From farm to bottled treasure
Jaeg Road in Junction City leads deep into a Willamette Valley plein air paradise—verdant meadows, fuzzy alpacas, horses, and wooly sheep nestle together—while gentle foothills support uniform rows of Pinot Noir vines.
There is a special light at the end of the road where blacktop dissolves to gravel. Cherry blossoms, softly buzzing pollinators and muted sunshine embrace the visitor with a palpable peace and serenity—part of the lush experience as you pass through the wrought iron Pfeiffer Winery gate.
Danuta Pfeiffer, member of the Oregon Travel Information Council, owns and operates the winery with her husband Robin.
Pfeiffer was appointed to the Council in 2013 by Governor Kitzhaber. She brought an important mix of magic and determination, communicated in every conversation by her forthright speech and vivid blue eyes. Pfeiffer’s vivacity and energy not only drive her success in agri-tourism, they balance the brain trust of the Council with first-hand knowledge about the agency’s mission.
Several years into Pfeiffer’s work with wine-trails and tourism activities, her interest was piqued by the Council and Oregon Travel Experience (OTE). She wanted to help improve OTE’s sign and information services, and decided that her volunteer participation on the OTIC would be a worthwhile contribution.
“I had been following what OTE had accomplished at the Baldock Rest Area and their work with the homeless population who essentially lived under the trees and in the back parking lots,” says Pfeiffer.
“The story about how OTE worked with local law enforcement and social services to relocate and find jobs for the homeless at the rest area was all about people. It was all about community, and it was all about how organizational partnerships evolved to actually change lives. I was amazed at how OTE was able to make a positive change for the better.”
Pfeiffer’s work on the Council is punctuated by her passionate story of how her husband’s family sheep and chicken farm was transformed into a vineyard—one vine and one crush at a time—with the help of his mother and father.
In the late 1970s French entrepreneurs approached numerous farmers and ranchers within Lane County and offered to buy their land. Curious about why French wine growers were interested in his family acreage, Robin discovered that the soil and climate on his farm was “ripe” for growing Pinot varietals.
When Danuta and Robin met several years later, her future husband had already begun the arduous task of cutting vine poles from timber sourced on the farm’s 70 acres and had planted the bare-root Pinot starts with his parents and a group of dedicated workers.
During their earliest harvests, the Pfeiffer family did not craft their own wine, and sold grapes to other wineries. However, after meeting one another later in life, and following their marriage, Danuta and Robin had an intuition there was important business to accomplish together.
“It was as if we had both been in hibernation our entire lives,” says Pfieffer. “And here we were in our 50s and 60s just getting started.”
The Pfeiffers shouldered the intense work necessary to transform the farm into a premier winery in 1984—and after experimenting with crushes and bottling, opened a small and very local tasting room in their home. Visitors showed up lured by by a small ad placed in the local paper.
“For years we did it all of it, just Robin and myself,” says Pfeiffer. “I spent long hours making wine labels and gluing them by hand onto bottles. When people started showing up on Sunday afternoons by the dozens, they asked why we weren’t open the rest of the week.
“We decided to place an ad in the Register Guard for our home tasting room to be open on Memorial Day. At first, only about five or six people showed up, and we thought maybe it had been a mistake to place the ad. By the end of the day we had over 1,500 cars travel up our driveway!”
The tippling point
Pfeiffer recalls what it was like to run a burgeoning tasting room inside the Pfeiffer home, and the moments that ultimately transformed their business.
“The incredible thing is, we only had 30 wine glasses in the kitchen on that Memorial Day. All day long we ran back and forth, washing those same 30 glasses in order to serve 3,000 visitors. We were totally unprepared and it was utter chaos—there were six people deep at our kitchen counter!”
Within months of their Memorial Day success, the Pfeiffers were surprised by winery guests who simply assumed the vineyard was open all hours of the day and night.
One morning, Pfeiffer was vacuuming the living room floor and hit the feet of two men wandering around the house. They asked her politely, “Do you know the way to the tasting room?”
In another memorable instance of blurring boundaries between personal space and home business, the Pfeiffers were enjoying supper in their dining room when two women showed up and entered the house without knocking. The visitors were busy photographing the Pfeiffer’s chandelier when they walked up to the dining table and asked the way to the restroom.
That was enough for the Pfeiffers. Not long after the last “home invasion,” the couple broke ground on a new tasting room and repurposed an old farm building. They hand plastered and textured a unique Tuscany-style entrance and designed a private grotto for paired food and wine tasting parties.
Although the Pfeiffer’s original concrete crush pad was large enough to accommodate outdoor events during warm dry weather, they recently enclosed the area with a large hall. The airy pavilion accommodates events such as weddings, reunions and large catered parties throughout the year with no fears about Oregon drizzle.
What the future holds for OTE and the Council
Pfeiffer is a positive bolt of energy, both at the winery and on the Council. She is an avid fan of technology and appreciates the agency’s future plans to transform rest areas and information kiosks into integrated hubs where travelers can relax, find out about local art and culture, and use modern facilities.
Pfeiffer is adamant that Oregon can and should, break through regulatory barriers that would prohibit building the type of rest area travel centers that motorists enjoy in other states. She points to models in other countries, such as Austria where she recently visited, and to work identified in the recent Council interagency workshop, by the Virginia Department of Transportation.
“Why can’t we do that here?” Pfeiffer asks. “We’ve got a Council that doesn’t take no for an answer and I like feeling that we can do something that we will all see the visible effects of—for out-of-state travelers and for all Oregonians.”
Pfeiffer is sure to be present behind the flywheel pushing for excellence in public services with the rest of the Council. She will carry the banner through her four-year term. OTE is proud to follow her enthusiastic guidance.
If you decide to take a drive through abundantly beautiful Lane County to Pfeiffer Winery, you will find welcoming smiles from the vineyard’s owners and helpful staff. The wines are still crafted by the Pfeiffers—bottled, corked and shipped on site—and the labels are still glued on by hand.
For more information about Pfeiffer Winery, you can link to their website at http://www.pfeiffervineyards.com/ for hours and contact information.
This article is first in a series of Council member spotlights. Read the second in the series about Mike Drennan. More spotlights will be posted throughout 2014.
If you want to learn more about the OTIC and its members, visit our Council web page.