Lange Winery: Two Part Harmony
by Karl Klooster with permission of OWPress
Don Lange is a man of dual dimensions, both fully realized. One is expressed in the top-flight Oregon wines he's made since 1988. The other is exuded in the music he's written and performed since he was a teenager.
Either aspect is worthy of a story on its own, but that would shed light on only one side of the man. Any attempt at appreciating him in full requires a look at both the man of wine and the man of song - he's equally passionate about both.
As for his music, Lange said, "When I was getting started, I had to play in loud bars. It wasn't the place for my own music. I want people to listen to the words."
Certain lyrics on his most recent CD album "A Change in the Air," released last year, are particularly revealing. They may sound deceptively simple, but the underlying message speaks insightfully of life's roses and thorns well understood.
In "Give Me One More Chance," he sings, "We'll put the dishes in the sink. Fix another drink. And I can learn to dance." Now what man doesn't know that it's a rare woman who doesn't love to dance?
How about, the following refrains? "And book a flight to France." Or, "And give peace a chance." I ask you, who wouldn't give a continental charmer with P.C. leanings another chance?
Lange lightens up his Romeo pitch with this stanza. "I'll be a grizzly bear, dressed like Fred Astaire, in polyester pants," then clinches the deal with "Have some bubbles, baby. Have some brie. Have a laugh on me." And for heaven's sake give him that one more chance.
Indicators of Lange's worldview are liberally sprinkled throughout the album. For example, these lines from the song "Scamtown" clearly demonstrate a distaste for the business side of his other love. "Winemaker's wine. Those corporate thugs. Aliens wrapped up in the Persian rugs. And the numbers men. Lovers and friends."
Throughout, Lange accompanies himself on guitar, picking and strumming with the sure confidence that years of professional playing have lent to his skills.
Many people know of his well-honed talents as both musician and winemaker, but far fewer are aware that the insatiable songwriter in him stems from an early yearning to be a poet.
"I earned a B.F.A. at the University of Iowa," Lange said. "My major was poetry. But I was already into music so I started applying my poetry education to writing songs. I organized a pretty fair folk group while in college. We even won a talent contest."
He recalled that hearing Peter, Paul and Mary sing "Blowing In The Wind," was an epiphany for his desire to pursue music. Other early heroes included Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Pete Seeger. For him, folk, blues and bluegrass were where it was at.
The odds aren't good for either a poet or a musician to make much of a living, but Lange kept at it for more than a decade before finally concentrating his efforts elsewhere. He got his first break in 1973 with a record deal from a small, but influential label out of Chicago called Flying Fish Records.
"I did three albums for Flying Fish between 1973 and 1980," he said. "I went on tour across the U.S. and Canada and performed at just about every folk festival around. Philadelphia was the granddaddy of the festivals, but Canada had big ones, too, in Vancouver, B.C. and Winnipeg.
"I did it for the artistry more than the money," he admitted. "I refused to dumb down the message to make it more commercial, so sometimes I got a little dense lyrically. That's not the way to go if you want to be really popular."
He did in fact get to meet Bob Dylan along the way and became acquainted with other luminaries of the genre including Steve Goodman, Bob Gibson, Hamilton Camp and Jon Prine. Music also is how he met his wife, Wendy.
"I was playing clubs in Santa Barbara in the late 1970s and early 1980s when we met," Wendy said. "I came from the East Coast and I was just about ready to go back. Then I met Don and put that on hold."
Permanently on hold as it turned out. They soon became a couple and got jobs in nearby wineries that helped pay the bills as they continued playing music gigs at night.
A few more years in winery work convinced them this was what they wanted to do. But they had both fallen head over heels for Burgundy, and Pinot Noir was the wine they wanted to make. After tasting examples from Eyrie and Erath, they became fixated on Oregon.
In pursuing possible places, they first flew into Eugene, then drove south. "We got to know the state that way, but it didn't take us long to realize that Northern Oregon was Pinot Noir country," Wendy said. At last on the right track, they headed into the Dundee Hills, found 30 acres on its southeastern edge, and never looked back.
From the outset, Lange recognized the potential of Pinot Gris and the winery built a reputation early on for excellent examples of the varietal. Crafting small lots of Pinot Noir further enhanced that stature. In any given vintage they offer as many as 10 separate bottlings, both individual vineyard designates and selected blends.
The majority of grapes come from three sources - their own estate vineyards, Yamhill Vineyards in the adjacent Yamhill-Carlton AVA and Freedom Hill Vineyard near Dallas.
In recent years, Jesse Lange has joined his parents full time at the winery. They're all involved in day-to-day operations, with Don and Jesse sharing winemaking duties and Wendy and Jesse overseeing management responsibilities.
And it's apparent they follow the family mantra in their approach to wine as well as music. It's about the artistry, not the money.
Relaxing on the patio adjacent to their winery tasting room, Don and Wendy join together in a rendition of one of his latest compositions, which he continues to create in a recording studio set up in the basement of their home.
As the melodic notes of their guitar duo drift across the vineyard, one can imagine the ripening clusters soaking in the harmonious sounds. It could be likened to a symphony, albeit a folksy one. Don Lange's magnum opus in the key of 24 brix.
Lange makes a range of Pinot noirs and white wines from three vineyards, their own Estate Vineyard, Freedom Hill Vineyard, and The Yamhill Vineyards.
Lange Estate Vineyard
In the spring of 1988, proprietors Don and Wendy Lange planted the first 8 acres of Pinot Noir on the Lange Estate. On a southeast slope and entrenched in the mineral-rich Jory soils, the vines flourished and still comprise the heart of their "Estate" single-vineyard Pinot Noir. Also a vital part of the "Three Hills Cuvee" Pinot Noir, the Estate fruit provides the minerality and earthy complexity that the red soils of the Dundee Hills are known for.
In the spring of 2005, the first of the "Mia" block was planted to 7 acres of Pinot noir. This 15 acres parcel is named for proprietor, Wendy Mia Lange, whose diligence in acquiring the land ensured the healthy growth of the Lange Estate Vineyard property.
Spring 2006 saw the addition of 5 more acres of Pinot noir, bringing the total to 12 acres planted. Two acres of Dijon clone Chardonnay below the North block round out the new plantings on Lange Estate.
Freedom Hill Vineyard
Lange Winery has sourced fruit from the Freedom Hill Vineyard since 1990 and began making its namesake single-vineyard Pinot Noir in 1996. Typically, Pinot Noir from this site shows dark, brooding fruit and significant tannin structure. As a component of Lange's "Three Hills Cuvee" Pinot Noir, Freedom Hill fruit provides the masculine frame that allows for an ultimately age-worthy wine.
2004 marked the first vintage of Lange's Freedom Hill Vineyard Chardonnay which showcases Dijon clone 76 as well as Freedom Hill's capacity to produce premium, cool-climate fruit. Warm days and cool nights allow for complete fruit ripening while maintaining essential acid balance.
This premier Oregon vineyard delivers exceptional fruit year after year and continues to be an important contributor to the Lange winery portfolio.
The Yamhill Vineyards
Owned by the Stein family and operated by Ralph and Sue Stein, the Yamhill Vineyards is one of the oldest vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Lange Winery has sourced grapes from this site since 1989 and a single vineyard wine from this vineyard is the smallest production and fastest selling single-vineyard Pinot Noir in the Lange Portfolio.
Fruit from the Yamhill Vineyards is also an essential contributor to the Lange Three Hills Cuvee Pinot Noir, providing bright, red fruit characteristics and an opulent texture that comprises the core of the front-palate.
Lange was the fourth producer of Pinot Gris in the United States and Don Lange was the first to pioneer a barrel-fermented style. Now the Lange Pinot gris is a single-vineyard wine sourced entirely from the Yamhill Vineyards. Don and co-winemaker Jesse Lange rely on consistently high fruit quality from this top-notch vineyard for what has become the signature white wine from Lange Winery.