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Dobbes Family Winery

Joe Dobbes Stretches His Entrepreneurial Muscles

by Cole Danehower
Oregon Wine Report

On a cold winter morning, winemaker Joe Dobbes purposefully tramps around the muddy worksite of a new winery construction site, attentive to every detail, authoritatively asking questions of the construction manager. For a moment he stops and looks out over the incomplete concrete walls at the acres of naked vines planted neatly across rolling hills. He smiles. He is seeing a big part of his future.

What does a winemaker do after he's successfully spearheaded the quality turnaround of one of Oregon's largest wineries (Willamette Valley Vineyards), brought to market one of Southern Oregon's leading brands (Griffin Creek), and reinforced the reputation of one of the state's leading Pinot noir labels (Torii Mor)? If you are Joe Dobbes, you give it all up . . . so you can do it all again, but this time for yourself!

"It's all a little nail-biting," confesses Joe, "but what is so exciting about what I am doing now is that I have the chance to let the creative, entrepreneurial spirit inside me out-to work for myself-which has been a goal of mine as long as I've been in the business."

The new winery-which Joe will exclusively lease for the production of his, and the winery owner's, wines-represents the culmination of a long-held vision Joe has had for himself. Affectionately nicknamed "Hollywood Joe"-as much for his leading-man looks as for his charismatic self-assurance-Dobbes is putting his enviable winemaking track record on the line by going-it-alone with his own wine production and consulting company, Wines By Joe LLC.

And in the traditional Dobbes fashion, he is doing nothing in half measures. Since leaving Willamette Valley Vineyards in the summer of 2002, Joe has started a daunting number of new activities that are keeping him deeply involved in Oregon winemaking, from the Eola Hills in the north to the Rogue Valley in the south.

The Fun of Making His own Wine . . .

One of Joe's key activities is the launching of his own label: Dobbes Family Estate. "This last harvest we made about 2200 cases of Dobbes Family Estate wines," he says. "I didn't have somebody else's staff to tell what to do, I had to do it myself, and it was really great getting my hands dirty again. Even standing in the middle of the press soaking wet at 1:00 in the morning with a power washer was fun!"

Capitalizing on a long-held passion for Syrah and Viognier, Joe has sourced grapes for his new label from southern Oregon and is planning to release a number of different inaugural bottlings of Dobbes Family Estate wines. Five single-vineyard Syrahs, a grand assemblage Syrah, two Pinot noir cuvees named after his children (Amelia Rose and Griffin), and a headily fragrant Viognier are all in the works.

"It really is the culmination of a personal vision," explains Joe, "to be able to make my own wine in association with my family. It's really hard work, but it is really gratifying as well!"

In addition, Joe is a partner in another new label called Villa San Maurice, based in Napa County, California. From the 2001 harvest, Villa San Maurice has released a Joe-produced Pinot grigio using exclusively Oregon fruit. While the label at first appeals to those consumers intrigued by the Italian aura of Pinot grigio, Joe is confidant that what they'll discover upon pouring is a wine of more substance and character-thanks to the Oregon fruit.

. . . And The Satisfaction of Helping Others Make Theirs

Joe is equally busy applying his expertise to help other producers make wine for their labels. For the 2002 harvest, Joe returned to the famed Torii Mor label as consulting winemaker, continuing a role he has played in recent vintages. "Making these wines is really satisfying," he says. "I'm very comfortable at Torii Mor because I know the people and I get to work with great fruit at one of the great Pinot noir labels in the Willamette Valley."

Similarly, Joe is keeping his involvement in Southern Oregon. He consults with winemaker Jason Jardine for the Eden Vale label in Medford, and he is Managing Director of Paschal Winery in Talent, just outside of Ashland. These commitments bring him down to Southern Oregon every few weeks for a few days at a time. But Joe doesn't mind the travel: "I love it down there," he says.

Not content to simply rest on the laurels Paschal has earned since it opened a few years ago Joe, in association with his sister Renee, is planning a new growth path for the winery-one that will doubtless increase his time spent in that part of the state.

"One of our challenges is deciding how to grow the brand and make it different from Griffin Creek, Weisinger's, and the other producers in the region," explains Joe. "So, we're looking at developing Italian varietals for the Paschal name, including Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Barbera, perhaps a little Rufasco. There's also a lot of Merlot and Cabernet available in Southern Oregon, so we might do a Super Tuscan blend . . . and then there's some really nice Nebbiolo that we might look at as well . . ." To Joe, it's all opportunity!

The Cherished Cherry Hill Project

As if all these activities weren't enough to keep Joe busy, there is one other new project that has captured his imagination: the development of the Cherry Hill Vineyard and Winery in the Eola Hills-the new construction he was inspecting on the morning we visited him.

Cherry Hill Vineyard is a new Pinot noir vineyard (52 acres planted, 45 plantable) owned by Mike Sweeney, who lives in Indiana. The site was a former Cherry orchard, with hills that sway up from two trout-filled ponds to crest across a broad view of the Willamette valley. Joe has been consulting with Mike on the design and development of an 8,900 square foot, 7-8,000 case capacity winery that will be the home of a new Cherry Hill Wines label-and Joe's wines as well.

"This is really like a dream come true," exclaims Joe. "We have designed the winery for production efficiency, it is 15-minutes from home, and the setting is simply gorgeous." As part of the Cherry Hill project, 8 bed & breakfast cabins have been created offering visitors charming accommodations at the vineyard and just a short stroll down the hill from the winery. "I don't think there is anything else in Oregon quite like this site," says Joe!

As the winery comes online, Joe will begin making Cherry Hill Wines for Mike from estate fruit (primarily Pommard and Dijon clones), and will consolidate much of his own current winemaking production into the winery under a lease arrangement. "Honestly," says Joe, "I have to pinch myself every time I go out to the vineyard!"

Passion Fuels Endless Energy

Joe admits that having his fingers in so many pies is a bit daunting. "Some people think I'm nuts, but to me all of these things make sense," he explains. "There's certainly a lot of risk-I have never had so much financial responsibility on my shoulders-but these are all things I love to do and that I know how to do. My whole career until now has been preparing me to rely on my own skills and judgment. I believe that passion fuels endless energy, and since winemaking is my passion, I am confident that I have the energy to make all this work!"


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