Ken and Grace Evenstad ##Photo provided

Ken Evenstad (1943–2020)

Remembering the Domaine Serene co-founder

By OWP Staff

Kenneth L. Evenstad, founder of Upsher-Smith Laboratories and co-founder of Domaine Serene Vineyards & Winery, died at his home in Oregon on Oct. 21, 2020, having fought chronic pulmonary issues for the past five years. He was 77 years of age.

Evenstad was born July 9, 1943, in Baudette, Minnesota, a tiny town on the Canadian border. Though of meager means, his mother continually encouraged him to “be whatever he wanted to be.” He personified the American Dream. Convinced by the local pharmacist that he was “college worthy,” he put himself through school, earning his Bachelor of Pharmacy from the University of Minnesota in 1967. In April of the previous year, he met the love of his life, Grace, on a blind date. They were married seven months later and were partners in life, business, and philanthropy until the end.

Evenstad’s interest in chemistry and pharmacy drove him to revive an aged company in the Minneapolis area, Upsher-Smith, in 1969. Scraping together all of their savings, he bought the company for $1,500. Over the next three decades, he bootstrapped, led and managed the fledgling company into a successful generic pharmaceutical business. The following 20 years, he served as chairman of Upsher-Smith, partnering with his son, Mark, the CEO. Innovation, dedication and long-term vision created more than $1.5 billion in value.

Evenstad was the inventor of numerous innovations and awarded scores of patents for lifesaving drugs helping millions while creating thousands of high-paying American jobs. He was recognized by Ernst & Young as its “Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2001. In 2012, Evenstad was awarded the University of Minnesota’s “Outstanding Achievement Award,” the highest award given to a graduate.

The couple’s interest in wine began in the mid-1970s. Their passion for Pinot Noir, adventurous spirit and confidence in their vision drove them to purchase 42 acres in the Dundee Hills to be planted to Pinot Noir, establishing Domaine Serene in 1989. Starting from the humble beginnings of making their first wine in 1990, in an old abandoned electric plant in McMinnville, they bought additional property 10 years later in the Dundee Hills and built a state-of-the-art, five-level, gravity-flow winery.

The winery estate has since expanded to include another facility for white wine and sparkling production, as well as a magnificent tasting “Clubhouse” to welcome visitors. Domaine Serene’s land has now grown to more than 1,000 acres from its original 42, including 300 planted to vine, producing 37 different Domaine Serene wines.

In 2015, the Evenstads became the first Oregon vintners to purchase property and produce wines in Burgundy, France, with the acquisition of Château de la Crée, the venerable 15th century domaine located in the Côte d’Or.

Wine Spectator awarded Domaine Serene’s 2010 vintage as “Best Pinot Noir,” followed by Decanter magazine honoring Domaine Serene with “Best in Show” and “Best Pinot Noir” for the 2012 vintage and, subsequently, 2016.

In 2018, the Evenstads were awarded the “Distinguished Service Award” by Wine Spectator for their numerous pioneering contributions to the global wine industry. The same year, their wines — made in both Oregon and Burgundy — received an incredible 23 medals, including Decanter’s “Best in Show,” making Domaine Serene one of the most awarded wineries in the world.

The Evenstads are also known for their philanthropy, which includes the endowment of The Evenstad Center for Wine Education at Linfield University in McMinnville; the relatively new institution established America’s first multi-disciplinary undergraduate degree in wine studies.

Since 2001, the Evenstads have spent their winters in Naples, Florida, actively involved as lifetime trustees of the Naples Winter Wine Festival, the Naples Botanical Garden and Trinity-by-the-Cove Church.

A winery rep stated, “Ken, a devoted husband, father and grandfather, will be remembered by all for his trust in the goodness of people, his generous spirit and a laugh that could fill a room of any size. He will be dearly missed by all who knew and loved him. As he stated just a few weeks ago, ‘I’ve seen and done everything I’ve wanted to do, as I’ve wanted...and I have no regrets.’”

Evenstad is survived by Grace, his wife of 53 years and true partner in everything; daughter Serene; son Mark; and six grandchildren: Miles, Henry, Sophie, Grace, Gunnar and Tor. He is also survived by brother Glenn (Suzie), sister Arlene (Bud), 10 nieces and nephews, and hundreds of friends.

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