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Bethel Heights Vineyard

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Bethel Heights VineyardBethel Heights Vineyards:
The Wine
is Academic

By Christina Kelly
Avalon Staff Writer

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 ofWashington in Seattle.

"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 is the incoming 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."

The IPNC is in its third year. Dudley said that the event is very expensive for the sponsoring wineries, but already a waiting list exists and space each year is very limited. Because of the demand, people may attend only once.

"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."

"While most people seem to derive pleasure in the commonalities they find between Burgundy and Oregon, I love the differences. As I approached Bethel Heights, climbing the gravel road that leads up a steep hill, I was overjoyed to see a field with grazing sheep and llamas adjacent to the winery. While côte d'or vignerons of Henri Jayer's generation can remember grazing farm animals, the younger ones have no such memories."

Pierre-Antoine Rovani, The Wine Advocate

Owners Ted and Terry Casteel, Pat Dudley, and Marilyn Webb are pioneers in the Oregon wine industry. Founded in 1977, Bethel Heights Vineyard is located in the historic Eola Hills, 17 miles south of Salem, Oregon. Fifty one acres of vineyard have sweeping wiews of mountains and valley, and a new tasting room facility has tastings, food, and gift items. The winery grows Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir; they also produce a Pinot Gris from purchased fruit. Bethel Heights Vineyard is known for its single vineyard and special block Pinot noirs and its Burgundian styled Chardonnay.

From Portland City Search: "The "First Releases" are respectable, moderately priced wines worth keeping an eye out for; the "Estate Grown" designation represents the next step up in both quality and price, though they're still a good buy. Bethel Heights' best wines are the individual block Pinot Noir, the Flat Block Estate Grown, and the Southeast Block Reserve--not only are they the winery's best, but they've long been some of the best in the region. "

The People

Terry Casteel, Winemaker
Ted Casteel, Vineyard Manager
Marilyn Webb, Business Mgr./Resident Chef
Pat Dudley, Marketing Director
Barbara Dudley, Ideologue

What an interesting and talented group of people run Bethel Heights Vineyard. I'd love to hear the dinner time conversation when these talented powerhouses get together. Owners Ted and Terry Casteel, Pat Dudley, and Marilyn Webb not only make wonderful wines, they participate in Northwest viticulture research and are active in regional, national, and international wine organizations.

I love the way they describe themselves: "Since 1978 Bethel Heights has been owned and operated by a family consortium of five variously related partners: twin brothers Terry Casteel and Ted Casteel, Marilyn Webb (married to Terry), and sisters Pat Dudley (married to Ted) and Barbara Dudley. In the beginning before we made wine everyone worked in the vineyard. The establishment of the winery in 1984 ushered in a new division of labor which prevails to this day except during crush, when we revert to a more primitive state."

Their light hearted description does not include their extensive research and industry participation.

Pat Dudley served as director of the International Pinot Noir Celebration (IPNC) for five years, through the mid-90's, and Terry Casteel just completed his year (98/99) as president of the IPNC. Pat is now on the board of the "Oregon Pinot Camp", a new Oreogn wine industry event scheduled for summer of 2000 that will bring 400 out of state restaurant and retail professionals to Oregon for three days of Oregon wine experiences.

On the research front, Bethel Heights is one of three wineries in Oregon participating in a fascinating research project on the effect of "terroir" on wine flavor." Terroir" is the French word for the unique soil, water, and other environmental factors in a vineyard that are expressed in wine made from its grapes.

NY Times, October 12, 19999 reports that Bethel Heights is also involved in a " Oregon-based group of grape growers and winemakers calling itself LIVE, for Low-Impact Viticulture Enology. The group is banking on being the first in the U.S. to obtain European certification that its members' wine is made with environmentally friendly, sustainable agriculture practices. While they won't be turning out a strictly organic product, (the use of some pesticides is allowed), low-impact devotees contend that their methods are the greenest practicable. "[We] believe that this kind of growing has marketing implications," says Pat Dudley, a co-owner of Bethel Heights Vineyard Inc. in Amity, Ore. "I think it will make the wine a choice for people who are looking for an environmentally safe product."

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