Jim's 30 Year Quest
This story begins like it did for many of us. Being served small amounts of wine at the dinner table by our parents. But in Jim's case, it was made by the first emigrating winemaker since Prohibition - UC Davis Graduate Richard Sommer, who believed it was in Oregon, not California where he would grow world class Pinot Noir - and who needed a lawyer to obtain the necessary licenses the state hadn't issued in over 30 years. Richard drove his pick-up into the small town of Roseburg to find himself a lawyer, and hired Jim's Dad.
First motivated by its effects more than its flavor, Jim began by fermenting Concord grape juice his Mom kept in the freezer guided by information on Fermentation in the family Encyclopedias, later graduating to Richard's grapes - hiding the bottles under the crawl spaces of the house.
While Jim's father wanted him to return from Willamette Law School to the family practice, Jim chose to pursue his interest in government and wine, representing the Oregon Winegrowers in the passage of the Oregon Wine Advisory Board for the research and promotion of the industry in 1981, his first piece of legislation as a young lobbyist.
In the same year, he began searching for vineyard land, found an old overgrown pioneer plum orchard in the Salem Hills and began planting Pinot Noir in 1983, watering his vines with 17 lengths of 75 foot garden hose he bought on special. Jim named it - Willamette Valley Vineyards - later to become grandfathered into federal law when the American Viticultural Area was federally authorized.
While the vines were growing, Jim concentrated on helping Oregon Winegrowers by passing legislation on making wineries a permitted use on farmland, the direct shipment of wine, wine tastings in stores and restaurants, and later the establishment of the Oregon Wine Board. Jim's personal gift to Oregon State University established the first professorship for fermentation science in the nation.
His fellow winemakers have recognized Jim's early work with the industry's Founder's Award followed by the Governor's Gold, presented by Oregon's four living Governors. His wines created a stir by being used on the TV shows of West Wing and Friends later being served for real at White House State dinners, listed among the top 100 Wines in the World by Wine Spectator Magazine, "One of America's Great Pinot Noir Producers" by Wine Enthusiast Magazine and "Winery of the Year" by Wine and Spirits Magazine.
The "Founders" recognition Jim values most came from his fellow winegrowers involved in creating the first system of environmental stewardship in American agriculture, the Low Impact Viticulture and Enology program followed by those presented by the Rainforest Alliance and the American Wine Society.
Jim believes among healthiest forms of business organization are those owned by the community. He conducted the first "crowd funding" in the nation to build his winery by obtaining permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1988, resulting in a growing fabric of laws allowing community based funding for small businesses. Willamette Valley Vineyards has grown to over 5,000 wine enthusiast shareholders and is listed on the NASDAQ under the symbol WVVI.
If you ask Jim where his favorite places are to be he will tell you in the vineyard or hiking a Cascade trail. If you ask him how long he has worked in the wine industry he will tell you he can remember working two days. Maybe he will tell us which those were.