Blue heron vineyard

The Willamette Valley is the heart of Oregon’s wine industry, and for good reason. It contains two thirds of the state’s vineyards and wineries. But grapes grow well in other parts of the state, too, including some that are better known for timber production.

One of these is the Umpqua Valley, where family owned and operated Blue Heron Vineyards produces fruit for some of the state’s best-known wineries, including A to Z Wineworks, Erath Winery and the Union Wine Company. Headquartered just west of Roseburg, Blue Heron grows several grape varieties on about 720 acres, including pinot gris, chardonnay and, of course, pinot noir, which accounts for about 70% of its plantings.

A young vineyard, Blue Heron was established by Hal and Vicki Westbrook in 2010 on land that had once been used to raise cattle. The Westbrooks considered other crops before settling on grapes, including blueberries and hazelnuts. But grapes offered a fairly quick return as well as a relatively stable market, says daughter Teal Stone, who runs the business with her husband, Taylor.

Blue Heron Vineyards’ first planting took place in 2011, followed by a second planting in 2012 that includes 18 acres of chardonnay. The Oregon market for chardonnay grapes was small at the time, says Teal, but her mother enjoys the wine, so the family decided to include it in the planting. A third planting happened in 2014, and the most recent occurred in 2020 on a 170-acre property about 10 miles away from the main vineyard.

The 2020 planting includes an additional 30 additional acres of chardonnay at the request of a buyer. The early gamble on chardonnay paid off, as another client bought all of the fruit from the original 18 acres and transformed it into a highly rated wine.

Chardonnay “went from a grape that no one wanted to a grape in high demand,” says Teal.

Even more notable than Blue Heron Vineyards’ rapid success is the fact that it was engineered largely by grape-growing neophytes. Teal Stone studied human nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Taylor studied construction management at Colorado State University. Neither knew much about viticulture when they moved from California to Roseburg to run the vineyard following the first harvest in 2013.

The transition had its challenges, says Teal, but she and Taylor were able to work with grower-relations staff at A to Z and Erath to learn the viticulture side of the business. They were fortunate, too, in that their academic degrees translate well to vineyard management. Vine nutrition and human nutrition are not so different, Teal says. And construction management involves the coordination and planning skills needed to develop and operate vineyards.

The market demand for wine grapes and the symbiotic relationship between Oregon’s vineyards and its wineries also helped.

“We would never have this many acres planted if there were not three huge wineries in Oregon,” says Teal. “We need them, and they need us.”

Blue Heron’s contracts with wineries typically cover multiple years with renewal options, which allows the Stones to know in advance what their outputs and income will be. This helps them to budget more easily than many businesses that grow other crops.

Despite its success, Blue Heron Vineyards does have its challenges. The business, which employs about a dozen full-time staff, struggles to find adequate seasonal labor. Another concern is the changing climate, which creates pressure to adapt management practices. Seasons in Oregon have always been unpredictable, says Teal, but swings – last year’s late frost, for example – seem to be more extreme.

In pursuit of sustainability, meanwhile, the Stones have embraced voluntary challenges. They have steadily adopted regenerative practices that include the use of compost and the reduction of herbicides and synthetic fertilizers. They’ve even deployed sheep to reduce undergrowth in the vineyards.

Despite such challenges, Teal says she regularly encourages young people, particularly women, to consider working in Oregon’s wine industry. Representation by women in the industry is strong, she says. At Blue Heron, women in leadership roles include not only Teal herself, but also the vineyard foreman, Deysi, and several of her crew.

Teal likes the fact that she belongs to an industry in which the Stones’ two daughters could see a future for themselves, whether that involves working alongside a crew, managing a vineyard, making wine or starting businesses of their own.

“My daughters can see examples in myself and other women in leadership roles on our farm and as the norm in the Oregon wine industry as a whole,” says Teal. “It is also not so bad for our 5-year-old son, who is obsessed with tractors.”

BHV Wine small

Blue Heron Vineyards grows grapes for some of Oregon’s best-known wine labels, including A to Z Wineworks, Erath and Underwood.

Chardonnay 2022 small

Blue Heron Vineyards more than doubled its chardonnay acreage during its latest planting, in 2020.

Sheep at Umpqua Vineyard small

Blue Heron Vineyards uses sheep to control undergrowth.

Teal and Taylor at Abacela small

Teal and Taylor Stone returned to Roseburg to run the vineyard after its first harvest, in 2013.

BHV Team w Teal small

Teal (far right) and Taylor Stone manage the vineyard with the help of a full-time team.

Jane Pinot Gris small

Jane Stone with pinot gris vines.

Wyatt and Lake Moving Trucks

Blue Heron Vineyards is a family run business in which Teal and Taylor Stone hope their children, including Wyatt and Lake, might someday see a role.

Blue Heron 2

Blue Heron Vineyards grows several grape varieties on about 720 acres in the Umpqua Valley.