Promise Fulfilled

Fullerton Wines is building a family legacy bottle by bottle

The Fullerton family, including dog Phoebe.##Photo by Josh Chang
Winemaker Alex Fullerton tasting wine from a tank. ##Photo by Josh Chang

By Brooke Strickland

Although Alex Fullerton never planned to be an entrepreneur and winemaker, it’s obvious he can’t imagine doing anything else. As a preschool-aged child, he recalls swirling his milk and spilling it, an early indication of his future career.

He said, “I could never have imagined I would start a winery with my parents. Although in hindsight, swirling my milk and spilling it everywhere, I clearly had an interest in wine from watching my parents swirl, smell, enjoy and discuss it.”

So began his interest in the winemaking industry. Fullerton’s love of wine was solidified at age 18, while exploring Burgundy, Champagne and the Loire with his father. Later, he began brewing beer and learning more about the fermentation process.

“After working a few harvests, my parents and I got the crazy idea that we should start a winery,” Fullerton explained. “And we have never looked back.”

He studied viticulture and enology at Oregon State University, beginning his career as a cellar hand for Penner-Ash Wine Cellars and Bergström Wines. During harvests, Fullerton was dedicated to absorbing as much knowledge as he could.

Simultaneously, he and his dad, Eric, researched what it would take to start their own winery. In 2011, they planted a Chardonnay vineyard in Alex’s parents’ backyard in Beaverton, eventually expanding onto their neighbor’s property as well. When Fullerton Wines officially opened its first tasting room more than a decade ago, it was at Alex’s parents’ house. It didn’t take long for their wines to become incredibly popular. The Fullertons realized there simply wasn’t enough parking in the neighborhood to accommodate all their guests.

Space considerations led them to open their current location in Northwest Portland’s trendy Slabtown district. Fullerton Wines also has a tasting space in Corvallis, adjacent to the winery. Both places promise unique wine-tasting experiences.

“The Corvallis location is ideal for us, offering plenty of space to increase our production as we grow, with all of the equipment necessary for our style of winemaking,” Fullerton shared. “We recently bought this space and have been working on renovations, including building a better tasting area.”

Fullerton continues, “What’s unique about our Portland tasting room is that guests can taste Pinot Noir from every Willamette Valley AVA without leaving the city limits. Meanwhile, our Corvallis location provides an authentic tasting experience surrounded by tanks, complete with a sample straight from the barrel.”

Today, Fullerton Wines has five full-time employees, with a few extra hands during harvest. While the last few years have been unpredictable with a multitude of supply chain challenges, the family remained creative and intentional about their growth. During the pandemic, they focused heavily on direct-to-consumer sales and enlarging their wine club, which now counts about 650 members. They began concentrating on the markets and distribution relationships showing signs of strength. Currently, Fullerton Wines occupy shelves in 20 states, Denmark and Singapore. Wine lovers can also purchase through their website.

While some of their grapes are backyard-grown, originate in vineyards from every appellation in the Willamette Valley. They also source fruit from the Columbia Gorge and the Oregon side of the Walla Walla Valley. From distinctive Chardonnays to their vibrant Pinot Noirs, Fullerton continues to polish his skills as a winemaker and further develop his palate. And he draws upon knowledge gleaned from working alongside expert vintners.

“I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by some very generous and knowledgeable winemakers throughout my career,” he explained. “At the SE Wine Collective, I worked alongside a diverse array of winemakers, all of whom proved influential in different ways. They include Tom Monroe and Kate Norris of Division Winemaking Company, Vincent Fritzsche of Vincent Wine Company and Anne Hubatch of Helioterra Wines.

“For the past several years, I’ve been making wine beside Andrew Bandy-Smith– first when he was working for Soter Vineyards and now as the winemaker for Antiquum Farm. We are also very lucky to have Isabel Newlin making Dacha Wines in our winery. She is a wealth of knowledge, especially when it comes to viticulture– the most important part of winemaking. Oregon’s wine industry is filled with amazing people willing to share information and help each other out any way they can.”

Presently, their largest production and most popular bottling is their Three Otters Pinot Noir. Named after the three otters on the family’s 13th-century coat of arms, they age this Willamette Valley Pinot Noir entirely in neutral oak. The result is a soft, approachable wine that lends itself to rich flavor in every sip.

“Our goal is to showcase the unique and varied terroirs of the Valley by expressing the unique personality of vineyard and vintage in the bottle,” Fullerton says. “We have taken the strategy of learning the best techniques for each vineyard. Rather than have one process for all of our wines, we tailor the approach to highlight the unique traits of each vineyard.”

Despite the growth and changes Fullerton Wines experienced in the last decade, Fullerton explains one element that will remain forever at the foundation: family.

He said, “Our main goal has always been to build a family business that can be passed down to the next generation. I am excited about the prospects of what the Willamette Valley has to offer. I also look forward to discovering new grape varieties that grow well in our climate, while continuing to find new ways to express the world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that our region is known for.”

Fullerton Wines hosts bi-monthly pairing dinners at their Portland tasting room and wine bar. Every second Thursday of the month, Chef Sarah Pliner of Aviary creates seasonal five-course exploration dinners with an optional wine pairing to complement each course. Tickets for dinner are $80 per person; the accompanying wine pairing is offered for an additional $50 each. Wine club members receive 15-25 percent off wine pairings. Guests may instead opt to drink other Fullerton wines with their meals.

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