For 17 years, David Paige was a winemaker in Adelsheim, one of Oregon’s founding wineries. In 2018, he left to launch his own brand: David Paige Wines. The winery focuses on Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc and recently purchased their own RPG Vineyard on the east side of the Eola-Amity Hills. I spoke with Paige about his history in the wine world, experiences from his time in Adelsheim and the vision for his latest project.
What was your introduction to the world of wine?
I was going to Ohio State and changed my major every six months. Every time I did a creative major, I would miss my science nerd page, so I would do graphic design and then computer science. I got a job in a wine shop out of a total desire. I noticed that every time I read about a wine, you would see a creative-based commentary as well as a science-based commentary. I finished a book on wine faster than anything I have ever read for one of my majors.
How did you break into the industry?
I figured if I have to work in wine, everyone has a better job than me unless I make the wine. So I got a fermentation grade from UC Davis. Then there was the opportunity to be a winemaker at a small place in Monterey. We made 1000 cases. My job was not only to produce the wine and make it better, but also to find out about the wine industry because I was the only employee. It was a fabulous training ground.
And what did you find out?
That I can also do math. We managed to raise the price 10% every year I was there, which is hard to do in this industry. But we would have needed to continue with it for another five years before we were profitable and I was not sure if the owners should keep the place going.
How did you get to Adelsheim in Oregon?
I wanted to continue making Pinot, and I had met David Adelsheim when I came up to Oregon for the Pinot Conferences. In 2001, I learned that he was looking for a winemaker, so I came up to Oregon, and we had a meeting that turned into 8 hours of talking and tasting. He offered me the job in the parking lot of Dundee Bistro.
What was it like coming to Adelsheim?
It was a great opportunity to make wine at a stage where it was now being noticed. The Oregon wine industry developed. To cut a good wine out every two years was no longer to cut it. In the early days, there were plenty of big successes, but they had trouble doing so year after year. It required a critical mass of winemaking talent. Some of us were already there, others were transplants like me. But we all brought different approaches and the magic thing about Oregon: people actually talk to each other. If you did not make good wine, you knew someone you could afford.
Everyone in Oregon always talks about the collaboration between wineries.
It is a society like no other. My first year I heard that Lemelson Vineyards had broken their destemmer. My first thought was that I wish we could help but had no way of doing it. Half an hour later I remembered we had another crusher out back. I called them to say you are welcome to come and pick it up, but by that time someone from another winery had already gone and fixed their crusher. You must stand in line to help each other out in this valley.
Was there a lot of pressure to become a winemaker at one of Oregon’s basic wineries?
It was an interesting combination of knowing that your work matters, but also being relatively anonymous. Adelsheim was well known, so the beam was set high, but on the other hand, David was so important that he was the one in the spotlight. It gave me an opportunity to grow into that job.
What did you learn most from David Adelsheim?
David was a visionary. It requires that kind of person to help start an industry, but he is also very reluctant to take credit even though he deserves it. His humility also allowed him to be at his own best without requiring him to be his own winemaker as well, and to trust others to become experts in what they do. That is what made Adelsheim what it has become in the last 20 years. David should also get credit for that: you can maintain the vision while letting go of the reins.
Why did you stop traveling?
What was not it behind it was every desperate need to leave Adelsheim. If I stayed there, I was just worried I would stagnate for someone who took a five-year winning streak. I did not want that to happen. I was not restless, but was worried that I would be restless. It was at a time when we had a good team in the basement. They fired on all cylinders, and if I wanted to do something new, it was time. I am proud that everyone stayed and moved up the ladder.
What can you do at your own winery that you could not do before?
I use this as an opportunity to go deeper into an endless list of experiments. Winemakers always have a favorite technique. I will reject it. I want to learn how to make a whole cluster, not because I intend to do it all the time, but so I can know when it’s the perfect time to try it with this fruit. Same with extended maceration or this eg vs. to Oak tree. I want all these techniques in my toolkit and be smart enough to know which tool to use at the moment. Different vineyards are not all suitable for the same techniques and styles. How do I, as a winemaker, show how amazing these grapes are? It is a lifelong mission. When I meet someone who thinks they already know how to make Pinot, it’s a red flag.
What is the size of the vineyard and where do you see it going?
We started with 900 cases. One of the vineyards we bought fruit from in the Eola-Amity hills was for sale. Back then, I had partners, and one said, let’s take this up and buy it. We called it RPG Vineyard after the initials of the three owners. We are around 3000 cases this year and our plan is getting to 6000 cases, so look around and decide if we go to the next level or not. We are breaking ground for the vineyard in June and making wine there in the fall of 2022. Our tasting room will be open next summer.
What is your dream for David Paige Wines?
I will continue to make the deep dive into Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc from this area which I find amazing for the cool climates. I’m not the kind of winemaker to show you my pet night from this weird Cab Franc I bought. It has been a tough year in a pandemic where we have been trying to figure out how to sell wine without a tasting room or a wine club and then the craziest vintage ever in the valley. But my curiosity will never be completely saturated by just sticking to what I do now. There is still more to learn.