Our People

Our People

We purchased Bryn Mawr Vineyards as a tiny garagiste winery in 2009. With a four-acre foundation of established Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Tempranillo vines, we partnered with winemaker Rachel Rose to diversify the site, adding Pinot Blanc, Dolcetto and Riesling vines among many new clones of the regional standards. For the first eight vintages, Rachel made wine in our basement and a former wedding tent. In 2018, we completed our new winery facility, followed by a new tasting room in 2019. The last decade has brought national recognition for Bryn Mawr’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay programs, but it’s the playful, experimental side that has made us a destination. Acting as an important bridge, Bryn Mawr honors the wines that make the Willamette Valley world-renowned, while also pushing the envelope, defining what is possible in the future. Though dressed in impressive new clothes, we are still a small, family owned winery to the core. We invite you to share a little slice of our world.

Our People

Rachel Rose, Winemaker & VINEYARD Director


rachel@brynmawrvineyards.com

...working in a Biotech research lab, she never imagined herself elbow deep in roiling ferments within just a few years; however, wine finds a way.

Rachel Rose graduated with her B.S in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Fresh out of college and working in a Biotech research lab, she never imagined herself elbow deep in roiling ferments within just a few years; however, wine finds a way. For her, it came through food. Cooking was her hobby through college and her first couple years of professional life, and as she gained a job with stable income, she was able to start pairing her meals with wine. Each wine she tried opened her eyes to new regions and new varietals, and she picked up a job in a tasting room on weekends to grow this newfound interest. Meeting with a winemaker, she realized that not only were geography and climate huge factors in wine, but biology and chemistry as well. Wine quickly became a fiery passion, but unlike most passions, her education was shockingly relevant to this particular one. She realized she might have that chance that every 20-something dreams of, the chance to explore the world with an active, hands-on profession that could lead to a professional future. Already feeling exceedingly restless in the lab setting, she debated what and where to study before taking off for Australia to learn viticulture for a year.

One year became three years, by the end of which she had her M.S. in Oenology and a postgraduate diploma in viticulture. At the University of Adelaide in South Australia, she had a unique educational opportunity. South Australia has an exceedingly diverse set of converging climates. Hundreds of varietals can grow successfully in a relatively constrained space. The University provided a working winery so Rachel could play with this stunning array of grapes in a hands-on, experiential fashion, with a focus microbiology and soil chemistry. In the Adelaide Hills, Rachel discovered Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, igniting a love affair that grows stronger to this day. She knew either Burgundy or “the New Burgundy,” AKA Oregon, were in her future, and as a non-French speaking American woman, the latter seemed to make the most sense. To help that decision to come back to the West Coast were family and a young musician/artist named Liam Stary, who Rachel met just a few months before she left for Australia. Liam and Rachel would live on site for our first five years, and she nurtured wines of stunning complexity and character from her young vines. Now, with a full-fledged winery and a maturing vineyard, she’s hit her stride as one of Oregon’s most dynamic and exciting winemakers.

 

JON & KATHY LAUER, OWNERS


Kathy@brynmawrvineyards.com
Jon@brynmawrvineyards.com

By the late 90s wine was in control of their destiny; all it took was a Kevin Kline monologue on a dilapidated vineyard in the Meg Ryan classic French Kiss...


Jon and Kathy Lauer grew up in small towns in the midwest with rather religious families. Early contact with wine was limited to communion, wine coolers, and maybe a white zinfandel thrown in the mix. When they met at a hearing in fabulous Yuma, Arizona, Jon had recently moved to San Diego and Kathy was still in law school at the University of Michigan, where Jon also received his J.D. Four weeks after that hearing, they were engaged, and four more weeks after that, they hopped in a car and went on their first road trip up the California Coast to visit Jon’s sister in the Bay Area. Spur-of-the-moment decisions would become a defining fixture of their lives together.

The California wine industry in the 80s was in a golden age. A couple decades of establishment and global recognition had raised the bar for quality, yet tour busses and long, packed tasting bars were still a thing of the future. From Santa Barbara to the Russian River Valley, great wines were being produced at reasonable prices in small, family owned wineries. This trip was a flashbulb moment in their history; they both clearly recall the Newton unfiltered Chardonnay brought to them at the Sardine Factory in Monterrey. It exploded any preconceived notion they shared about wine. A day trip to Napa was added to the itinerary, where they got that rare, excellent tasting experience to which wine lovers worldwide can relate. It became the foundation of a lifelong passion that would follow and come to change their family’s path.

That family, though, still had to be had. First was Jeffrey in ‘89, followed by Krista in ‘92, then David in ‘94. Raising their kids came first, but wine was macerating on the back of their minds. Family trips weren’t to beach resorts but to Solvang, where the Lauer kids remember playing tag at Fess Parker Winery and Hide and Seek at Castoro Cellars while their parents sipped inside. Their social group revolved around monthly wine dinners where they and other aficionados explored wine regions throughout the world. Jon would pick the wines and Kathy would create food pairings, becoming quite the skilled gourmet cook in the process. By the late 90s wine was in control of their destiny; all it took was a Kevin Kline monologue on a dilapidated vineyard in the Meg Ryan classic French Kiss, and Jon knew he wanted to grow grapes.

He took a winemaking course at UC Davis and planted half an acre of Italian varietals on the family’s hillside home in San Diego. As a recently retired, full time stay-at-home dad, he could tend to the site while the kids were in school, and within a few years he was producing some surprisingly drinkable table wine. The goal, though, was not to make drinkable wine, it was to make great wine. That just wasn’t possible in San Diego’s monotonous climate, and by the turn of the 21st century, land prices in other parts of California were astronomical. Jon, bored of the constant sunshine and unchanging weather, was feeling restless, and as his kids got older, his eye went North.

Oregon had been Jon’s conscience since the mid 1990s, and he visited with David in 2002. While David went to the Gorge with his grandparents, Jon toured several different AVAs, but a last second stop in the Eola-Amity Hills grabbed his heart. Here, he saw that same energy he felt in California as a consumer decades before, those smaller, family-owned wineries making stunning wine in a non-pretentious setting. It was everything he loved about the wine industry, everything he and Kathy dreamed of doing one day. Plus, it was green. After 30 years of San Diego’s uniform shades of browns and yellows, he needed that. All that was left was finding land, which he did in the late 2000s. Bryn Mawr Vineyards was a tiny winery that needed a lot of love, but he saw the depth and potential in the few wines produced and the stunning neighborhood around it. He had flashbacks to French Kiss, to Kevin Kline’s Luc Teyssier crouched over rocky soil explaining the potential of the land to produce great wine. Kathy, never having visited Oregon, was far too easily convinced by his enthusiasm to go forward with him, and another spur-of-the-moment decision brought them to Bryn Mawr Vineyards in December 2009.

Initially, Jon was planning to learn how to make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on the job, but he quickly realized he was in over his head. These varietals in this climate were exponentially more difficult to grow and maintain than what he had done in San Diego, and the bar for quality in this neighborhood was astronomical. However, in a ridiculously lucky twist of fate, a young winemaker had answered the previous owner’s ancient advertisement on the Chemeketa message boards for someone to live onsite and manage the vineyard just a week before they bought the property. They met this young woman with a mind-blowing résumé and hired her on the spot to take over vineyard and winery operations. Suddenly, they had a winemaker.

When The Lauer family and Rachel Rose took over operations at Bryn Mawr Vineyards on January 1, 2010, there were 4 acres of established grapes and a whole lot of promise… and that’s about it. Sheep ran loose in the vines, three stray roosters sat in a very sad chicken coop, a faded mint-green double wide trailer was falling apart, and the hand-built house/basement winery was rife with molds and bacteria. There was no glamor to be had. Kathy, never having visited the site before purchasing it, was flabbergasted at her husband when she saw the site. This was not “the dream,” this was more work than they had ever had to do before. And it was raining constantly! That said, every time they drove to the vineyard from Salem, they passed by wineries they’d known and loved for decades, and they could rest somewhat-easy knowing great wine was just waiting to be made.

By 2012, 11 acres of overgrown blackberries and scotch broom were removed, 4 acres of vines had become 15, and it became a waiting game. Liam redesigned our logo and branding, bringing our winery into the modern age with some slick new labels. The basement was renovated and expanded, allowing the tasting room to grow and hours to expand. Each year brought more and more work to be done, and Jon and Rachel only have so many hands. They needed some help, and luckily there were a few Lauer kids who wanted to give it.

From the start, the three grown kids could be seen running around the tasting room on busy holiday weekends, but all later took on more serious roles at some point. Jeff and his eventual wife Nina spent two years here, one after graduating undergrad and one after Jeff finished his M.B.A. at the University of Oregon. Nina was instrumental in establishing tasting room protocol and wine club management in the early days, and Jeff and Jon laid out many acres of vineyard together. Post-M.B.A. Jeff was able to apply his knowledge to our growing small business and steer us in the right direction long-term, but he has a beautiful daughter now and we can’t afford him anymore. Krista attended college at Willamette University in Salem, working the tasting room during weekends and summers. She is adoringly known in the family as the Director of Criticism.

 

Karyn howard Smith, Hospitality Director

Karyn@brynmawrvineyards.com

... Karyn was exactly the kind of woman we needed to tell us our ideas were enthusiastically misguided...

After almost a decade in the industry, the Lauer family was finally ready to find some help to run the rapidly-expanding hospitality side of things. With 15 years of industry experience, Karyn was exactly the kind of woman we needed to tell us our ideas were enthusiastically misguided, and this is what we SHOULD be doing. She rapidly took the reigns of the wine club, shipping, and fulfillment, bringing just the right hint of professionalism to guide us in the right direction. She was also the mastermind behind Taco Tuesdays and will continue to develop our event program. Hailing from North Carolina (or perhaps Massachusetts if you’re willing to dig deep), Karyn brings unmistakable energy and confidence into any room she walks in. She has seen every curveball this industry has to throw, and the woman can throw a hell of a party. Bryn Mawr already feels like a forever home for her, and unless we mess things up big time, she will continue to be an excellent addition to the family.
Our Vineyard

Our Vineyard

Vineyards

High Hill. High Risk. High Reward.

 Perched high on the western crest of the Eola-Amity Hills near Salem, Oregon, Bryn Mawr – Welsh for “High Hill” –  pushes the upper limits of Willamette Valley viticulture. Carefully tended vines express the marriage of powerful maritime evening winds and fractured volcanic soils, yielding grapes with bountiful natural acidity and profound complexity. This fruit inspires us to craft transparent wines that tell the story of time and place.

Wind

The Willamette Valley growing season is defined by the consistent Western breezes coming off the Pacific coast that drop temperatures 35-40⁰ nearly every summer evening. Though the Oregon Coast Range shelters the valley from the ocean’s most direct influence, the Van Duzer Corridor allows cool winds a gateway through the mountains. Nowhere is this wind felt more clearly than the Eola Hills, named for Aeolus, the keeper of the wind in Greek mythology. Historically, this wind was seen as a challenging factor, pushing many growers to plant on lower, Eastern slopes of the hills. To plant above 700 ft. in our neighborhood is still a bit of a gamble.

Bryn Mawr is distinguished from other vineyards by its atypical elevation and exposure. Ranging from 700-900 feet, our vineyard straddles the crest of a high hill on the precipitous Western edge of the ridge, giving us a range of aspects to the East, South, and West. We stare directly down the Van Duzer Corridor, thrust out into the wind with minimal protection. Our grapes cool down rapidly by evening, preserving acidity and delaying ripeness. The battering will thicken their skins, producing sturdy reds with dense tannin structure. Though a huge advantage in warm vintages, this wind can pose a challenge in a typical or cooler vintage as we often find ourselves picking well into October, even November. Hence, our motto: High Hill, High Risk, High Reward.

Earth

Bryn Mawr is planted upon rocky volcanic soils that poured into the Willamette Valley during the Columbia Basalt Flows 5-17 million years ago. This basalt has been weathered and eroded by eons of rain, wind, and vegetation, creating distinct and varied soil series. Well-draining and mineral rich, volcanic soil offers the perfect blend of porosity and water retention, allowing vines to dig deep root networks in search of nutrients.

We have three volcanic soil series throughout our property, each distinguished by its unique composition and depth. Jory, regarded for its uniformity and rich clay content, is prized by grape growers throughout the valley, but it’s only found in small quantities on our lower slopes. Most of the vineyard is a mix of Nekia and Ritner series soils. Nekia is rockier and thinner than Jory, though it still contains a decent clay content. The Ritner series pushes it further, presenting as a gravelly topsoil with little fine material separating vines from fractured bedrock. Nekia is found on flat sections near the top and bottom of the vineyard while Ritner dominates the steep, south-southwest facing slope that runs through our property. These shallow soils challenge our vines to anchor themselves into the hill; the sections of our vineyard planted on Ritner series soil tend to produce our most powerful and bombastic wines while the Nekia portions provide silkiness and balance.

Farming

Bryn Mawr is a LIVE Certified vineyard with sustainability at its core. LIVE, or Low Input Viticulture & Enology, is a coalition of members that promote research-based sustainability practices and encourage natural interventions to preserve biodiversity in vineyards and waterways. Certification reflects years of continued efforts and practices that actively contribute to our local ecosystems.

Our farming is careful, hands-on, and governed by our environment.  Though a small vineyard, the wide range of soils and aspects requires us to be diligent to maximize the site’s potential. In lieu of heavy chemical and fertilizer application, we cultivate a healthy cover crop of clovers, grasses, and native wildflowers to fix nutrients back into the soil and support local pollinators. We don’t till our dirt, instead we allow subsurface microbes and fungal networks to develop and unlock nutrients within soil our vines otherwise couldn’t access. We build rockpiles for snakes and houses for owls to encourage natural rodent population management. Our vines have integrated into this ecosystem, building topsoil and nourishing the cover crop with their fallen leaves and pruned canes. Cultivating the full vineyard, not just the vines, has resulted in greater biodiversity and healthy vines capable of producing compelling wines. We farm not just to maximize the quality of each vintage, but future vintages as well.