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By Tim Patterson ’68
As a Reed graduate, freelance wine writer, and someone foolish enough to have left Oregon just before the great wine explosion in the Willamette Valley in the 1970s, I had no choice. The minute I got the email announcing a tasting of wines produced by Reed alumni during Reunions weekend, I booked a flight to Portland.
It was worth the trip. Besides showing off some very tasty wines, the gathering demonstrated the power of winemaking to pull in even the slightly quirky, slightly geeky denizens of Reed. And it showed the value of a Reed education in a field far removed from the classical canon of Humanities 110.
The tasting showcased a sampling of wines from Winter’s Hill Vineyard (Peter Gladhart ’62), Sokol Blosser Winery (Susan Sokol-Blosser MAT ’67), Lemelson Vineyards (Eric Lemelson ’81), and Westrey Wine Company (David Autrey ’89 and Amy Wesselman ’91). The Sokol Blosser wines were poured by Michael Bascom ’83, wine steward at John’s Marketplace beer and wine emporium in Portland. The event was the brainchild of alumni volunteers Marge Goldwater ’71, and Nancy Johansen and Kevin Morrice, both ’76, and followed a similar alumni event that Goldwater attended in New York.
None of the participants, of course, learned their viticulture and enology at Reed; in fact, none focused on the sciences at all. Majors included American studies, philosophy, literature, anthropology, and history. Some long and winding roads and several abrupt changes of course were required along the way.
Eric Lemelson guessed that the last farmer in his family lived around 3,000 BCE in Mesopotamia. (His college landlady, herself a Reedie, remembers him as more likely to become a wine drinker than a winemaker.) But after he bought some farmland in Yamhill County in the mid-1990s while he was running a research center at the Lewis & Clark law school, a contact in the wine industry suggested he plant some grapes. Before the first vine had ripened, he was hooked.
Peter Gladhart can legitimately claim agriculture in his family tree, since his father managed the Spokane stockyards for 35 years. After Reed and a Peace Corps stint in Ecuador, he studied agricultural and housing economics and taught for years at Michigan State. When he and his wife Emily took over her parents’ fruit farm in the Dundee Hills and planted grapevines in 1990, he turned his attention to viticulture.
And never underestimate the power of happenstance. David Autrey and Amy Wesselman lived in a Reed house nextdoor to the John Paul Cameron Winery; they ended up helping out in exchange for wine. Autrey’s family (which includes a long list of Reedies including his grandfather, chemistry professor Arthur Scott) was also close to some of Oregon’s wine pioneers, helping facilitate his move into the industry.
Michael Bascom was working for a judge in Alaska when the lure of great Burgundy at a local wine bar drew his attention away from prepping for the bar exam. Susan Sokol Blosser’s experience of wine at Reed was limited to sipping sherry at faculty parties while she studied for her teaching degree; when her husband Bill had the idea of chucking it all and planting a vineyard, it came out of the blue. In retrospect, she sees their decision as part of the back-to-the-land movement of the 1970s. Her book, At Home in the Vineyard: Cultivating a Winery, an Industry, and a Life, comes out this month from the University of California Press.
If Reed didn’t provide much direct technical training, it does seem to have shaped some valuable habits of mind. Bascom said he benefited from internalizing “a cross-cultural way of looking at things, and an understanding that culture can be both pleasurable and intellectual.” Lemelson stressed the training in problem-solving, giving him an ability as an outsider to “figure out how to learn this stuff, to sort through the zillion different choices, many of which are good. “ Gladhart came away from Reed with a belief in critical thinking, convinced that “you need data when you make a decision.” Besides sharpening the research skills of “a good liberal arts major,” Sokol Blosser said that learning how to teach “made me comfortable standing up in front of people and explaining things—what it’s like to grow grapes, why soil health is important.”