Many of you have heard the “Look me up when you want to get married” story (if not click here) but basically it explains that we have been striving toward this goal of vineyard and winery since we met at the University of Minnesota in 1984. Naturally, there were bouts of doubt along the way. One such episode came in July 1996. We spent a week in Oregon searching for vineyard land. We visited a family-run winery and confided with the owner that we were interested in buying property, planting a vineyard, and perhaps someday building a winery. The owner scolded us, “DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT YOU’RE SAYING? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD THAT IS? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT THAT COSTS? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA???”
I was concerned for two reasons: 1) if someone in the wine industry was telling us we shouldn’t do this – maybe we should listen, 2) and probably more importantly (if I’m honest), how would we save face? Mark had already started telling our friends in Minnesota that we were going to start a vineyard in Oregon someday. Who ever wants to admit they were wrong?
The next day we found our way to visit Mary Olson, owner of Airlie Winery on Dunn Forest Road near Monmouth, Oregon. Several people had told us we needed to visit Mary Olson because like us, Mary was from the Midwest, had no prior experience in the wine business, but moved to Oregon and was making it work! It wasn’t easy finding Mary’s place, but I’m sure glad we did because it changed our lives forever.
We got there late, after the Tasting Room had closed for the day, which was disappointing given the circuitous route we took to get there. Remember there were no smart phones or google maps in 1996. The paper map we had of Oregon Wineries was imprecise (to say the least), our minivan ran out of gas (on Wallace Road, just a stone’s throw from where we ultimately planted our own vineyard), and we had to find a Burger King to feed our 20-month-old son, who was surviving on Whoppers at the time (true story, although one Whopper would last him several days – and yes, he ate the entire burger himself)! We got out of the minivan to stretch our legs, and to try and find a more direct route back to Portland, where we were staying. All of a sudden, Mary steps out of the Tasting Room, sees us standing at the end of her driveway, and waves us in.
As we drove up the driveway, we were in awe of Airlie’s bucolic setting. Surrounded by mountains and gigantic Douglas firs, rolling vineyards, a huge pond with a dock, patio and umbrellas – Airlie Vineyard is a little rustic, but to us, absolute perfection. Mary greeted us with her infectious smile and let the kids run around outside while we went inside to taste wine. When she found out that we were from Minnesota she opened up even more wine, eager to share her passion and new profession with fellow Gophers!
We must have spent a couple hours (or more, time just flew by – it was a magical experience) talking and getting to know Mary when we finally shared our secret dream of following in her footsteps. I was still convinced this was a ridiculous fantasy after receiving the biting reality check the day before. Mary paused for a moment, took a deep breath, leaned in, looked me straight in the eyes, patted my hand, and repeated, “YOU can do this, YOU CAN do this, YOU CAN DO THIS!”
Click! That was it. I decided to listen to Mary and DO THIS! THANK YOU MARY OLSON – we all need someone to believe in us and be a cheerleader now and then.
And now I turn to our current situation. Here’s our new mantra: WE can do this, WE CAN do this, WE CAN DO THIS – TAKE CARE! Stay safe, and try help others in need.
– A little ray of sunshine from Bjornson Vineyard.