Bob McRitchie at Sokol Blosser Winery, circa 1977. ##Photo provided

Remembering Bob McRitchie

A Willamette Valley legend

By OWP Staff

Born Nov. 30, 1930, in Wadsworth, Ohio, Robert G. McRitchie died Dec. 3, 2020, in Port Townsend, Washington. He was 90 years old.

A natural athlete and avid sportsman, McRitchie enjoyed swimming, scuba diving, cycling and sailing. He also delighted in restoring old cars and motorcycles.

He joined the Navy at age 20 and served as a hospital corpsman on board the troop transport ship Sandoval, during the Korean War. He was later stationed in San Diego, where he met Maria Dora on a blind date. They married in 1952, bought an old MG and moved to Coronado, California.

McRitchie considered a Navy career but decided to return to college and study medicine. While at Vanderbilt University, his interest changed and he began pursuing a degree in physiology and microbiology. He eventually received a PhD in physiology from Rice University in the early ’60s. While teaching college courses, he pursued research work in his field.

Bob McRitchie ##Photo provided

After a fourth child and many interesting jobs in academia, McRitchie became interested in making wine. He moved his family to St. Helena, California, and worked in area wineries. In 1977, he relocated to the Willamette Valley and became part of the burgeoning Oregon wine industry as the first winemaker for Sokol Blosser Winery; he worked there until 1988.

Bill Blosser remembers McRitchie as highly skilled in the cellar: “We were extraordinarily lucky that Bob was our first winemaker.  He brought deep winemaking experience and an adventurous spirit to our little organization at a time when we needed to quickly establish ourselves as producers of quality wines.  The proof of his abilities showed in the 1983s, which placed at the top of the New York wine tasting between Burgundies and Oregon Pinot Noirs.” 

In 1981, McRitchie was named Oregonian of the Year by Oregon Magazine. He later made and consulted on wines for several other area wineries, including as winemaker for Willamette Valley Vineyards at its inception. McRitchie was active in wine education and research programs his entire career.  In 2015, Rich Schmidt and the Oregon Wine History Archive at Linfield University recorded an interview with him.

McRitchie had the opportunity to return to academia in 2000, when he was offered a position to help establish a new viticulture and enology department at Surry Community College in North Carolina. As a bonus, he and Maria would be closer to their son, Sean, who was growing grapes and making wine in the area.

After seven years in North Carolina, McRitchie retired. He and Maria returned to McMinnville, where they enjoyed a life of gardening, traveling and watching their family grow.

In 2014, McRitchie was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and was cared for by his wife until her sudden death in 2018. He moved to Port Townsend to be near their daughter, Melissa, and son, Joe. Friends and family say he never lost his natural charm or dignity. He was a gentleman and scholar until the very end. He told stories of his time in the Navy and could identify every bird that came to his window.

He was preceded in death by Maria. He is survived by his daughters, Robin Cushman and Melissa McCanna, and sons, Sean and Joseph McRitchie. He is also survived by 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Viento winemaker Rich Cushman had this to say about his father-in-law: “Bob was a big influence to many as the Oregon wine industry developed. He always said that the science behind the wine was important, but also that the first duty of a wine was to be delicious.”

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