Distaff Wine Company owners Moira (from left), Roísìn, Angelica, Marie-Therese and Brigid O’Reilly. ##Photo by Eamond O Reilly
The Distaff Wine Company tasting room in Newberg features roll-up doors, eclectic décor and bright murals painted by mom Angelica O’Reilly. ##Photo provided
The Nomen wine brand uses PET plastic instead of glass for bottles.
##Photo provided
Distaff wines in classic bottles and cool labels. ##Photo provided

Sister Act

O’Reillys land in Newberg via Yakima

By Mark Stock

Seems like just about every good wine country town has an incubator neighborhood of some kind, a small district where labels can share equipment, ideas and consumers. Consider Walla Walla or Woodinville, the former setting up wine shop in buildings near the airport; the latter storming an office park setting a short drive from Seattle.

Now add Newberg to this growing list. A few producers have found new or first homes in a little-known area between the bypass and Highway 99W. The small industrial complex is home to one of the Willamette Valley’s newest wineries, Distaff Wine Company. The operation is run by four sisters, the daughters of David O’Reilly, industry veteran and Owen Roe co-founder.

The label launched in December 2020 in the middle of the COVID chaos. Raising a label during the pandemic, of course, is no picnic. It requires an abundance of creativity. The Distaff team smartly used a more aggressive direct-to-consumer approach, one they continue today. Additionally, they’ve developed a brand personality built around sustainability and deep industry ties earned from the family’s extensive career.

In terms of winemaking, theirs is a shared role. Brigid, Roísìn, Moira, Marie-Therese are all involved, as well as their mother, Angelica. Growing up in and around vineyard sites in Oregon and Washington, the next generation of O’Reillys were raised around wine. And while they learned much from their parents, they’ve absorbed a lot from other angles within the industry as well.

“Our experience has not just been through our parents,” Brigid O’Reilly says. “We’ve had the opportunity to work in other great vineyards, tasting rooms and cellars.”

Presently, Distaff works closely with a pair of vineyards and treats them like family. It’s part of a legacy carried down the family tree, connections that began during the early Owen Roe era that carry on today.

“For us, it’s all about the relationships with the growers,” Brigid says. “Right now, we source from two vineyards, both farmed by our long-time friends. We trust them to grow our fruit to our specifications and they each farm sustainably, treat their employees incredibly well, and produce amazing fruit.”

Although produced in Yakima, the tasting room sits on the outskirts of Newberg. Inside an old airplane hangar overlooking a small landing strip, Distaff pours its work and ages many of its wines in barrel. Production at the moment measures about 4,000 cases annually, but with ample demand and some stellar placements — New Seasons, for example — that figure will surely rise.

Tasting through the flight, you’re likely to notice the bottles themselves before anything else. Distaff is working with recyclable plastic, which is easier on the environment. It requires less energy to produce and is easier to ship as it’s lighter in weight and doesn’t require a lot of the extra packaging glass needs. Moreover, the majority of wine drinkers in this country drink their bottles within the first couple weeks of purchase, one more reason the glass-and-cork model can feel antiquated.

“We use PET plastic because it is so much more sustainable than glass, but we always have our eyes out for any new packaging material that comes to market,” Brigid explains. “One of our current changes that we are working on is switching out our aluminum screw-tops for the Nova-Twist PET twists, so that our entire bottle is PET and can be recycled even easier at the recycling facility.”

The wines are quite good. Of note is the bone-dry rosé — made primarily of Syrah — and the Sauvignon Blanc, which has understandably sold out. These two wines are part of the brand’s entry-level lineup, aptly dubbed the Nomen wines. The price points are extremely inviting, and with the fully recyclable vessels, they’re a win-win. With so many reaching for canned and boxed wines, it’s a clever bit of positioning that’s proved successful.

The higher-end wines tout the Distaff name and are bottled in glass — at least for now. Some interesting single varietals include a wildly fragrant Grenache, a Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and even a Blaufränkisch. Throughout, there’s a pleasant restraint with a moderate amount of new wood and fantastic texture. Tasting individual varietals often obscured in Rhône-style blends presents a cool opportunity. O’Reilly says someday she’d like to work with Picpoul, an ancient white from the south of France.

Inside the tasting room, a stand-up bar sits next to a sprawling barrel room with panoramic garage doors. The larger space features bright murals painted by mom Angelica. Upon closer look at the barrel stacks, you’ll see century-old vines dad David unearthed from one of his sites, perfectly preserved and resembling gallery-ready driftwood. It’s a quaint touch, and a fitting one given the family’s wine tradition.

What’s next for Distaff and Nomen? Brigid says her team has a couple of fun wines in barrel and they’re in the process of dreaming up some interesting blends and more single varietals. Perhaps most interestingly, the plan is to release a Super Tuscan wine this fall. It’s set to be the first wine outfitted with the new PET screw-top.

The female-run establishment is totally worth a visit. Guests can make a day of it, popping over to Longplay Wine’s new facility for a tasting or across the street to Caravan Coffee for some roasted caffeine. Given the nature of the buildings — ideal for towers of barrels and airy, urban-chic tasting rooms — there will likely be more wineries in this industrial neighborhood in the near future.


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