Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.
What do you do and how long have you been doing it? (Lena Varner speaking) We are farmers. We planted our first wine grapes in 2006 and grow 11 varietals on our estate vineyard outside Talent. Our wine-tasting room is located next to the Rogue Creamery in Central Point, just a mile from where I grew up on Scenic Avenue. Our first vintage was a Primoris made from Chenin blanc.
How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley? I'm a fourth-generation Rogue Valley resident, and my great-grandparents moved here before World War II. David is a native of southern Wisconsin. He moved here from Cleveland, where he completed a fellowship at Cleveland Clinic in 1999 before establishing a career in vascular surgery here in the Rogue Valley.
What inspired you to go into this line of work? We both have medical backgrounds but share an appreciation for quality wines and cultural experiences. This line of work allows us to combine both science and art to create something that can be shared with family and friends. It also allows us to share time in the vineyard with our two boys, Ledger David and Slater Donald. They continue to be one of our greatest inspirations.
What decision or action would you change if you could do it again? We would forewarn family members about how much time, commitment and tireless effort it takes to grow wine grapes and produce quality wines. From harvesting at 3 a.m. to getting all of the grapes in before a rain to fixing irrigation pipe at midnight, family members, especially my sister Heather Hamlin, have been invaluable in cultivating the vineyard. It was unexpected that I would need so much commitment from my family. Intense amount of work is needed at times, and it's weather-dependent. Even my 84-year-old grandmother, Rama Trautman, is often called upon to assist during harvest, at the tasting room or at wine-pouring events.
What's the toughest business decision you've made? Our intent has been to build an on-site tasting room on Anderson Creek Road, and we plan to break ground on that this summer. But in the meantime, we had produced wine, and the room next to Rogue Creamery became available and we couldn't pass up that opportunity. We had to be within 30 minutes of the hospital and have easy access to the freeway. We delayed building an on-site winery and tasting room until all of our plans were in order, even as many beautiful wineries and tasting rooms continue to emerge. It is difficult to remain patient and focus on finishing plans that we've been working on for several years before starting the project. We want to make sure we get it right.
Who are your competitors? Trium, Pebblestone and Red Lily are of similar size at the present. Our competitors are representative of the local food and wine industry, which is growing rapidly. It's friendly competition, and we are thrilled to be a part of it because we all want to see this region thrive.
What training or education did you need? We drew upon our shared backgrounds in agriculture, science and research, with assistance from expert consultants in the area to establish our vineyard and tasting room. As the business grew, we continued our education through viticulture and enology courses at the Wine Business Institute in Sonoma, Southern Oregon Wine Institute, and the University of California at Davis and Oregon State University Extension programs.
What are your goals? We produced 1,600 cases last year; six wines and 11 varietals. Our goal is to be at the forefront and maintain quality. We've already regrafted other varietals, and our goal is to always keep it at less than 5,000 cases. We want to remain boutique in size and produce premium and ultra-premium wine with a destination tasting room.
What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs? Plan, plan, plan. If you're in this type of business, know that farming a vineyard and producing and selling wine will take long hours and much patience. Have a solid business plan using market research, and have a sense of what the consumer values. A lot of people are focused on the product. You need a solid marketing plan and know how you are going to introduce it to the public.
To suggest ideas for this column, about businesses that are at least five years old, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email@example.com.