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Their Fruitful Adventure
Photos and Story by James Hill
By Susan HerefordTiger Woods knew what he wanted to do when he was 3 years old. Very few of us have selected a career path at such an early age. John Albin, owner and operator of Albin Vista Hill Winery with his wife Lynn, is another exception. By the time he was 8, he was dreaming about a career in the winemaking and brewing industry. "Tiger had me beat by five years,"chuckled Albin from the deck of his 37-acre estate, nestled between Yamhill and Washington counties on Bald Peak in the Chehalem Mountains. He says he has been "interested in the notion of fermentation,"since watching rapt while his father and grandfather made homemade beer and wine in their Ballard, Wash., basement. By high school, Albin had begun his own enological experimentation, devising a prize-winning science research project on fermentation. It brought him in contact with Napa Valley grape growers and winemakers in the mid-?70s, at that time where most of the action in the United States was occurring. That led to the University of California at Davis, a degree in viticulture and enology in 1978, and summers working with the Associated Vintners in Washington, essentially a group of University of Washington professors interested in making wine. By this time, Albin says he had become "passionate"about wine making. When he graduated, the UW professors hired him back full time to make wine for them. The group eventually became Columbia Winery in Woodinville, Wash., the third largest wine making operation in Washington state. "The job with them added another log to the fire,"says Albin, who over the years has consulted for Paul Thomas, Puyallup Valley Cellars, and Daquila wineries.In 1980, Rainier Brewery in Seattle hired Albin as assistant brewmaster, a job that helped make the down payment on land in Oregon for grape growing. He and Lynn, also a UC Davis graduate, spent many weekends that year traveling the back roads of Oregon’s budding wine country, balancing road and soil survey maps and their golden retriever on their laps. They found the property in 1981 – 36 hillside acres with vista views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson – and hand planted the first five acres of pinot grapes in 1982. At that time, there were just 1,200 acres of wine grapes in Oregon. There are now over 10,000 acres. Today, the Albins have 17 acres planted and sell grapes to Ponzi, Chateau Benoit, and other wineries.In 1993, Albin moved to Oregon full time, accepting the position as head brewmaster for Blitz Weinhard. Strohs Corp. bought out Blitz Weinhard in 1997 and two years later closed it down, selling the prime real estate to developers."It was a big job and we made darn good beer,"said Albin of the brewery that since 1896 had been an Oregon landmark. Albin found himself out of work. The family had increased by two with sons Andrew and Eric, all now living in the barn on their property that Albin had renovated for living quarters. He decided it was now or never. It was time to make his dream come true – to create quality pinot noir wine from grapes they had grown on their own land. He and Lynn turned to PCC to help them move into the business of bottling, selling and marketing their own wine.Albin is in his second year of classes in the Small Business Management Program where he attends monthly night classes with a cohort of 15 or so small business owners who range from veterinarians to graphic designers. Small business development counselor Galen Sarvinski, who teaches the monthly night classes, also makes monthly site visits to consult with the Albins. "I didn’t get a lot of business classes (in college),"says Albin. "The classes at Davis were technical – you can just line them up – and now I know how to make wine, but not the business of wine."Albin says, "Galen is a great resource. He knows little bits of information that I haven’t even thought about. Like bar codes on the wine bottle."When he hooked up with PCC, Albin also researched other educational institutions for business courses. (His employment package allowed him opportunities for additional training.) "PCC is practical-minded, geared to people who have other stuff to do,"he says. "Plus, the dollars go farther and the instruction is very good."The winemaker also plans to take small business international trade courses from the college, in order to sell overseas. Last year, the Albins crushed and bottled the first 500 cases from eight tons of grapes. "It is an exciting time for us,"said Lynn of the new adventure. The Albins are on a fast track this summer to get Albin Vista Hill pinot noir to market. They plan to sell direct – to restaurants, upscale grocery stores and on the Internet. Wine is called the nectar of the gods. Albin Vista Hill’s first release could give the gods something to celebrate.