"It's so provocative to work with fruit grown in these little tapestries of soil. Coming to understand how each of these microsites translates into wine is a big part of what I'm here to do."
Doug Tunnell '72, the founder of Oregon's Brick House Vineyards, came to the wine life via the scenic route. After studying philosophy and international affairs at Lewis & Clark, he enjoyed a long and successful career abroad as a CBS foreign correspondent before a cluster of small epiphanies led him to make a U-turn and head home, determined to plant his future in the fertile soil of the Willamette Valley.
Doug spent much of his 18-year news career in Beirut, covering Lebanon's explosive civil war. Bouncing from one perilous situation to the next to capture a story firsthand was exhilarating work. But at some point, says Doug, "The business changed radically. The packaging of news became more important than the news itself. When that happened, I knew I didn't have a future in it."
In the late 1980s, still with CBS, Doug moved to a small town in Germany, where he developed a taste for white wines. One morning, he realized: "My neighbor and I are both going to work, but I'm climbing into a BMW and he's climbing onto a tractor." Doug liked the looks of that tractor.
After two years in Germany, Doug moved to France, and soon he was spending every free weekend exploring vineyards. When he heard the news that France's Domaine Drouhin winery was buying 120 acres in Dundee, he turned to his wife and said, "Oh my God, we've got to buy an old farm and plant some grapes!"
Doug found his farm--40 acres surrounding an old brick house--just outside Newberg. In 1990 he planted his first vineyards and began growing organic grapes.
"Farming organically was fundamental to me," says Doug. As a boy, he had grown up fishing and swimming in the Willamette River. "It was a Huck Finn kind of existence," he says. "The only down side was that we were literally in the effluent of two pulp mills. When I finally started farming in the Willamette Valley watershed, it was my fervent desire not to contribute to the kind of pollution that I fished in, swam in, drank and ate from as a kid."
Brick House has been certified organic from the start, employing chemical-free farming methods that respect the soil as a living system. In recent years, Doug has taken his commitment to natural farming even further, incorporating biodynamic principles that nurture the entire farm as a living and interrelated system. In 2005, Brick House became one of the few Oregon wineries to achieve biodynamic certification.
Doug's goal for his wines is to express their "terroir"--the soil, site, and climate in which they grow. "We're in a southeast-facing bowl with hills that roll due north, hills that roll from side to side, and ridges that roll to the west and east," says Doug. "I've got ridgetops with 11 inches of topsoil and very red clay, and I've got swales with 41⁄2 feet of topsoil that's white and full of silica. It's so provocative to work with fruit grown in these little tapestries of soil. Coming to understand how each of these microsites translates into wine is a big part of what I'm here to do."
One of his great pleasures these days, says Doug, is driving his tractor. "I really love the sensation of moving the earth, of turning the soil." And then, of course, there's the wine. "It's a great thrill to be able to produce a product that people love and take away and share with their friends at the dinner table," says Doug. "It's every bit as thrilling as covering a great story."
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