Winemaker profile: Patricia Green Cellars

Wine Press NorthwestMay 23, 2013 

Helen Keller once said, “The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.” Patricia Green is both an honest worker and mighty hero to the throngs of industry professionals she has mentored and inspired. She has blazed a trail to her own destiny guided by a fate that has taken her down the path that helped form her into one of Oregon’s most celebrated winemakers.

Born in Chicago, Green traveled with her family around the U.S., eventually settling in Oregon in 1972. That’s about the time she made her first wine. Green saw the wild fruits that surrounded her, and decided to make wine from it. “I was a home winemaker,” she laughs. “I started making wine when I was in high school, though my family didn’t know it.”

A love for the outdoors translated into an early career in forestry where she, a young woman in her mid-20’s, stood side by side with older men who thought it funny to see her bidding on contracts against them. But, while they were snickering, she was landing the deal. While her successes in the forestry business were abundant and the lessons she learned invaluable, the business soon wore on Green and she decided to “go back” to making wine, only this time with grapes. In 1986, she landed her first wine job picking grapes for Richard Sommers at HillCrest Vineyard in Roseburg, Ore. The next harvest she started working in the winery and never looked back.

Green was mostly self-taught and guided by the shared experiences of such winemakers as David Adelsheim, Ted Casteel and Richard Ponzi. She took some weekend courses at UC Davis and found they didn’t really relate to what was happening in Oregon at the time, and she decided that practical experience was a more valuable tool for her to learn how to make world-class wine in the Willamette Valley. “I attribute a lot of things to my upbringing in the Oregon industry because they were really nice to me and I learned a lot from these guys,” says Green. In 1993, she helped start Torii Mor Winery as lead winemaker and sole employee.

In 1990 and 1991, she worked harvest for David Adelsheim, a time, a place and a person she credits with helping her to really started learning about Pinot Noir and the spontaneous fermentations that would later come to be an important part of her winemaking philosophy.

Two years later, a man named Jim Anderson came to work for Green at Torii Mor and he provided an ingredient for her success she didn’t even know she needed. In Anderson she found not only a business associate and assistant, but she also found a friend and the person who would eventually become her business partner. The two have been working together now for over 18 years. According to Green, she and Anderson have vastly different personalities but their differences create balance. She feels that their similar palates help them to create a wine that has one voice. Not hers, not his, but theirs. “After 18 years, we kind of get it. Our palates are similar, our goals are together. It has been really good for Jim and I because he will pick up on things I don’t and I pick up things he doesn’t.”

In 2000 fate stepped in. The pair had made the decision to leave Torii Mor and started looking for a place to make wine when the property that once was Autumn Winds Winery came up for sale. The owners reached out to Anderson, who had once worked in their tasting room, and asked if he and Green would be interested in purchasing the business, cellar, vineyard, winery equipment and all. Though the two had not set out intending to start a business, the opportunity was theirs for the taking and soon the 52-acre property (22 planted to vines) located on Ribbon Ridge became, and is still, the home to Patricia Green Cellars. Today the property has 32 acres planted and the facility is turning out around 9,000 cases of wine that is sold in roughly 23 states.

Like most Willamette Valley producers, the Patricia Green portfolio focuses on Pinot Noirs, with some Sancerre-inspired Sauvignon Blancs and a few other fun things. Green differentiates herself in part by focusing not just on AVAs or vineyards but often on single blocks within vineyards.

That focus helps to define her style, which she describes as always made to be approachable early yet built also for longevity. “We have more of a feminine style of winemaking. We are not heavy hitters in terms of extraction unless we have a big vintage in which we have no choice, like 2003,” says Green, who feels that her style hasn’t so much changed over the years as it has become fine-tuned through trial and error to portray the vineyard’s uniqueness. That importance of “place” is not only evident in the way the wines smell and taste but also in how they are presented. Their label focuses not on her brand name, but instead on the vineyard and block where the grapes were harvested.

With their Pinot production, they chose to work with a single cooper rather than several. “The barrel is a tool. The wine shouldn’t be about the barrel. Let’s use it as a tool to uplift the different vineyards’ sites and soil types, so that it becomes part of the style,” Green said. Their cooper of choice is Cadus. “We really liked the style of the cooperage to the style of our winemaking,” says Green, who has tailored their selection to pair certain forests with certain vineyard sites to create complexity and dimension.

Green attributes her success to a combination of things: first, good practices in the winery and in the vineyard; second, continuity in style that gives consumers and industry wine buyers confidence in the brand; third, her people.

“I believe in letting people be creative. When you let people be creative, they respond to that in a positive way. It gives them self-confidence, it gives them a goal. They want to be here,” says Green, “It shows in the wine, it shows in the energy of the wine.”

For other young people thinking about getting into the wine industry, she couldn’t be more supportive. Her advice: Get out there and learn from doing. Travel to places that make wine and make wine there, meet people, ask questions, taste lots of wine and figure out what you want to make and what your style is.

While there are new brands and labels on the shelves at wine shops seemingly every day; Green, the teenage home winemaker, turned re-forester, turned winemaker, turned entrepreneur seems to feel that each person has the opportunity to bring something new to the table. She believes that the energy and personality of a person are expressed through the wines.

“Wines are a lot of the personality of the people who make them and in Oregon we have a lot of personalities. If you put so much of your personal, mental and physical energy into making wine, I think it really translates into the wines.” No doubt her wines sing of her, Anderson and the family they have built around them to help create the celebrated brand carrying the name of a woman who, though private, has given generously of her heart, spirit and experience.

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