Oak Knoll Winery

Our Story


THE FAMILY

Wine Roots in Europe for
a native Oregon family

Ron Vuylsteke
(Ron Vuylsteke)

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.

Both Ron and Marj Vuylsteke are native Oregonians. Ron was an electronics engineer at Tektronix in the early 1960's when a bumper crop of blackberries at the family home led to a gallon of blackberry wine. The result was tasty and the Vuylsteke's family winemaking heritage was reborn. Ron and Marj decided to take the dramatic step of pursuing commercial winemaking and founded Oak Knoll Winery.

With the scarcity of Oregon vineyards, the first vintages Oak Knoll produced were an array of grape and fruit wines. Technical winemaking information was hard to come by, and "seat of the pants" winemaking was the norm in the early 1970's. Growing conditions and vineyards in the northern Willamette Valley are much closer to the cooler regions of Europe than they are to California. The wine courses and advice coming from California schools and the wine trade were geared entirely for warmer conditions. Therefore, growing grapes and making wine in the Willamette Valley presented new challenges to the American wine industry; a new world of discoveries about vines and wines began to emerge from northern Oregon based on the trials, errors, and successes of these determined winemakers.

Marj Vuylsteke
(Marj Vuylsteke)

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

John Vuylsteke
(John Vuylsteke receives award at
World Gourmet Summit)

The 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.

Many of the other children are also working at various wine operations up and down the West Coast. Oldest son, Ron II worked at Tualatin Vineyards and Sokol Blosser Winery before becoming a consultant at several operations in the Napa Valley. He was then named Winemaker at Tudal Vineyards. Steve is the President of SakeOne. Youngest son, Doug spent some time at Rex Hill Vineyards before becoming Assistant Winemaker at Sokol Blosser Winery where he now resides.

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Phone: (503) 648-8198
Fax: (503) 648-3377
info@oakknollwinery.com
29700 SW Burkhalter Rd.
Hillsboro, OR 97123

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