Old vines bear new fruit for Risdall Ranch Winery
Originally founded in 1973, the Risdall Ranch Winery overlooking Gales Creek is one of the oldest in the Willamette Valley wine region.
But the winery has undergone some major changes over the past few years — not the least of which is its name, which might be unfamiliar to some wine enthusiasts who know the property by its former name, Shafer Vineyard Cellars.
Shafer was sold to new owners after its owners retired at the end of 2015, officially becoming Risdall Ranch the next year. Some of the bottles sold in the winery's rustic-chic tasting room near the top of the hill still bear the Shafer label.
Bob and Emery Risdall, the father-son duo who purchased the winery, came to the business with a vision.
"The main idea was pretty much to pay homage to my father's ranch that I grew up on in South Dakota," said Emery Risdall, the son and winemaker. "Even this room has a little bit of a farmhouse styling to it."
Risdall Ranch is a fairly small operation, with just four regular employees. One of them is Ray Salow, who manages the tasting room.
Salow said there has been "lots of investment in the physical process of the winemaking" as well as in the property itself.
"We actually put a new roof on the building last summer, and then we were closed after this last Christmas for a few months to redo our new tasting room as well," Salow said.
He added, "The layout of this room hasn't changed too much, but we definitely did refresh. Our handyman found some local felled walnut from the Chehalem wetlands — beautiful pieces — so that's the bar and the table."
Most of Risdall Ranch's grapevines predate the new ownership, in some cases by many years.
"We've been maintaining the vines," Salow said. "The vineyard itself has not changed much. There's been a few new additions out in the vines, but essentially, we've got that really nice old root stock to work with, so some great quality fruit."
Most of Risdall Ranch's wine production is chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir — three classic wine grapes that grow very well in the mild climate and volcanic soil of the Willamette Valley. Smaller plantings include riesling and gewürztraminer, which Salow said tend to a more dry or off-dry palette than the norm, as well as a "tiny" amount of Müller-Thurgau, a less common Swiss grape variety related to riesling. Gamay noir won't be bottled for sale at Risdall Ranch this year, Salow said, but he anticipates customers will start seeing it in 2019 or 2020.
The release of the latest batch of wines from Risdall Ranch is expected to come around Memorial Day weekend — some white and rosé wines from last year's vintage, along with the last of the 2016 pinot noirs, Salow said.
For both Salow and Emery Risdall, winemaking runs deep.
"I've been in the industry since before I could legally drink," Risdall said. "I moved out from South Dakota at 19 for wine work in California."
Risdall Ranch is in search of a local distributor; ironically, its wines are easier to find in Minnesota and the Dakotas than back home in Oregon, Salow said, a byproduct of the Risdalls' own roots in that part of the country.
The winery has changed in many ways, but it has kept up a longstanding tradition from its Shafer days: its Christmas store, which sells innumerable ornaments and holiday décor items and has remained immensely popular with customers even under new ownership, Emery Risdall said.
But for now, Risdall Ranch is looking ahead to the end of this month.
"There's a lot of folks that just like to come out to wine country that (Memorial Day) weekend," Salow said. "Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend and then that weekend of Thanksgiving are kind of like your three big weekends in wine country."
Risdall Ranch is located at 6200 N.W. Gales Creek Road, about three miles northwest of Forest Grove. The winery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday.
By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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