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Owen Roe

Memorable wines from Washington and Oregon

Co-owner and winemaker David O'Reilly is an 'old school' wine guy-he has not only done all the jobs in a winery, he's asked people to let him do all the not-fun things. Learning from the ground up has paid big dividends. And his early years in Ireland have a definite influence on what's happening at the Wapato tasting room.

The actual Owen Roe--you did not meet him at the tasting room...

"My memories of growing up are of my aunt churning butter and chickens being killed for dinner," David recalls. "Food had a place. It was seasonal." David's father was from Belfast and two of his brothers were murdered. They were prominent Irish Catholic businessmen (restaurant owners), and the whole family was threatened. His dad had to move his family to safety; they went to Canada in 1977, at the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. They lived in New Brunswick and then British Columbia. "In New Brunswick, we had a meat locker and hung our own beef, had a hot house for tomatoes, canned fish and raised poultry. We were cut off in winter when it was 40° below. I had 50 free-range laying hens. We would barter the eggs for other items. My dad was a political science professor and he would have us discuss, debate, and challenge our views. That's why I'm a geek on information." It also led him to attend Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, where courses were based on the Great Books and he learned Latin. He was there from 1984-87. "I was surrounded by vineyards, and one of my professors had worked at Christian Brothers Winery. He would invite us over and have six wines on the table, all Sauvignon Blanc from Lake County. Then we would discuss. I was 19 or 20."

David met his future wife, Angelica, in California. Her family had a high desert ranch. "I still tell her she's my ticket to a green card, even though we have eight kids now from 10-28. We wanted to start a family career, so we traveled around the country to see where we would want to live and what we would want to do: dairy, cheese, wine. We wanted to create something to bring to the table. Eventually we decided I'd get a degree at UC Davis. I was offered a harvest job at Leeward Winery (now closed), so I went there and asked for all the bad jobs. I wanted to make sure this was something I wanted to do, that I was in it for the love of wine. They had great wine, but needed help selling it. Although I had no clue what I was doing, within a few months I'd sold a couple of years of wine. I was off to school and they said, wait. If you stay and work with our winemaker, he'll teach you everything you'd learn at school, but you still must sell. Since I'd done the basic work already, selling didn't take all my time and I did learn from the winemaker. After three years, I left. We'd started a family and needed more money."

Having fallen in love with Pinot Noir, they moved to Oregon. He heard about a vineyard with 100-year-old Zinfandel vines in The Dalles. "I wanted to see that! I met Peter Rosback and we decided we would start a winery called Sineann together, build the winery up, then split up. I would use my proceeds to start my own winery, Owen Roe, named for Owen Roe O'Neill, an Irish rebel commander." The tasting room just outside Newberg has picnic tables and a Cellar Table Experience, where a private flight tasting can be set up, and you can learn about their winemaking and history.

His next love was the Yakima Valley. "I started making wine in 2007 in a rented place in Sunnyside. I was farming the site I'm on now in Wapato for the owner. It had been planted in 2004: Cab Franc, Syrah, Sangiovese. In 2008, the owner decided to sell. We sat down and figured out what I could pay monthly and came up with a total price. I tore out the Sangiovese, planted Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It's a great site with a 1,200-foot elevation and three distinct soil types. I knew it was good, but not this good. It's amazing when you realize that from Red Willow to Red Mountain, about 100 miles apart, there's only a 4° temperature difference. Elevation plays a crucial role; the higher you are, the warmer it is. You don't want to plant in the valley unless it's Chardonnay or fruit trees. Yakima Valley wine is naturally balanced; not over- or under-ripened." His grapes are organically grown and use the natural motion of the wind to dry what little dew they get. He also sources grapes from DuBrul Vineyard and Red Willow. Sinister Hand (the family crest, see the story on their website) is a Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedere/Cinsaut blend; Abbot's Table is a Sangiovese/Zinfandel/Blaufrankish/Malbec blend; Yakima Valley Red is Merlot/Cab Franc/Cab Sav; and the Rosa Mystica is Cab Franc from four Yakima Valley vineyards.

Wapato tasting room

"I've never had a job in my life. I learn so much every day and know that it's important to listen to nature. You learn from mistakes. I feel privileged to do what I love, specifically in this valley, and make wine for people to share. I am really excited about the next chapter and our ability to elevate the tasting room experience." This will involve a commercial kitchen and Craig Singer, Owen Roe's Hospitality Manager who is also a chef with a Culinary Institute of America background. "It's about food with an educational aspect and being a world-class destination. Eventually, we'll do something similar in Oregon and Craig will handle the food aspect at both locations." Stay tuned!

Exterior of Wapato tasting room

Owen Roe

2761 E 9th St
Newberg, OR 97132

309 Gangl Rd
Wapato, WA 98951


Connie Adams/June 2018

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