Sokol Blosser's path diverged from farming during the 1980s. Although she had been managing the vineyard full time, she was also raising three children (Nik, Alex, and Alison) and participating in local political and civic affairs. In 1986 and 1988, she made two unsuccessful runs for state legislature against the conservative Republican Bunn brothers. As the owner of a small, agricultural business and the mother of school-age children, Sokol Blosser felt that she could present a markedly different voice than the one that had been speaking for Yamhill County at the state's capital.
After losing the second race against Jim Bunn in 1988, Sokol Blosser was forced to rethink what she wanted to do. "Losing that race was very hard. All the polls had projected that I was going to win. When I went to headquarters for election night, I fully expected it to be a victory party. It was very hard emotionally and very difficult to lose."
Her loss, however, was ultimately advantageous and gave Sokol Blosser experience and perspective that she was able to draw on later as the business grew. Skills she developed during the campaigns, such as public speaking and being able to promote her vision, were invaluable as she moved into her new career. "Both elections toughened me and made me a better business person. I have no fear of standing up, of being asked embarrassing questions, of being able to say 'I don't know the answer to that.'"
Done with the political arena, the couple decided to change directions. The vineyard itself wasn't making much money and Sokol Blosser wasn't being paid a salary from it. Bill wanted to return to CH2M Hill, where he had worked earlier in his career. Susan, wanting to do something different, decided to consolidate operations and take over running the winery.
Fortunately, for the Sokol Blossers and the Oregon wine industry, it was a propitious and timely move. Drawing on her ability to envision the "big picture," Sokol Blosser recognized that in order for her business to evolve, the entire Oregon wine industry had to establish a national presence. Working in collaboration with other growers, Sokol Blosser developed a plan to promote Oregon wines.
Susan Sokol Blosser and two-year old daughter Allison in 1981.
"We decided to do something that would put us on the map. Locals don't pay much attention until outsiders begin to notice you. The reality is that the reputation of a local wine industry is made in New York and San Francisco." Outsiders began noticing Oregon wines at the International Pinot Noir Celebration, started in McMinnville by Sokol Blosser and a small group of wine growers in Yamhill County.
"This really was the first festival of its kind, where the focus was exclusively on one type of wine," says Sokol Blosser, who held the post of director of the festival for the first few years. "Our goal was to bring together the top pinot noir producers in the world--from Burgundy, California, and Oregon. When we started out, we called ourselves 'international,' but it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek. During the past 11 years, we truly have expanded internationally. The whole festival is a big deal in the industry. People stand in line, literally, to get tickets."