DUNDEE, Ore. — Bryan Weil’s decorated career at Alexana Winery in the Dundee Hills included making the top-ranked Pacific Northwest wine on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list in 2021.
Soon after, he announced plans to leave and launch Vinovate Custom Wine Services nearby, starting with the 2023 harvest.
This summer, he recruited two winemakers out of the Stoller Wine Group to round out his team — sparkling wine maven Kate Payne Brown and Aaron Fox. The latter addition will serve as a reunion of sorts because Fox previously worked for Weil at Alexana.
“We built Vinovate to change the experience of custom-crush winemaking,” said Weil, a graduate of Oregon State University whose winemaking path included The Hogue Cellars in Prosser, Wash.
Vinovate reflects the vision and investment of Weil, retired attorney Rob Townsend, his wife Pam Turner and De Ponte Cellars owner Scott Baldwin. Weil serves as managing partner, and Payne Brown joins on as partner/winemaker after nine years at Stoller. Fox spent the 2016 harvest at Alexana before he was hired by Stoller. He’s now the assistant winemaker for Weil and Payne Brown.
“Vinovate offers new and established brands the means to add high-quality sparkling winemaking to their offerings, something I’m deeply passionate about and looking forward to leading for our clients,” says Payne Brown, who also will work on still wines.
She was on the ground floor of the sparkling wine program at Stoller and helped expand the Legacy tier for vice-president of winemaking Melissa Burr. Prior to joining Bill Stoller’s team, Payne Brown, who earned a master’s in enology at the University of Adelaide, spent six years at another storied Dundee Hills producer — Archery Summit.
The caliber of clients who signed on with Vinovate while construction was still ramping up attracted attention last fall, led by the announcement that Page Knudsen Cowles and her brothers were shifting Knudsen Vineyards production from Argyle to Weil’s group. The end of the family’s 10-year agreement with Argyle and the move to Vinovate will allow KV to grow from 3,000 to 5,000 cases.
“As a pioneering Oregon vineyard, we have been a leader in viticultural innovation for over 50 years,” Knudsen Cowles said. “This new winemaking relationship with Vinovate builds on that legacy and furthers our founding mission to produce truly world-class wines.”
Other brands to have their wines made at Vinovate include family-owned Bellingar Estates, the Austin family’s Rain Dance Vineyards and Ambar Estate. There’s plenty of synergy among those brands. Weil has been making Rain Dance since 2013, and Payne Brown is behind the wines of Ambar, a young label owned by Townsend — a grade-school chum of Baldwin from their days growing up the East Bay town of Fremont, Calif.
Vinovate includes 40-acre vineyard, 50K-case facility
Vinovate marks the third winery build-out for Weil in the past decade. He and the other investors have constructed a 24,000-square-foot production facility and barrel rooms offering a capacity of 50,000 cases. The building designed by Juancarlos Fernandez and brought to life by Perlo Construction from nearby Tualatin is flanked by 40 acres of commercial vines. The esteemed Results Partners manages Vinovate Vineyard.
Varieties planted are those one would expect in the Dundee Hills — six clones of Pinot Noir and the Chardonnay selection focused on Dijon 76, 95 and 548.
“Dijon 95 and 76 have been the more widely planted Dijon clones, but Dijon 548 has been planted more and more due to its great wine quality,” Weil says.
Vinovate plans to achieve Regenerative Organic certification by 2026. It already uses grazing animals for cover-crop management, and the human footprint also is reduced by solar power, rainwater collection and wastewater recycling.
Among the suite of services available to clients is working with Gauge Branding on marketing and label design. The company with offices in Chicago and Napa Valley has collaborated with several Walla Walla Valley producers on artwork, including SMAK Wines and The Walls.
In terms of a consumer experience, “There are no current plans for an on-premise retail space, but Vinovate is open to the idea as we grow as a business and see what our clients’ needs are,” Weil says.
And during the past couple of years, Weil’s commute to work hardly changed.
“Alexana and Ambar Estate are the two closest vineyards to us with tasting rooms, but there are multiple new plantings and other established vineyards on the northern edge of the Dundee Hills on Worden Hill Road,” Weil says. “There are seven to eight new winery or tasting room builds going on on Worden Hill Road, so these are some really exciting times on this side of the hill.”