Richard Sommer Passes – Oregon Winemaker Since 1961

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Richard Sommer, winemaker and founder of Hillcrest, one of Oregon’s first post-prohibition wineries, was one of, if not the first winemaker of the modern Oregon wine industry as we know it. His Hillcrest Vineyards continues today under new ownership, still displaying the sign saying “Bonded Winery #44″.  He died last Tuesday, age 79.

Richard  planted his first vines in the Umpqua Valley of Oregon in 1961. He started with his favorite varietal, Riesling.

By 1968, Richard was joined by two new wineries – the Lett’s (Eyrie) and the Coury’s. David Lett planted his first vines in 1965;  Chuck Coury arrived a few months later. They both produced their first wines in 1970. The Eraths arrived in the Willamette Valley in 1968 and started planting. The Ponzis started planting in 1970 or 1971, the Sokol-Blossers in 1971, the Adelsheims 1972, etc, and onward. Many made the trek south from the North Willamette to visit, learn, and share root stock and equipment.

According to Jason Lett, David Lett’s son and now winemaker at Eyrie, “…I believe Dad’s original vertical basket press (already an 80 year old antique when Richard bought it) came from Richard.  It pressed (Eyrie’s) vintages 1970 – 1974.”

From all accounts, Richard was, at the least, unusual. He was “a little wierd” as one winemaker describes him. His winery never achieved the international fame of his contemporaries – he was not interested, by all accounts.

Patty Green, (Patricia Green Cellars) was hired by him for her first job in the wine world. She remembers him fondly.

A memorial for Richard is planned for sometime in the second half of August. We’ll post the info here as date and location are decided.

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