Through the Vine: Cheers to the Dads of Oregon Wine

Father's Day in Wine Country

As we approach Father’s Day, you’ll see lots of stories about last minute gifts for dads, but how about the Oregon winemaker fathers who work with their kids day in and day out, guiding these second-generation winemakers into greatness?  

Here’s a handful from around the state: 

Founded by Ted Gerber in 1974, Foris Vineyards has been a true viticultural pioneer for five decades. Ted’s daughter Alicia Gerber manages the Foris tasting room. This alpine winery in the Siskiyous nestled within in the Rogue Valley AVA was built literally by hand by Ted and serves as the perfect setting for tasting the winery’s offerings. Specializing in Alsatian wine grapes like Riesling, Gewürztraminer, early Muscat and Pinot gris, the winery excels at making Burgundian variety wines too, like Pinot noir and Chardonnay.

Just because they’re remote doesn’t mean the critics don’t see or taste their beautiful wines. Their Estate Pinot noir netted a 91 score in 2023 from renowned critic James Suckling, in a classic Burgundian style showing notes of spice, cedar and pine. Similarly, their Rogue Valley Tempranillo earned at 92. 

Ted and Alicia Gerber

Heading North to the Willamette Valley, Leo Gabica of Sweet Cheeks and father of three works with his son, Ian. Says Leo in an interview with the Willamette Valley Wine Association: “He started when we were self-distributed and would drive to the local stores and restaurants to deliver our wine. Eventually he moved into the vineyard and then into the cellar. I just want my kids to find something they enjoy doing – if working in the wine industry is fulfilling, that’s great. If he wanted to find a new career I would be okay with that too. The skills you develop during winemaking are valuable in all career fields – you have to be accountable, adaptable and patient.” 

Leo and Ian Gabica (Photo courtesy of WVWA)

When asked about any funny fatherhood stories in the winery, Leo said: “When I first started at Sweet Cheeks Winery, I had my third child, Imari. With both myself and my wife working full-time, and not wanting to pay for childcare – our Founder, Dan Smith, told me to bring Imari with me. I would wear a baby carrier and do everything with her strapped to my chest. Sometimes that would be challenging!“ 

Heading East to the Walla Walla Valley AVA, in the Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, is where Ducleaux Cellars sits against a perfect backdrop of the Blue Mountains of Oregon. The parents of six children by blending families, Toby Turlay and Chris Dukelow have employed their son Tryg in the vineyards, who is currently finishing up harvest in New Zealand. 

Also on the dad note, Ducleaux won Best in Class and a Double Gold medal for Call Sign, the winery’s first estate Petillant Naturel (Pet Nat) sourced from their Belle Roche Vineyard. Named in honor of Navy fighter pilot Commander William E. Turlay who is the father of winemaker Toby Turlay, he performed over 800 carrier landings in his 22 years of service. He is champagne lover, earning him the flight call sign of “Champagne One,” from sneaking cases of Champagne onto the ship to share with his squadron. As an honor to her dad, his love of Champagne and his years of service, Toby and Chris named this wine Call Sign. 

Toby Turlay and Chris Dukelow with their children

Lange Estate Winery, founded by Wendy and Don Lange in 1987 in the Dundee Hills are considered new world winemaking pioneers. Son and  second generation winemaker Jesse Lange is also at the helm. Together with his father Don, they crafted a portfolio of elegant wines that reach across a spectrum of microclimates and terroirs. Jesse’s style of farming is very hands-on, knowing decisions to make beautiful wines are made at the farming level. Here they are flyfishing together on the Deschutes River in Central Oregon. 

Jesse and Don Lange

King Estate Winery was established in 1991 by the late Ed King, Jr., founder of aviation electronics company King Radio Corp. in Kansas, and his son, Ed King III, who is the winery’s current President and CEO. Today two of Ed King III’s sons are actively involved in the business: Justin as National Sales Manager and Taylor as Graphic Design Manager. The brothers collaborated on King Estate’s 7 Rows label of estate-grown Pinot Gris and Pinot noir, with Justin on the winemaking team and Taylor designing the distinctive label. A third son, Joe, previously worked at the winery before pursuing a film career in L.A. Still family owned and operated, King Estate was founded on the principles of stewardship, tradition and family.

Taylor, Joe, Justin King (Photo used courtesy of King Estate)

Laura and Bryan Laing at Hazelfern know a thing or two about family; While keeping their day jobs and raising two daughters under 10, they planted a small vineyard and continued making wine in the dark after they came home from work and put the kids to bed. Hazelfern opened their farm and tasting room to the public in 2016, and after significant growth, the couple left their day jobs to focus on winemaking full time in 2018. Laura recanted that until 2018, the couple had never made wine in the daytime. “Our kids won’t necessarily remember what they learned in PE class years from now, but they will remember playing hide and seek in the vineyard, the values of hard work on the farm, and learning how to drive a tractor,” Laura said. 

Laura and Bryan Laing

Bryan at Hazelfern is also one of three winemaker dads interviewed on camera in this fun take on winemaking and fatherhood produced by the WVWA. Along with Jerry Murray of PROJECT M, and Thomas Savre of Lingua Franca, they said: “The wine industry has never had a shortage of father-child business partnerships. But stories about raising those kids are in shorter supply—what’s it like juggling press loads and skinned knees, birthday parties and bottling days?” Tune in for those stories here.

Once buskers on the Santa Monica pier, Dave and Lois Cho are Oregon’s first Korean-American winemakers. They’re building CHO Wines and Vineyard at an 800 foot elevation in the Chehalem Mountains. Together with Hazelfern in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA and Corollary Wines in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA, the Chos are part of an inspiring movement of young first-generation Oregon winegrowers who share in the pioneering spirit of developing vineyard land for their homegrown wineries. Holding their shared values of sustainably farmed fruit, low input winemaking in an inclusive wine experience for visitors and staff, these first-generation winemakers are blazing new trails that embody the spirit created by the original Willamette Valley pioneers decades ago.

Dave and Lois Cho (Photo credit: Aaron Lee)

Father of three under 10, Dave’s love of the wine industry began as a harvest intern at Stoller, a self-described cellar rat at Argyle, and then he became an enologist at Duckpond. In 2021, CHO Wines’ first year of production, CHO wines made 700 cases of wine sourced from Laurel Vineyard, owned by Oregon’s Albin family whom Dave befriended as a fellow student at OSU.

Cheers and happy Father’s Day everyone!