Fresh wine and a fresh face
A Forest Grove-area winery has a new winemaker, and she's already making a splash in the local wine scene.
Shannon Carrigan, 24, was named winemaker at Plum Hill Vineyards earlier this year, the youngest winemaker in the Willamette Valley, according to Plum Hill owner RJ Lint.
Carrigan's journey toward agribusiness began on her grandparent's 70-acre strawberry and fescue grass farm in Helvetia, north of Hillsboro. Carrigan, who lived in Colorado, would visit during summer break, where she learned to pick, plant and how to work the land from her grandfather, James Morse.
"I have so many fun memories of visiting other u-pick strawberry fields in the area," Carrigan said. "My family would all get together and race there before making fresh strawberry jam afterward."
Carrigan joined Plum Hill Vineyards in 2016, fresh from her studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.Taking a wine studies class sparked her initial interest, she said, and she toured the wine region of Temecula, California as often as possible.
"There was no 'ah-ha' moment for me, but the more I toured different vineyards, the more I could see myself enjoying the same type of work," Carrigan said. "Tending to the land; making and drinking wine. I could do that."
With a degree and dreams of her grandparent's farm, Carrigan moved to Oregon to join the area's strong wine industry. She worked in the tasting room at Plum Hill Vineyards and was so enthusiastic to participate in aspects more challenging she moved to other positions in the winery after only two days on the job, owner Juanita Lint said.
The Lints said Carrigan's first two months with the vineyard were a whirlwind as she learned about the wine making process, from tractor and forklift driving to grape processing equipment.
"Having the youngest winemaker in the valley has brought some freshness to our wines and made me revisit some of our techniques," RJ said.
The road to winemaker hasn't always been easy, RJ said. He initially scoffed at her ideas to transform the winery's cherished schönberger into a white dessert wine, and her suggestion to destem the pinot gris before pressing to produce an "orange wine" was met with similar distrust, but he said "the youth won out" in the end.
Carrigan enjoys creating new events at the vineyard — especially ones that give her a chance to bring her animals to work. Plum Hill was named the top dog-friendly winery in Oregon last year, and Carrigan's dog, Remy, has become a staple at the business. She launched the winery's "Plum Hill Doggie Day," which featured pup-themed vendors in addition to an open rescue. Carrigan hopes this event can become tradition.
Carrigan said she wants to collaborate with other vineyards in the area.
"I'd really like to put together some sort of wine maker's dinner," Carrigan said. "I'm always looking to meet and learn from other wine makers, so I think it could be a really valuable experience for everyone."
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