Cross a San Diego media star, known in Southern California simply as Danuta, with longtime local Churchill High teacher Robin Pfeiffer and what do you get?
In this case, two of the most acclaimed growers and winemakers in Oregon. The husband-and-wife owners of Pfeiffer Winery met through a Register-Guard ad Danuta placed in 1994. He replied, “What’s a Tinseltown girl doing up here in Junction City?” She explained she was visiting her mom in Veneta and writing a book (Chiseled, published this year by Luminare Press). After a first date on his sailboat, Robin proposed 12 days later.
So began a chemistry that has been just as magical as the exquisite pinot wines they make and grapes they grow at Pfeiffer Winery. Sixty acres are exclusively grown for King Estate Winery and 10 acres for their own limited batches (about 1,200 cases a year) of 14 eagerly awaited estate-grown offerings, including pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay, muscat, merlot, and several blends.
Pfeiffer Winery is one of six in the Junction City-Monroe corridor that have banded together as Prairie Mountain Wineries, along with Benton-Lane Winery, Bennett Vineyards & Wine Company, Brigadoon Wine Company, High Pass Winery, and Walnut Ridge Vineyard.
“Each of us is owner-operated—we grow our own fruit, make our own wine, and have tasting rooms,” Robin explains. “We always refer visitors to each other, so it makes sense for us to pool our resources.”
What he doesn’t say, out of modesty, is that the area’s wineries are famous for growing and producing Oregon’s best signature pinot noir and pinot gris.
“It all has to do with terroir,” he says, referring to the French term that loosely means sense of place. The key elements, he adds, “are elevation, slope, aspect to the sun (south and east facing slopes), soil type, and pH.”
“That, along with our cool mini-climate, makes this region best in the world” for the notoriously finicky pinot noir and pinot gris grapes, he adds.
In 1982, Robin got a sense of the potential gold mine—or should we say “vine mine”?—he was sitting on when realtors representing French mega-growers came knocking, wanting to buy or lease his land to grow grapes.
Robin realized what was at his fingertips, but he was itching to do it himself. At first he had a hard time convincing his dad to switch from a sheep farm to a vineyard/winery at the family’s 50-year-old, 240-acre estate. “Not a lot of people were doing this sort of thing back then,” he says.
Completing his own metamorphosis, Robin reluctantly ended his three-decade career as a high school teacher in 1994. “You can’t do both,” he shrugs.
When Danuta came into his life, the two plunged into their new passion.
Robin’s forte was viticulture, and hers was marketing and presentation. Both work together, hands on, in all phases.
Their base of operations was their distinctive Tuscan-style home. Then they added Danuta’s amazing cave-like tasting room in 2006, a water garden in 2010, and a magnificent enclosed fireplace pavilion in 2013. Together, these elements add up to a unique expression of wine—quintessentially Oregon and Northwest, but also representing the Pfeiffers’ individual artistry.
“What we do is magical,” Danuta says. “We produce a fragrant, aromatic, living organic thing. Each wine speaks of when, where it was grown, how it was handled, and the care it was given in fermenting. Our greatest pleasure is sharing it. There’s nothing quite like this.”
There are also few wineries quite like Pfeiffer. It’s one of a handful in Oregon that distributes only on-site and to wine club members.
“This is our niche,” Robin says proudly.
Both laud the role of winemaker Bill Kremer, who does the chemistry for them and has been a consultant since 1995.
Currently, 2008 and 2009 vintages of pinot noir are available, with 2010 being released next year. For pinot gris, 2013 and 2014 vintages are on hand. Pfeiffer’s “blue dot” line features pinot fermented in new French oak barrels and its “blue line” offers less oak and a more fruit-forward approach.
Also note Pfeiffer’s Oregon-style chardonnay—unoaked, clean, fresh, and crisp, tastes of fruit instead of wood.
After her current book tours for Chiseled, Danuta’s gripping memoir, she and Robin plan to quietly go back to what they love most, and that’s making remarkable wine for you and me.
25040 Jaeg Rd., Junction City
541/998-2828 (tasting room)