McCleskey Cellars and Horseleap Vineyard will host an open house and tasting on Saturday, May 16

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A selection of Horseleap wine is featured at the McCleskey Cellars in Tigard.Stepping into the tasting room at McCleskey Cellars in Tigard, you could easily be entering a mountain lodge or a well-loved community pub. Scanning the wood-paneled room, your eyes take in walls lined with shelves of shot glasses, a cardboard cutout of John Wayne, an American flag and a bear hide. Above the bar, you’d be hard pressed to miss the maiden leading a ship out of the wall — her name, it turns out, is Minerva.

McCleskey Cellars in Tigard, owned by husband and wife Mike and Anne McCleskey, might not be the most traditional of wineries, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it has the most character.

“There’s so many different cultures where wine is part of their culture, religion, politics, social stuff,” said Mike, who was a family doctor in Tigard for 33 years before retiring in 2010. “It’s just a friendly get-together whenever there’s a glass of wine.”

From noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 16, the McCleskeys will host a spring tasting open house to foster this friendly atmosphere. At the tasting, they’ll debut a new pinot grigio and white pinot noir. And although wine is a big part of their daily lives, and has been for some years, it wasn’t always this way. TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Winery Manager Kevin Craig describes why the grapes grow successfully at Horseleap Vineyard in Tigard.

Having both grown up in Wyoming, the McCleskeys were introduced to wine culture rather late in the game for people who ultimately ended up making their own fermented grape juice. Beer was the culture in Wyoming, and even though they knew each other in high school, it was around beer that they first began dating in college at the University of Wyoming.

“I went to the public schools in the town we were in, and he went to the Catholic school so we didn’t meet until we were in high school,” said Anne. “He was kind of a nerd and I was kind of busy, so we first dated when we were in college.”

She says this dryly, matter-of-factly, and that tone seems key in understanding the McCleskeys as a couple. Both 69 years old, they’re constantly poking fun at each other. If one tells a joke the other doesn’t find funny, there isn’t a pity laugh to be heard. If one is telling a story, the other interjects to point out all the key pieces that weren’t mentioned.

“You skipped over five years,” Anne said to Mike as he described how they first assimilated into the wine industry. “The thing you skipped is we tried for about five years to maintain the plants ourselves. I was up every morning at 9 a.m., down in the vineyard trying to prune the grapes. Gosh, it is just incredible how hard it is to do, especially when you’re not quite sure what you’re doing.”TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Manager Kevin Craig (left to right) and owners Mike and Anne McCleskey stand in Horseleap Vineyard in Tigard.

Seated on a rolling hill off of April Lane in Tigard, the McCleskeys own 10 acres of property, about seven of those making up Horseleap Vineyard, which grows three different grape varietals — pinot grigio, pinot noir and gamay noir. They purchased the land in 1991, built their house a year later, and were planting grapes with the help of their son-in-law by 2001. Prior to creating the vineyard, the acreage had been full of hay and blackberries, but the McCleskeys knew that wasn’t right.

“I think it calls you,” said Anne. “It says, ‘I’m supposed to be a vineyard. I’m not supposed to grow blackberries.’”

The couple’s introduction to wine had come from drinking sherry during the two years they lived in Spain while Mike was in the Navy for the Vietnam War. After that came various red and white wine tastings after moving to Oregon, and the McCleskeys embraced their new pursuit with open arms. They took classes on winemaking and sought out best practices, and Anne tended to the vineyard every day. But after five years, they realized there was room for more efficiency and hired a crew to tend to the grapes.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A 2010 bottle of a McCleskey Cellars Pinot Noir is lit up by Christmas lights which decorate the inside of the tasting room barn at the vineyard in Tigard.

“They can do in a day what we could do in a month,” said Anne.

Even so, it was difficult for her and Mike to loosen the reins, but they did it again in 2009 when they hired Jim Seufert as their winemaker. And they took it one step further a year ago when they hired winery manager Kevin Craig to make them more visible within the community, and hopefully, get their wine into some stores.

“There’s lots of great tasting rooms in Oregon, some of them right down the street in Dundee. But a lot of them are basically the same — very refined, very upscale, very nice,” said Craig. “We’re definitely unique and different, and people have really embraced it more than I ever thought they would.”

And yet, after more than a decade of existence, it’s common for the McCleskeys to hear “Wait. There’s a winery in Tigard?” It’s that barrier they’re trying to break down, while continuing to make quality and creative wines.TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - A selection of Horseleap wine is featured at the McCleskey Cellars in Tigard.

“It’s so individualistic on what a perfect wine is. Some people are all about the grapes that are grown, and you should really not do much with the juice that’s fermented out of those grapes. Others think, as a winemaker, once they’re in the barrel, that’s where the magic happens,” said Craig. “So there’s a different view of how a wine is made, and some of it is a connection of all of those parts.”

The McCleskeys fall more into the first category, Craig said, and try to create wine that lets the grapes do the talking. But as much as they love the wine, for the McCleskeys, this business is more than that. It’s the people they meet who come in for tastings. It’s the workers who keep everything running, with whom they often share a laugh. It’s the view from their porch, overlooking Horseleap Vineyard and the valley below on a sunny day. It’s seeing Haggis the hawk, who’s watched over their land for 20 years, swoop down to say “Hello.”

Seated on a relatively small patch of land close to town, McCleskey Cellars is not your typical winery, and the owners never intended it to be. It’s a reflection of their personalities and all of the events and people who got them here. To change that would be to change the very essence of what they’ve created.

“We’re not part of the uppity wine societies. Obviously, you can tell from our surroundings here that we’re very rustic, and we enjoy that. Both of us came from blue collar workers — Mike’s dad worked for the railroad and my dad worked for the telephone company,” Anne said, noting that although Mike was a doctor, he didn’t let that influence his personality. The bear hide on the wall was his retirement gift from his fellow doctors, after all. “We’ve stayed rustic and we’ve enjoyed it, and I think we’ll keep it that way.”

Visit McCleskey Cellars and Horseleap Vineyard

What: Spring tasting and open house

When: Saturday, May 16, from noon to 5 p.m.

Where: 15590 S.W. April Lane in Tigard

Cost: $5, waived with purchase

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VADLEZ - Anne McCleskey sits in the tasting room barn at the McCleskey Cellars in Tigard.

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