Forrest G. Klaffke
May 24, 1955 - December 26, 2011
Forrest Glenn Klaffke, 56, of Jefferson, Ore., passed away Monday at his home after a long battle with cancer beginning in January 2009. As head winemaker at Willamette Valley Vineyards, he became well-known for his award-winning Pinot noirs. Forrest began his winemaking career 34 years ago, screening winegrapes for quality at Bonded Winery #7, owned by United Vintners near Sacramento, Calif. He later sharpened his skills working in Robert Mondavi's cellar and rising to cellar foreman, supervising a crew of 40 at Sebastiani. Unsatisfied with California's Pinot noir, he moved to Oregon with his wife, Maria, only four days after their marriage. Forrest to joined founder, Jim Bernau, to make small, hand-crafted lots of Pinot noir at Willamette Valley Vineyards.
During his 19 years at WVV, Forrest rose from cellar master to assistant winemaker and then, in 2002, was named head winemaker, creating an array of 90-plus point wines, including the acclaimed 94-point 2008 O'Brien Pinot Noir. His 30 years of dedication and focus earned him the distinction from friends and colleagues as "Winemaker Extraordinaire" and was further acknowledged by Wine & Spirits Magazine, who named the winery one of its 2011 "Top 100 Wineries of the World."
Forrest was known for his work ethic, being the first to arrive at the winery each day and often the last to leave. His approach to his work was uncompromising, leading to the high quality and acclaim for which his wines are known. He was inclusive with his blending by asking his winemaking team and fellow winery colleagues their opinions to instill in each a sense of "ownership" in the final product. During his three year battle with cancer, at his request, he shared his office with winemaker Don Crank, to collaborate on each lot and blend training Don for the time when Forrest would no longer be able to work. Knowing he was losing his fight with cancer, Forrest chose to stay with the winemaking team through the challenging 2011 harvest, forgoing chemo treatments to keep his mind clear for managing the fermenters.
He was born in Lodi, Calif., the son of Waldon and Pauline Mary (Clow) Klaffke. On April 15, 1993, Forrest married Maria Vatsula, in Stockton, Calif. Forrest is survived by his wife, Maria; children, Daniel David Shepherd, and his wife, Rachel Shepherd, of Salem, Ore.; and Georgianna Mikala Klaffke, of Jefferson, Ore.; brothers, Ralph Klaffke, of New Zealand, Richard Klaffke, of Astoria, and Kurt Klaffke, of Neahkahnie.
A memorial service will be held at Willamette Valley Vineyards on Sunday, January 15, 2012, at 1:00 p.m. Call 503-588-9463 for more information. Donations to the college fund for Forrest's daughter, Georgianna, can be made at any Umpqua Bank location, to the Forrest Klaffke Memorial Fund. Fisher Funeral Home is handling arrangements.