Dear Sokol Blosser Wine World,
April is typically the month when bud break (or bud burst for those outside of the US) takes place and then the vintage officially starts. “Hope Blooms Eternal,” is a line I can hear my mom saying this time of year as the potential is always there for an epochal vintage of Pinot Noir. This month, I am going to start and end this newsletter with all things Dick Erath. Dick passed away at the end of March and the news of his passing hit pretty hard for our family. Dick sold his winery (Erath) to Ste. Michelle back in 2006 so I did not see him as much in the ensuing years at industry events and tastings as I used to when he ran his operation. That was a bummer since I remember Dick as a jovial person with energy in his eyes and a voice that carried.
When I heard about Dick’s passing the night of March 29th, I heard it from Rob Stuart who was Dick’s winemaker at Erath for many years before he went on to start and run R. Stuart Winery located in McMinnville in the early 2000s. I then quickly texted my mom and dad. “Oh my. Oh my. But for him we would not be here,” was my dad’s response. Let me share with you two stories that informs why my dad said this.
Here is a story from my dad: “When Susan and I first drove out of Portland in the fall of 1970 to look at vineyard land in Yamhill County, we stopped at a realty office in Newberg to look at available farm properties. The realtor told us that there was a guy up on Kings Grade Road, just out of Newberg, who had started a vineyard and that we should go talk to him. We immediately drove up there and met Dick and Kina Erath. They were living in an old ramshackle house next to the road. The yard was full of cuttings buried in bark dust. Dick was very welcoming and willingly shared everything he knew about the area and grape growing in Oregon. He shared with us one very important piece of information: a masters thesis that Chuck Coury had written at UC Davis that analyzed where would be the ideal place to grow Pinot Noir (and other Burgundian varieties) in the US. It pointed to the Willamette Valley as that ideal place. Talking with Dick and reading that thesis sealed our decision to focus our search for a vineyard site on the Willamette Valley, and specifically the Dundee/Newberg area.”
My mom added the following remembrance: “I think of Dick Erath as the head of our team—the handful of young couples embarking on the adventure of planting European grapes in Oregon. He was the head because he was always there for advice, willing to share what he was doing. And he was always trying something new to see if it worked. He and Bill had a special relationship. Dick called Bill “Willy,” and took him under his wing, even though Dick was only a few years older. More than anyone else, Dick was the glue that held us all together.”
I did not know how important Dick was to the genesis of Sokol Blosser until Mom and Dad passed these stories on to me. Pretty powerful stuff huh? You combine this with a recent podcast I did with Allen Holstein (listen to it at “The Official Sokol Blosser Podcast” on Spotify) and the picture I have of Dick Erath grew. Allen was Dick’s first vineyard manager and was hired back in 1979. Allen is retired now and just wrote a book called “The Vineyard Whisperer,” which I read and is why I invited him to be on our podcast. Stories shed some light on why we are who we are today. The stories from the 1970s when my parents started with a crazy notion of growing Pinot Noir in the Dundee Hills were impressive. I am grateful they had someone around who not only had the same crazy notion, but was willing to help my parents and give them advice. To that I am forever grateful. Thank you Dick!”
The photo above was from a tasting in the John Storrs Room back in 1979. From left to right: Matt Kramer (Wine Writer), Bob McRitchie (Our first Wine Maker), Bill Blosser, the back of Perrine Fenal Bize-Leroy (Daughter of Lalou), Dick Erath, and then Lalou Bize-Leroy (Managing Director at Domaine de la Romanee Conti in Burgundy) and her husband Marcel Bize. This picture hangs in my office.
Alex Sokol Blosser
2nd Generation Winegrower & President