Suitcase Clones & Bold Ideas

Suitcase Clones & Bold Ideas

The pairing that started Laurel Ridge Winery involved “suitcase clones” and a daring decision.

“Suitcase Clones”—vine clippings famously smuggled from France to Oregon in the 1970s by Charles Coury to reinvigorate the flagging, cool-climate vineyards of Oregon— were half the inspiration for David Teppola to dare to dream of making wine.

The other half involved swimming against the tide of winemaking wisdom of the time, and buying a tract of nutrient-poor land to grow his grapes.

His daughter Kira Teppola, director of sales and marketing for Laurel Ridge Winery, explains: “David believed the nutrient-poor, sandy loam would do exactly the opposite of what his colleagues believed,” says his daughter Kira Teppola, director of sales and marketing. “He believed that vines would grow deeper into the soil, in search of those nutrients, forcing them to produce richer, more complex and nuanced wines —perfect for growing Pinot Noir.”

His crazy idea bore fruit a decade after he purchased a 240-acre tract of land, which began producing wines, including the first sparkling wine of Oregon, in the 1980s.

And ever since, the family business begun by chemistry and philosophy student David Teppola has inspired his family to carry on making great wines.

In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Kira Teppola discusses the joys and difficulties of the family business begun by her parents David and Susan Teppola.

Q: Please tell me more about the “suitcase clones.”

The suitcase clones, which are also called Coury Clones after Charles Coury, who famously (and illegally) imported grape vine cuttings from France to plant his own vineyards in Oregon are an important part of the state’s winemaking history.  They were important to revitalizing the industry here. And Charles and my father became partners together in the 1970s.

My Dad purchased our 240-acre tract of land in 1974 and the suitcase clones were part of that beginning, and have made a lasting impression on our wine and in the new-world wine regions in the USA, like Oregon, Washington and California. Today, our wines can rival anything produced in Europe. We don’t have the same history, but the quality is there.

Q: How does weather play a role in product development?

We are in what is called a cool-climate viticulture region, which is conducive to Pino Noir, Chardonnay, the Burgundy varietals, and some German grapes like Riesling. But we don’t have the heat to ripen Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot like they have in Napa Valley.

The weather is the most defining characteristic of what we grow. We have warm, cloudless summer days and cooler nights. The cool Pacific air comes in at night and that, more than anything, determines what we can grow.

Q: What has been the biggest challenge to your business?

In 2006, my father died of cancer. And in the same year, we lost about 95 percent of our estate vineyard to disease. So, we tore out the entire vineyard in 2007 and during a wild and difficult time for my family, we decided to pull together and rebuild. With my mother, sister, a cousin and my parent’s nephew, we started all over again. We started replanting in 2015 and already, after only five years, we have an amazing vineyard now. We’re about halfway to our goal of full re-establishing our original vineyard. My mother often jokes that we’ve weathered almost every storm that we could in the wine industry.

Q: And it’s hard work.

I’ve learned since I got involved with the business on a full-time basis that it takes an incredible effort to make wine. You have to farm the grapes, harvest them, package the wine and we sell it right here in our tasting room. There’s no time of the year that isn’t interesting, or when we’re not busy.

Q: Did you plan to go into the family business?

I went to college and studied art history, and then I tried to chew my way through a career in retail management. As I did this I tried to imagine what would make me happy, and one day I woke up and knew I needed to be working with my family. I’m the sales and marketing director now and I love it.,

Q: What’s your future goal?

Replanting more of our estate vineyard is high on our priority list. And we’re really trying to grow our production level. We’re still in a boutique category of about 5,000 cases and we want to jump up to 7,500 cases so we can grow our distribution outside of Oregon. We’re best known for our sparkling wine. We’re the first Oregon winey to produce a sparkling wine, and it’s a huge part of our production and our identity. — Laurel Ridge Winery uses Boxerbrand’s Linen Naturals menu covers line in its table presentation. Thank you for taking us on your journey!


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