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Deeply Rooted: PCC retiree builds a little slice of wine heaven
Story by Christina Holmes. Photos by Vern Uyetake.
Hal Medici bought 40 acres of land on a secluded hillside in the Willamette Valley to raise his four kids and try his hand at farming or raising cattle.
As the math instructor sat in his office at PCC one day back in 1973, his colleague Dick Ponzi, who taught mechanical engineering, told him he should plant vines and build a winery. Ponzi, who already owned a winery and today has several other family wine businesses, thought Medici’s spot had the perfect elevation and sun exposure for a successful vineyard.
“There really was no investigation,” Medici said. “We were amateurs with borderline naiveté.”
A few years later, close to three dozen math and engineering students were out in force for three weekends planting six acres of vines — about 6,000 plants in all — at what is now Medici Vineyards.
Medici’s roots run deep as his vineyard is one of the oldest in the area. He now spends his retirement days on the Chehalem Range where his property is filled with grapes, lavender and other wild flowers. His dogs Sammy and Sadie are never far from his side. He makes daily trips to The Dark Horse, his wine store in downtown Newberg, where he often greets visitors.
He pretends his knowledge of winemaking amounts to only a handful of grapes, but his contemporaries disagree. They say he knows how to make excellent wine, and also lends a hand to many startup wineries by allowing them to use his facilities to produce their early harvests. Currently, Sineann and Ferraro produce their wines at Medici.
Wine classes connect students to industry
Last fall, a new batch of PCC students met Medici and toured his winery as part of Portland Community College’s Community Education Program and it’s Oregon Wines Series.
In the class, students meet at various wineries across the fertile Willamette Valley to learn everything from picking grapes to fermentation to bottling wine. This behind-the-scenes experience gives students the chance to sip wines and talk with winemakers.
“We’ve taken these classes for 10 years and I don’t think we’ve ever talked about the same thing twice,” said Rose Yandell who, along with her husband John, is a faithful devotee. “We kid that we’re never going to graduate. I guess we’re not smart enough.”
The Northeast Portland couple enrolled in the non-credit courses after spending weekends tasting wine at local wineries but walking away with questions about the entire process. Now they spend many Saturday mornings learning about viticulture with classmates who have become close friends. The couple even schedules vacations around the wine classes.
“My knowledge is very deep about Oregon pinots, but don’t ask me about French Bordeaux,” she said smiling. “I love Oregon pinot because no one makes it the same way but no winemaker criticizes another winemaker for the way he or she makes it.”
Courses attract diverse group of people
The popular wine appreciation series draws students from all backgrounds and experience levels. Novice wine tasters mix with oenologists. The fall term touched on such topics as the history of Oregon wines, building your wine palate, and growing a brand from scratch.
“We’ve had countless students come to this class knowing basically nothing about wine. But they will learn plenty if they continue to attend because there is new information every week,” said instructor Diane Johnson. Johnson was a perpetual pupil before she was approached to coordinate the series.
“It’s incredibly fun mining my contacts to come up with the very best classes and speakers out there,” she said. “I’ve met some incredible folks in the wine industry and have such an appreciation for the work and talent involved in their businesses. Most of all, there’s always a lot to learn, and it’s fun to find those opportunities for the whole group.”
Robert Dupuy joined the class when his family hosted a 16-year-old French exchange student who apparently knew more about wine than him.
“That was not cool,” Dupuy chuckled. “I wanted to learn more about Oregon wines. I like wine a lot and my view is that making good wine is very complex. I’m not an expert but I’m very interested.”
Dupuy encourages anyone to take part in the series as winemakers are patient when newcomers ask basic questions.
Medici’s long history with PCC
When Hal Medici met with the PCC class, he talked about the early days and his motivation for buying land.
“This really was never intended for a commercial venture. It was a lifestyle I wanted for my kids,” said Medici, who grew up drinking wine made by his Tuscan-born father. “You should do something because you love it rather than just to profit from it.”
He also recalled his 30-year career teaching math at PCC, starting at the Failing School in 1966 and later moving on to the Sylvania and Rock Creek Campuses. While he officially retired in 1992, he drove 27 miles each way to teach one class at Rock Creek for another five years.
“There was never a time when I didn’t want to go to class,” said Medici. “PCC is such a fantastic institution and a tremendous contribution to the community.”