Category: PRESS | Posted: 08-13-14
Ponzi, Sokol Blosser families carry on Oregon winemaking traditions
By: Terry Richard
Think back to the early 1970s. Gov. Tom McCall had just uttered his famous invitation to visit Oregon, then added “but don’t come here to live.” That was also the era the Portland Trail Blazers entered the National Basketball Association.
Up in the verdant hills of the northern Willamette Valley, a few glossy-eyed grape growers were trying to make wine where none worth a commercial hoot had been made before. It was about that time when two families moved north from California to try their luck, Dick and Nancy Ponzi and Bill and Susan Sokol Blosser.
They weren’t the first, but they were early enough to be part of the pioneering wave of northern Oregon winemakers.
Fast forward to 2013: Both families are still in the wine business. In fact, both names appear on bottles that affirm Oregon’s stature in the wine industry, now 545 wineries strong, around the world.
Founders of both family businesses continue their active roles, even as the elder Ponzis near their 80s and the Sokol Blossers their 70s. Both have turned the day-to-day winemaking and business operations over to their children.
And both families opened lavish new tasting rooms in July, thus solidifying their commitment to at least another generation of Oregon winemaking.
An Oregon winemaker, who also has been in the business the same 40-plus years, says his fellow pioneer families have carved out unique niches in Oregon’s wine industry.
“Sokol Blosser is known for sustainability,’’ says David Adelsheim, who produces wine under his family name. “They have followed a number of different regimes, from grapes grown on their own vineyards in an organic biodynamic way, to going to great links in recent construction to be LEED-certified.’’
Adelsheim says he will always think of the Ponzis as a big family of northern Italian heritage, celebrating a love of life, family and hospitality.
“They were into more than wine, as founders of BridgePort Brewing,’’ he said, noting one of Oregon’s original craft breweries. “They also took on the development in Dundee of the family wine bar. When they couldn’t find anyone to take the restaurant on, they wound up doing it, also.”
Opened in 1998, the Ponzi Wine Bar, and then the Dundee Bistro, were among the early upscale wine-specific tourism businesses to be located on a busy highway, instead of in a big city or at a vineyard tasting room. The Ponzi Wine Bar has introduced countless visitors to the breadth of Oregon pinot noir, carrying as it does perfect-for-sampling half-bottles from a who’s who of the state’s best wine producers.
Both families’ wines have been good, too.
“Sokol Blosser followed the style of pioneers, such as David Lett at Eyrie, seeking expressiveness in delicate, fragile, subtle and earthy pinot noirs, meant to develop depth in the bottle. The winery also makes an array of pleasingly aromatic whites, in a location just off Oregon 99W where it is easily recognizable.’’
Sokol Blosser Winery is nestled in the famous red hills two miles south of Dundee, on that busy highway between Portland and the Oregon coast. Ponzi Vineyards make its wines on the north side of Chehalem Mountain, between Beaverton and Sherwood, in a location they chose in order to be close to a big city market.
“Ponzi had different ideas, aiming for signature pinot noirs of richness, suppleness and generosity,’’ Steiman says, “while retaining an essential finesse and elegance. This style carries over into its white wines, especially chardonnay and pinot gris. In my reviews over the years, Ponzi has produced many more outstanding wines as well.”
Ponzis arrive in 1969
Richard Ponzi recalls how he brought his family north from California a few months before choosing a site to plant his first vineyard in 1970.
“I drove a propane-powered flatbed truck,’’ he says, “with all the family possession in it _ a piano, a canoe, four barrels of wine we had made in California. Nancy followed behind me in her car with the three kids.
“Once, when I was getting low on propane, I turned off to find a place to fill up. She must have driven past me, because a police officer stopped me later and told me she was waiting for me at Red Bluff. She had called the sheriff.’’
Nancy’s parents lived in Gaston, on the Yamhill-Washington county line, so they had a place to land in Oregon. They soon began searching nearby hills to start a vineyard in what became the Willamette Valley American Viticultural Area.
“Portland was going to be our wine market,’’ Dick Ponzi says, “so we didn’t want to be too far out. We settled on 20 acres, overgrown with berry row crops, with no other vineyards around.’’
They got some vine starts from Dick Erath and Charles Coury, both early winemakers in the Yamhill Valley, and started their vineyard in Washington County. Before long, they were making more wine than the local market could absorb and had to travel to San Francisco and Chicago to sell it, then to the East Coast where fame of their name preceded them.
“Charles Ponzi was from Boston,’’ Dick Ponzi says, emphasizing that his family is not related to the 1920s namesake of the Ponzi scheme.
“If Ponzi means ‘get rich quick’,’’ he says, “it didn’t work for us.”
He said that Portland wine drinkers didn’t know much about a Ponzi scheme, until the 2009 conviction of Bernie Madoff brought the Ponzi name more infamous attention. Daughter Maria Ponzi had worked in Boston for a few years, before returning home to take on the family business 22 years ago, so she knew all about the Ponzi scheme.
“I cannot get through a day without someone making a snide remark about it,’’ says Maria Ponzi, the family’s eldest daughter who runs sales and marketing for the winery. “But I’m usually ready and waiting for it. During the height of the Madoff scandal, our website erupted with more hits through Google searches than ever before.’’
Her younger sister, Luisa Ponzi, 46, has been winemaker for 20 vintages. Brother Michel Ponzi remains co-owner, but left the business this year to live in Italy.
The Ponzis retain their historic tasting room south of Beaverton, but chose to establish their new operation on Mountain Home Road five miles away and closer to Sherwood. Dick Ponzi designed the new winery, which opened in 2008 in the Chehalem Mountains AVA, where business operations were also consolidated.
An impressive 5,000-square foot tasting room was built near the new production plant, though construction was delayed through the depths of the recession before it opened this summer.
The family “jumped in and did a lot of it ourselves, to keep the cost down,’’ according to Maria Ponzi. The tasting room was designed by Brett Fogelstrom, Maria’s husband and owner of a local design company.
The elegant space is a big improvement from Ponzi hospitality began in the early 1970s, when production and sales were handled in the family garage. Early visitors were loathe to make a journey so far into the country, according to Dick Ponzi, and those who did occasionally got stuck when driving off the unpaved road. The roads are paved these days.
“It’s been very gratifying, seeing the public reception and the constant traffic coming up our hill,’’ says Dick Ponzi, who remains active in the family business. “A winery keeps me young. I just do what my daughters tell me to do. That keeps them happy and me out of trouble.”
Similar trajectory followed
The Sokol Blosser story has some commonalities with the Ponzis’ background, though Bill Blosser and Susan Sokol Blosser wound up selecting a vineyard site where a few other wine grape growers were already established.
“We weren’t the first, but it sure felt like it,’’ says Bill Blosser, who departed on a weeklong cycle tour of Argentina wine country shortly after being interviewed. The couple had recently graduated from Stanford University in California and moved north, where Susan went to grad school at Reed College in Portland and Bill took a job in urban planning.
They began scouting for a vineyard plot and decided on a hillside at the south end of what is now the Dundee Hills AVA in Yamhill County, a prime pinot noir grape growing region that later made a name in world wine competitions.
“The plot of land we found was a bunch of prune trees blown over in the 1962 Columbus Day Storm,’’ says Bill Blosser, referring to one of the most notorious weather events in Oregon history. “The owner was looking to unload it. We got a good deal.”
Their first planting was in 1971.
“A handful of young couples, just like us, were thinking the same thing,’’ says Susan Sokol Blosser. “It turned out to be part of a social movement. Their toddlers were born the same time as ours. It involved a lot of synchronicity.’’
The Legislature also passed a key land use law in 1973, saving steep hillside of what became wine country for agricultural use, instead of allowing view-home subdivisions.
By 1977, the Sokol Blossers had moved into the first formal wine tasting room in Oregon. Designed by John Storrs, one of the finest architects of the day (he also designed Salishan Lodge on the Oregon coast), the original tasting room is still in use for special events at the winery.
Bill Blosser turned the business over to his wife in 1991, then she to their children in 2008. Alex Sokol Blosser, 39, is the winemaker, while his older brother, Nik Sokol Blosser, is chairman of the family company (but primarily works in companies of his own). Younger sister Alison Sokol Blosser is head of marketing and sales.
Alex tells how this wine family narrowly avoided the name woes the Ponzi family has endured.
“Dad always said it was a good thing we weren’t Blosser Sokol, because then we would have been B.S.,’’ he says, though his sister isn’t so sure that would have been a bad thing. “Think of the marketing possibilities,’’ says Alison Sokol Blosser.
Her marketing possibilities have grown markedly with the new tasting room designed by Brad Cloepfil, principal architect of Allied Works Architect, who lists the Wieden+Kennedy Building in Portland and Seattle Art Museum expansion in his portfolio.
“He grew up in Yamhill County and wanted to do a project here,’’ Allison Sokol Blosser says. “He calls it his little jewel box.’’
The Sokol Blosser tasting room is a mix of spaces for a variety of uses, including the tasting bar, wine library, farm table and outdoor service.
“It gives us a ton of flexibility,’’ Alison Sokol Blosser says. “It’s all about welcoming people who come here from all over the world. It’s our chance to show off the beauty of our area, the quality of our wine and the Oregon style of hospitality.”
If you go: The new Ponzi Vineyards tasting room is at 19500 S.W. Mountain Home Road, Sherwood (open 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily). The family continues to operate its Ponzi Historic Estate at 14665 Winery Lane, Beaverton, and Ponzi Wine Bar and Dundee Bistro at Oregon 99W and Seventh Street in Dundee; ponziwines.com, 503-628-1227.
Sokol Blosser Winery’s new tasting room is at 5000 N.E. Sokol Blosser Lane, Dayton (open daily 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.); sokolblosser.com, 503-864-2282; the earlier tasting just steps away room is open for special events.
Category: Catering events | Posted: 08-03-14
Last night’s First Year Casal Cristiana Extra Virgin Olive Oil Anniversary Dinner was simply divine! More than 20 guests arrived for the multi-course event, where they were quizzed on their olive oil knowledge and tasted multiple tantalizing Bistro dishes.
Guests were also the first to find out about CCEVOO’s exciting news, in which they announced they will now be selling CCEVOO in five states!
For more information on CCEVOO and their latest events: http://casalcristiana.com/
Category: EVENTS | Posted: 07-21-14
The Dundee Bistro catered a private event at Ponzi Vineyards last week, serving up everything from our fresh Simington Farms Green Salad to a Creme Brulee for dessert. Interested in having the Bistro cater your next private event? Contact our Service Manager, Solomon Allen, at email@example.com. Cheers!
Category: PRESS | Posted: 07-10-14
The Dundee Bistro – Can never go wrong here.
July 9, 2014
We are getting through the last of the oldies and are going to start new this Friday (don’t know where we are going yet) We love this place, and now that they are old enough Aidan and Lowell love it too. We always hit it for lunch either on our way to or from the beach. The food is consistently good, they are nice to the dudes (even though there are never many kids when we are there), and they almost always have a clam or mussel dish, which means the dudes will always be happy (and wine for mom and dad, which makes us happy).
The pizza is good, and the burger is awesome although for whatever reason Lowell and Aidan are not into burgers. ????? Love, love, love the Dundee Bistro!
Category: BEHIND THE SCENES | Posted: 07-03-14
Executive Chef Chris Flanagan continues to care for the Bistro garden, helping it grow vigorously and beautifully. Fresh herbs overflow the hand-made garden boxes and flowers are blooming everywhere!