare thing these days. It was a good thing and they enjoyed each other’s company,” said Ruth. “She will continue on the journey he started.” 

John Darling is an Ashland writer.

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