Wine Roots in Europe for a Native Oregon Family
The Oak Knoll Winery story begins in 1970, when Ronald and Marjorie Vuylsteke became pioneers of Oregon winemaking by founding the first winery in Washington County. At that time, there were only a few vineyards and a handful of wineries in all of Oregon!
Ron Vuylsteke’s grandfather Leonard, a native of Belgium, was a winemaker in the St.- Emilion region of Bordeaux in the early 1900’s. He immigrated to the United States with his family on one of the last ships able to make safe passage out of Europe just before World War I. Arriving at Ellis Island in New York, the family traveled across the country by train to join relatives who had settled in the farmland of the northern Willamette Valley.
With the help of Marj (and their six children), Ron made approximately 4,000 gallons of wine in the fall of 1970 from grapes–and fruit–he rounded up from area farmers. A wide range of fruit wines was produced during Oak Knoll’s first vintages. When the summer’s berry harvests was concluding, the fall’s grape harvests were just beginning. The wines caught on in the Oregon market and by 1978, one out of every three bottles of Oregon wine sold were from Oak Knoll.
Ron tinkered with small lots of varietal grapes produced from some of the first vineyards in the northern Willamette Valley. As more vineyards became established in Oregon, Oak Knoll was able to concentrate increasingly on Pinot Noir (the first vintage was 1973); Chardonnay (first vintage 1975); Riesling (first vintage 1975); and Pinot Gris (first vintage 1990).
Ron and Marj have been actively involved in regional and statewide community and wine industry organizations. In the late 1970’s, Ron served on the organizing committee that created the Oregon Winegrowers Association. In the early 1980’s, the Oregon Wine Advisory Board was formed to direct the state’s joint wine marketing, winemaking and viticultural research efforts. Ron was appointed to the original board and served for six years. Marj has been extremely active in countless Hillsboro area community and charitable organizations.
A Second Generation of Oregon Winemakers
Oak Knoll Winery has always been a family operated business, with Marj and the children being involved since the first crush. From unloading flatbed trucks filled with berries to hand labeling bottles; and from filling orders after school to learning about the process of winemaking, there is always something to do around a winery.
Today, the second generation has stepped in to carry on the tradition in Ron and Marj’s footsteps. Head Winemaker, Jeff (a cousin) took the reins in 2001 after working at the winery for 17 years. During his tenure he spent several years learning the craft from Ron, and then served as the Assistant Winemaker. Step-son, Greg now oversees the company as president after holding executive positions at Moonstruck Chocolates and Marsee Baking.