Great Northwest Wine Time Machine Project: Preston Wine Cellars 1976 Pinot Noir

By on March 14, 2014


Washington wine

Rob Griffin is owner and winemaker of Barnard Griffin in Richland, Wash. He’s been making wine in the Columbia Valley since 1977.

Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series called ‘The Great Northwest Wine Time Machine Project,” a look at the stories behind the labels of older Pacific Northwest wines.

RICHLAND, Wash. — Rob Griffin established Barnard Griffin Winery back in 1983, but he first moved to Washington state six years earlier when Bill Preston hired him to take over as winemaker at Preston Wine Cellars in Pasco, Wash.

preston_wine_cellars_1976_pinot_noir_washington“I arrived at Preston in April ’77, and this was one of many wines which had been fermented the previous fall,” Griffin told Great Northwest Wine. “It was in a state of preservation but not of elevation and, speaking frankly was a bit of a problem child and a bit of an ‘odd duck’, at least to my U.C. Davis-trained palate.

“You must remember that in 1977 the ‘Pinot revolution’ had not started in California and the Oregonians were making bold claims to ownership of the variety,” Griffin continued. “We passed the wine through French oak (new, Sirugue from Burgundy) and bottled it with a few corrective touches.”

Griffin worked at historic Buena Vista Winery in California’s Sonoma County, where he spent time alongside legendary Andre Tchelistcheff. Griffin quickly began producing award-winning wines for Preston.

“At that time, the Washington County Fair in Hillsboro, Ore., had an ‘all comers’ wine judging, and we entered the Pinot Noir along with several other wines. This ’76 Preston won best of show, to the outrage and consternation of the Oregon winemakers who were gobsmacked by the temerity of a Washington wine taking top honors in the holy of holies category.”

How much was the Willamette Valley rocked by the Preston ’76 Pinot Noir?

“The amusing part is that the competition rules were swiftly changed to exclude Washington and other states’ wines,” Griffin said. “This pretty much guaranteed an Oregon best of show.”

About Eric Degerman

Eric Degerman is the President and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine with Andy Perdue and served as its managing editor for a decade. He is a frequent wine judge at international wine competitions throughout North America and orchestrates 10 Northwest competitions each year.


  1. Michael Dietrich says:

    This is so funny. Many years ago when we lived in Troutdale we took a road trip to visit Preston and met Rob Griffin. I remember tasting wine up in their tower. I was familiar with this wine because I sold it at the restaurant I worked at. I was very impressed at how much flavor and complexity it had.

  2. Jeff Berger says:

    I don’t remember ever having the ’76 Pinot, but I sure do remember the delicious either 1977 or 1978 Chardonnay that Rob produced for Preston that won Best of Show at the annual Enological Festival in Seattle. I stocked up on it because we were selling it at the Interbay State Liquor Store where I worked for about $7 or $8 a bottle. I’ve always had a fondness for Rob and his wife and their wines. They graciously hosted many of the state store employees at the winery after I became a district manager and their pricing has always been quite fair and reasonable…especially considering the quality and consistency. I’ve been retired for nine years now, but still love their wines.

  3. […] history with Pinot Noir in the Pacific Northwest began in 1977 when the California native turned a 1976 Pinot Noir from Washington vines into a best of show winner at an Oregon competition. Here, he reached into the Gunkel family’s […]

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