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
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
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.
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
(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.