“It’s a tough business – you have to be innovative. But, it’s a way of life and I love it, I wouldn’t do it any other way.” – Tom Huggins, Founder and General Manager
Passionate about grapes and good wine, Tom Huggins took a huge leap of faith in 1982. A specialist in agriculture insurance at the time, whose clients included many of the pioneer wineries in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Tom convinced 11 investors to establish Oak Grove Vineyards on the site of a former wheat field. In 1986, the first crop was harvested and made into wine. In 1987, Eola Hills Wine Cellars released its first vintage.
Under Tom’s leadership, Eola Hills Wine Cellars has grown into one of Oregon’s largest and most consistent producers of fine wines. The winery is known for its special events, many dreamed up by Tom himself, such as the popular Wine Country Sunday Brunch at the winery in Rickreall, sports outings to Mariners and Beavers Games, annual wine country tours to Europe, and Bike Oregon Wine Country tours every Sunday in August.
Tom’s passion is Legacy Estate Vineyard, the winery’s newest and largest land acquisition. Tom envisions a world-class tasting room and event facilities, a new winery and guest accommodations at the 162-acre Legacy property near Salem.
Steve Anderson, Head Winemaker
In 1993, a series of events led this Oregon State University horticulture graduate to a career in winemaking. Hired to be the vineyard manager for Eola Hills Wine Cellars, on his first day of work he was asked if he could lend the head winemaker a hand during harvest. Steve jumped in and suddenly became, as he puts it, “A bona fide cellar rat.” Following the harvest and crush, the hard-working cellar rat was promoted to assistant winemaker.
Five years later, Steve left for a position as head winemaker at another Oregon winery. With two harvests under his belt and a solid reputation as an up-and-coming winemaker, he was surprised by a call from Tom Huggins, the founder of Eola Hills.
When Steve was asked if he’d like to return as head winemaker, his response was swift: “Absolutely.”
Twenty-three years later, Steve now oversees production of 26 different varieties of wine for the winery. Decorated with medals and ribbons, his office walls attest to the many awards his wines have won over the years. Every year, he leads a tour to different wine regions of Europe, including those of France, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
In 2016, Steve will lead the winery’s transition to an estimated record 92,000 cases of wine after a record breaking 2015 crop. It will be a challenge, but one this talented cellar rat should enjoy.
Jim Huggins, Vineyard Operations
Jim’s foray into the wine business began in 1982 when he joined his brother, Tom, in converting 67 acres of wheat fields into Oak Grove Vineyards. From Oak Grove, the next stop in Jim’s journey was as an owner/operator with James & Sons Vineyard Management Company. This would eventually lead to Jim’s return as vineyard manager and director at Oak Grove, the predecessor to Eola Hills Wine Cellars.
For more than 20 years, Jim oversaw the 367 acres of Eola Hills’ vineyard assets in all phases of development, management, and maintenance. Since 2008, the main focus for Jim and his team has been developing the 162-acre Legacy Estate Vineyard.
Jim knows the importance of matching the right wine grape to the different soils found in Oregon, in order to bring out the best qualities in the fruit. After years in the field, Jim is well aware of the power of nature to limit expectations or to produce a truly great vintage.
Says Jim: “Our grapes are either grown or sourced from over a dozen unique soil types, using eight unique trellis systems, from ultra-high density to ‘old world’ plantings. Elevations range from 250’ to 2,000’. As we have matured as grape growers and winemakers, wisdom has allowed us to refine our craft. Nature allows us to produce vintages that will be remembered for years to come.”
Starting in 1996, Antonio Mendez has worked closely with Jim Huggins, Eola Hills’ longtime manager of vineyard operations, and will take over the lead position when Jim retires in 2016.
Antonio says that working with plants every day provides a daily learning opportunity about how to grow them better. He can tell you why the current replanting of Oak Grove Vineyards in 7 x 5’ rows will increase the overall health and productivity of the vines, compared with the original spacing in 12×8’ rows and original choice of root stock.
Harvest is Antonio’s favorite time of the year. He takes great pride in watching the vineyard crew – which has included all of his children over the years – as they pick the ripe fruit and deliver it to the winery. When work is done, you can find Antonio enjoying the great outdoors, fishing for lake trout in the Salem region.