Bethel Heights Vineyard
Bethel Heights Vineyards:
Running off to the country to get away from urban life is a fantasy many of us have, but rarely act on.
Terry and Ted Casteel are the exceptions.
The twin brothers own Bethel Heights Vineyards just northwest of Salem, OR. Nearly 25 years ago, Ted and his wife Pat Dudley, both professors of history at the University of Michigan, Dearborn campus, decided to pool their resources with Terry and his wife, Marilyn Webb to purchase a farm in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.
Terry worked as a psychologist, and Marilyn was assistant dean of women for the University of Washington in Seattle.
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"We wanted to quit and have a different lifestyle," recalled Pat Dudley, who manages the business end of the winery. Her husband Ted is the vineyard manager.
"We missed teaching, and the winery turned out to be more work than we imagined. But it was absolutely worth it. It is the lifestyle we wanted."
The Casteel families purchased 75 acres, dubbed Bethel Heights, in 1977 and began to develop it for growing grapes and making wine. Their timing was good - the wine industry in Oregon was just beginning to blossom.
Winemaker Terry Casteel chuckles about those first few years as a transplanted professional-turned farmer.
"We were eggheads who liked wine," Terry said. "We wanted to raise our kids in a different environment. So, we raised our families along with our vineyards. There were a lot of hard parts to it. But we feel good about our choice, and our partnership with nature."
Ted and Pat began taking courses in viticulture at the University of California, Davis campus to learn how to manage the vineyards. Terry studied making wine and Marilyn worked on finances and the marketing end. Everyone pitched in, including the children. (Each couple has two children).
Bethel Heights now produces about 8,500 cases of wine per year. The goal is to grow to 10,000 cases and stay in a holding pattern, focusing on making good wine, rather than growing in size. Keeping the size down helps to maintain a hands-on approach to the wine, said Terry.
Most of the grapes used in the wines are grown on the estate. Terry believes it is what makes Bethel Heights wine different from other Oregon wines on the market. His wines express the terrior of the land-the soil, climate, traits and characteristics with minimal tampering by the winemaker.
"We want our wine to stand on its own and showcase its roots," Terry said. "We take a more delicate approach to winemaking. I take a lighter approach than many winemakers in Oregon so that the consumer can taste the grape. With our Pinot Noir, we not only want to taste the fruit, but taste the character of Bethel Heights."
The Casteels produce four varietals of wine with more than half of the estate dedicated to Pinot Noir. Some Pinot Noir grapes are purchased from other growers and are represented on the labels, such as Freedom Hill, Nysa and Lewman vineyards. The other three wines are Chardonnay (including a reserve), Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris.
The Eola Hills, where Bethel Heights is located, has rich volcanic soils that influence the flavor of Bethel Heights wine. But two blocks of land, separated by 20 feet, turn out very different Pinot Noirs, said Terry.
The Flatblock lot turns out a strong and powerful Pinot Noir with massive character to knock your socks off. The Southeast Block expresses itself with more of a forest floor, spice-driven complex wine.
"Same grapes, same winemaker, same procedure," Terry said. "The difference is 20 feet apart. That's the difference in terrior."
In addition to the winery, Pat Dudley was the president of the International Pinot Noir Camp (IPNC), an annual, three-day seminar for those in the trade to inform and help sell Oregon Pinot Noir. The camp, sponsored by the wineries in Oregon, is a grass-roots attempt to promote knowledge and ultimately the purchase of Pinot Noir.
"The wineries feel it is a great success," Dudley said. "We've had terrific response from markets throughout the country. It's the best in-depth experience for Oregon wine country that we can give."
"We want to give as much exposure as possible," Dudley said. "We don't charge for the camp, so we want those in the industry to go back and tell others. We want them to promote and sell Oregon wines."