In late October 2022, I visited Youngberg Hill in Oregon’s McMinnville AVA. It is a gorgeous 50-acre property with a historic inn atop the hillside, surrounded by astounding views and meticulously farmed, organic and biodynamic vineyards planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris.
I met and tasted with Wayne Bailey, vigneron and winemaker. The first question I usually ask is, “Everyone has a story. What’s yours?” In speaking with Bailey, I learned that he grew up in Iowa and wanted to be a farmer. As an adult, his role as a food and wine consultant unexpectedly landed him in Bourgogne with an opportunity to consult for wine brands in France. He was supposed to be there for three months, but it turned into two years. He fell in love with the region’s vineyards, people, and wines. I could immediately relate, as a former French professor who found herself in Bourgogne twice – once as a study abroad student in college, where I had my first wine moment in Beaune at the age of 21 – and again in November 2021 as a wine journalist. Bailey and I also have a fondness for cool-climate, aged Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It was an immediate kinship. I wanted to know more about Bailey, what led him to Oregon, and Youngberg Hill. Below is our interview.
1. Did you have a wine moment (or moments) when you fell in love with wine?
When I was a senior in college, I was on a recruiting trip in San Francisco and met with my uncle who took me to dinner. He was big into wine and at dinner we had a bottle of Château Haut-Brion. It was amazing!
2. Describe briefly your life-changing experience in Bourgogne (Burgundy).
Recognizing that the vignerons considered themselves farmers and not celebrity winemakers. I worked side by side with vineyard workers and cellar rats to learn the trade from the experts. That changed my life goals.
3. Why did you decide Youngberg Hill was where you wanted to be a winegrower and winemaker?
I knew I wanted to grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in a cool climate. The Willamette Valley was it and I went as far west (for cooler air from the coast) and also higher altitude (also for cooler air). That took me to the McMinnville AVA.
4. Which wines and grape varieties do you produce? Why did you launch a premium label, Bailey Family? Is Pinot Noir your favorite grape variety to grow and make? I know you have a fondness for Chardonnay, too.
While we grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay, we also buy fruit to make Pinot Blanc, Grenache, and Syrah. We started Bailey Family Wines to feature the best of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay we could craft from the hill. I love Pinot Noir and Chardonnay equally – particularly when aged.
5. Why did you name your vineyard blocks and wines after your daughters and family name, Bailey?
Because we are a family owned and operated business totally invested in this property. It only makes sense to honor that with the names of the family that work the land.
A selection of Youngberg Hill Pinots – photo courtesy of Youngberg Hill
6. What do you think makes Youngberg Hill and Bailey Family Wines different from others in the McMinnville AVA and the broader Willamette Valley AVA?
Certainly the McMinnville AVA is cooler than the Willamette Valley as a whole. The McMinnville AVA tends to be a little bigger and more intense with a bias towards black fruit, spice, earth, and mineral characteristics dominating. Youngberg Hill just emphasizes those characteristics.
7. What prompted you to trademark the phrase, “Our wines are made in the vineyard, not the winery”?
I want the world to know that wine is an agricultural product and that we are not trying to manipulate things in the winery, but to have the wines truly reflect the site in which the fruit is grown.
8. What does the future look like for Youngberg Hill? Any new varieties or winemaking projects on the horizon? At this stage we want to just start enjoying life more. We don’t need or want to grow more. We love the wines we are producing. And, we love the community we are living and operating in.
9. Any words of wisdom or inspiration you’d like to share about your decades in the wine industry?
My advice is to do whatever you enjoy doing. If you enjoy it, you will be successful doing it.
10. Is there anything else you’re willing to share that I won’t find anywhere else?
I hold two US design patents, a gas relief valve and an oil well pump valve.
2018 Bailey Family Chardonnay – my favorite of the tasting. This was as close to Bourgogne in style as one can find in the U.S., but with magnificent McMinnville fruit and Bailey’s gentle hand – an exquisite balance of lively citrus, juicy stone fruits and a delicately creamy texture that doesn’t overwhelm the crispness.
2019 Youngberg Hill Extended Tirage Sparkling – who doesn’t love a traditional method sparkling made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with flavors like zesty citrus and brioche? Brut sparkling all day – yes, please.
All the Pinot Noir – especially the single block Pinots for side-by-side tasting of how the location and soils influence the flavor profile. Bailey’s winemaking style is minimalist, allowing flavors like dark ripe berries, warm baking spices, and each block’s unique minerality to shine.
2018 Bailey Family and 2020 Youngberg Hill Grenache from Rogue Valley – both a delicious departure to Rogue Valley’s warmer climate, with bright berry and spice profiles that are perfect with Spanish tapas like the ones I enjoyed for dinner at La Rambla in McMinnville.
Republished with permission. Originally published by Elizabeth Smith at this link.
Dr. Elizabeth Smith is a former college professor and wine club manager turned award-winning wine writer and wine and writing competition judge. Her day job is wine and winemaker copywriter at Naked Wines USA. Elizabeth is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International Sacramento and Sonoma Chapters, the Circle of Wine Writers and the Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association. Connect with Elizabeth at easmith.net/contact.
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