Community gets first taste of new winery

Sean C. Morgan

Community gets first taste of new winery

Of The New Era

Ever wonder what wine is proper with a particular food you’re about to consume?

The answer isn’t complicated, said wine educator Rick Ross of Sweet Home.

“Eat what you like; drink what you like,” Ross said at the Elks Lodge during a wine tasting there on Saturday for Sweet Home’s Marks Ridge Winery, the first in the area.

“If it doesn’t work, don’t do that again.”

Ross said the answer is subjective, and an individual’s palate is the only way to find out.

“For a lot of people, there’s a mystique about wine,” Marks Ridge Winery owner Janet Westley said. “But really, the only magic is popping the cork and tasting it.”

Jay and Janet Westly unveiled their three 2007 vintage Marks Ridge wines and some Sweet Home residents got a chance to taste them at a wine-tasting seminar held at the Elks Lodge on Saturday.

After three years of preparation, the Westlys officially opened Marks Ridge Winery last Wednesday.

The Southern California couple moved to Sweet Home three years ago, purchasing a 17-acre vineyard located just off Berlin Road with plans to start locally producing and bottling their own wine.

“Not bad for Sweet Home’s first winery’s first vintage,” Ross determined as he tasted the wine with a group of more than 50 participants, who gathered afterward to purchase bottles of the wine.

The Westlys connected with the Elks Lodge when Ron Sharrah visited the winery during harvest season. He gathered a group of Elks for a tour and then came up with the idea of a wine-tasting event.

“Obviously, I was very impressed with the wine, or I wouldn’t have done this,” said Sharrah, leading knight for the Sweet Home Elks. “They’re warm, salt-of-the-earth people.”

Their small winery “fits Sweet Home,” he said. “And it’s the only winery we have.”

Otherwise, the closest wineries to Sweet Home are across the valley and to the north and south, he said. “It’s a quality wine. They do a wonderful job. What better representation of local enterprise than a mom-and-pop winery?”

The Westlys make it one bottle at a time, with real oak barrels not the steel vats of large wineries, he said.

“For us, it was a draw to get people to come in,” said Exalted Ruler Valerie Eastin. The event was a benefit to both the Elks and to the fledgling winery, giving public exposure to both and providing an Elks event that is open to the public.

Eastin and Sharrah said they’re planning another wine-tasting event, probably in early spring.

In the meantime, the Westlys are busy monitoring their 2008 vintage and fixing up the tasting room and buildings around the vineyard in preparation for visitors.

The Westlys purchased the property in October 2005, Janet said.

It takes about three years to get a vineyard to the point where it can make wine, Jay said, and now the 2007 vintage is finally bottled. The winery has approximately 1,000 cases of the 2007 wines.

The wines include a dry Riesling, the Estate Pinot Noire and “very floral” semi-sweet Gewurztraminer, a good wine for novice wine drinkers, Janet said. “Even experienced wine drinkers will love it.”

The process wasn’t simple.

“Vineyards and wineries are very labor intensive and require specialized knowledge in both viticulture and wine production,” Janet said. Jay attended Chemeketa Community College to learn about viticulture, making wine and winery design.

“Improving the productivity of the vineyard and setting up the winery has been a huge undertaking but well worth the effort,” she said. “It’s a lot of work but also a lot of fun. It has involved family, neighbors and friends coming together to help get the winery up and running.

“The hard work is rewarded by good company, wonderful food and great wine. It is what the vineyard lifestyle is all about.”

The couple had a design and construction business in La Cresecenta, Calif. Jay said, mostly interior work, especially cabinetry.

The Westlys have a 22-year-old daughter, a nursing major, attending Chico State. After graduation this year, she is planning to move to Oregon. They also have family living in Sweet Home, Scio and Stayton.

“We knew it was time to leave down there, the way things were going,” Jay said. They spent some time in southern Oregon but decided to tour the Northwest for a place to settle. Opening a winery wasn’t on their list of things to do.

They were just looking for a place with a view, Janet said.

And Sweet Home gave them that view, overlooking the McDowell Creek-Berlin valley north of Marks Ridge, with the convenience of being close to town with supermarkets, banks and even a theater.

“This property happened to have a vineyard on it,” Jay said, and their thoughts turned to winemaking.

“I like it,” she said about Sweet Home. “I love it. I really like the people.”

Previous owners have sold the grapes from the vineyard.

The Westlys plan to sell their wine from the winery, but they’re also planning on distributing some of it, Jay said.

The winery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It will be open all week beginning in May.

The winery is located at 29255 Berlin Road. For information, call 367-3292 or visit

Jay suggests bringing up a picnic or lunch when visiting, especially as the weather starts getting warmer.

It’s still a work in progress, Jay said, but “we’re really excited to start opening our doors.”