DUNDEE, Ore. — There’s been a change of captains at Dobbes Family Estate, but the brand created by one of the Oregon wine industry’s most well-known winemakers continues to chart a course that’s producing some of the state’s top wines.
Last fall, a number of West Coast wine buyers and sommeliers gathered in the Columbia Gorge to judge the Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, and they awarded a fistful of gold medals to the Dundee producer celebrating its 20th anniversary. Those wines shined across various styles and price points, prompting the selection of Dobbes Family Estate as Great Northwest Wine’s 2023 Oregon Winery of the Year.
A year ago, Dobbes Family Estate hired another winemaker with a famous last name and a history of success, Derek Einberger. He’s positioned to follow the winery’s tenets — “Rooted in tradition and unbound by convention” — and serve as a steward for a company headed into its third decade. He inherited a cellar from winemaker Andy McVay that produced five gold medals at the 2022 Invite.
• Dobbes Family Estate 2019 Eola-Amity Hills Cuvée Pinot Noir $38 — 90 points
• Dobbes Family Estate 2019 Patricia’s Cuvée Pinot Noir $52 — 92 points
• Dobbes Family Estate 2020 Oregon Rosé, $28 — 92 points
• Dobbes Family Estate 2020 Wine By Joe Pinot Noir $19 — 94 points
• Dobbes Family Estate 2021 Grenache Blanc, $30 — 92 points
And even though 2016 was his last vintage as the hands-on winemaker, each of those gold medals remains a reflection of the affable “Hollywood” Joe Dobbes, who still shares with Bacchus Capital Management ownership of the brand he launched in 2003 after two decades of making wine for some of the Willamette Valley’s top producers.
The Eola-Amity Hills Cuvée showcases an American Viticultural Area that Dobbes was an early champion of and continues to rise in prominence. Dobbes was the first winemaker in Oregon to bottle Grenache Blanc. Patricia’s Cuvée remains as expressive and ebullient as its namesake — Dobbes’s wife. The 2020 Rosé is yet another example that most Willamette Valley winemakers were able to overcome both the wildfires that plagued the West Coast and the first year of the pandemic. And the Wine By Joe program overdelivers at a remarkably friendly price.
“It’s important for me to keep making those wines approachable and consistent year after year,” Einberger says.
From Vancouver Island to Dundee, Dobbes
The 2022 vintage marked a return to the Willamette Valley for Einberger, who spent a dozen years as winemaker/part-owner of Patton Valley Vineyard in Gaston and then moved to Vancouver Island to oversee Roost Winery for three years.
Cool-climate winemaking was not the path of his father, Ray, who produced the Columbia Crest 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon that topped Wine Spectator’s year-end world ranking in 2009.
“I remember when I first started making Pinot Noir in Oregon, he would always call it, ‘wimpy wine’ because he was making those huge Cabs, Merlots and Syrahs in Washington,” Derek says with a chuckle. “Sometimes when we’d be tasting wine somewhere, he’d say, ‘This wine is really green and acidic — you’ll love it.”
“It’s interesting how our palate changes throughout our lives,” Derek adds. “Now he drinks predominantly Pinot Noir, and he tells me that he’s very proud of me.”
However, Derek didn’t set out to be a winemaker. He received a degree in studio art from the University of the Redlands in 2003. Alas, his career as an artist in Oregon didn’t flourish, so he began working in restaurants and studying fermentation. Next came five years of brewing beer in Portland at Alameda, BridgePort and McMenamins.
“I enjoyed making beer, but it often meant doing the same thing every day, and I knew exactly what I would be doing at 11:17 a.m. the next day,” Einberger said. “I was drawn to winemaking because of the seasonal variations, the changes throughout the year and doing different things.”
He started at storied Vietti in Italy’s Barolo region. Next, there were stops at Silver Oak/Twomey Cellars in Sonoma and Joseph Phelps in Napa. He found his way back to the Willamette Valley in 2009, landing at famed Lemelson Vineyards. A year later, Patton Valley brought him aboard.
At Dobbes, Einberger works with a number of Willamette Valley sites that have been at the core of the program — Dux in the Dundee Hills, Momtazi (McMinnville), Quailhurst (Chehalem Mountains), Symonette (Eola-Amity Hills) and Seabreeze (Van Duzer Corridor), the latter of which Bacchus recently sold. Crater View and Sundown remain key sites in the Rogue Valley.
Don’t expect revolutionary changes to be made at Dobbes Family Estate under Einberger. That means 11 expressions of Pinot Noir, with three being vineyard designates, but there are no plans to add clonal selections.
“We will continue to evolve, though,” he says.
The Untethered lineup is a tier that allows the winemaker to explore different varietals and winemaking methods, which really leans into the “unbound by convention” approach within Dobbes Family Estate. And this year features something truly unique — a fortified dessert rosé that spent time in whiskey barrels and taps into the new winemaker’s artistic past.
“I brought with me to Dobbes a 10-year solera project that shows a piece of my history in the valley and is part of that Untethered rosé,” said Einberger, who enjoyed exploring styles of vermouth under the Imbue label, which he and his wife sold in 2022.
The multi-tiered and layered project in downtown Dundee that Einberger joined last year has undergone a leadership change both in terms of the cellar and the business.
CEO Pearson directs 250,000-case operation
Gretchen Boock, the winery’s first employee, stepped down in 2021 as CEO after 19 years at Dobbes. Bacchus promoted her heir apparent — sales and marketing executive Sarah Pearson, a polyglot whose résumé includes key roles with Constellation, Hess Persson Estates, Freixenet and Treasury Wine Estates.
“Joe is our founder, and we owe so much to who he is and what he accomplished here,” Pearson says. “It’s our responsibility to take this forward, going from the founder‘s phase and onto the next chapter.”
The employment of Boock began a tradition of Dobbes Family Estate of attracting dedicated folks — and a majority of them tend to be strong women. Boock worked side-by-side with Dobbes in the cellar from the beginning, and he rewarded her loyalty with promotions. Now, assistant winemaker Rachael Fishman is among the four women on Einberger’s production team. Her first harvest was Joe’s last crush in Dundee.
“Women are 71% of our employees,” Pearson said. “We’re committed to helping to diversify the wine industry.”
Longtime winemaker Doug Vuylsteke, whose family launched the historic Oak Knoll Winery in Hillsboro, came to the winery after a dozen years at Rex Hill in Newberg and 16 years in Dundee at Sokol Blosser. His skill with the popular and widely distributed Evolution program there made him an ideal fit at Dobbes, which shows in the success and acclaim for the Wine By Joe program that he spearheads.
“If he’s not pulling hoses around the winery, then he’s not happy,” Einberger says. “There’s a real maturity in the cellar here with Rachael on the Dobbes side and Doug on the Wine By Joe side.”
There’s much more beyond those two brands and behind the wooden doors just off Highway 99. Dobbes Family Estate limits its production to about 10,000 cases. Wine By Joe with its broad distribution stands at 50,000 cases. And their custom-crush business under the Dundee Vintners operation that Joe began ranges from 150,000 to 200,000 cases.
Release of 2022 vintage marks winemaking change
This spring, customers will begin to get a sense of Einberger’s style when his 2022 rosé and whites are released. And he begins his second vintage with a better sense of the wide variety of vineyards Dobbes contracts with and the thirst of the market.
“Everybody deserves a good glass of wine, and we want them to understand the magic of the wine industry,” Pearson says.
The pandemic presented a different set of problems for Einberger, who wanted to explore Vancouver Island’s emerging cool-climate viticulture and be a part of the British Columbia wine industry. He was the winemaker and director of operations of Roost Winery outside of Victoria when the border closed.
“We were a quarter-mile from the water with beautiful hiking trails, but it was pretty lonely being isolated on an island,” Einberger says. “I went three years before seeing my dad.”
This past winter, Einberger arranged to visit with Dobbes and get a sense for that project inspired in part by some vineyards common to each brand.
Earlier this winter, Dobbes Family Estate made the Reader’s Digest list of 12 “must-visit” Oregon wineries. The Grand Assemblage Pinot Noir was the editor’s pick, and in addition to the wine quality, Dobbes Family Estate earned plaudits for its spacious tasting room experience — including its all-season indoor/ outdoor lounge known as “The Hideaway” — and its dog-friendly approach.
That family feel explains the company’s new springtime partnership with the Oregon Zoo Foundation titled “Cheers to Joe & Jolene,” a retail program that donates a portion of Wine By Joe Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir sales in honor of the zoo’s year-old orangutan.
“From the get-go, ours has been a charitable and giving company striving for sustainability and diversity,” Pearson said. “We provide every employee with two days off each year to perform volunteer work, and we support One Percent for the Planet. As a winery, we have the ability to make a positive impact on our environment and our society.”
- Dobbes Family Estate, 240 SE Fifth St., Dundee, Oregon, 97115, DobbesFamilyEstate.com (503) 538-1141.
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