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Wolf on the Prowl
By Karl Klooster
When you hear a unique name for a winery or vineyard, don’t you wonder how it came about?
If it’s a geographic place or description, like Cooper Mountain, Stag Hollow, Winter’s Hill or Laurel Ridge, little imagination is needed to determine the origin. Designations like Duck Pond, Witness Tree, Purple Hands or Hip Chicks Do Wine are more distinctive. Still, it doesn’t take a ton of brainpower to determine what inspired them.
But what about Stone Wolf? Now there’s a head shaker.
Does a rock shaped like a wolf’s head sit on a hillside above the property? That was the inspiration for Coeur de Terre, French for “heart of the earth,” but the origin of Stone Wolf is a little more of a stretch.
To learn what brought this crafty, gray wolf with his stony, stoic stare into being, you have to ask the people who were there. They would be co-owners Art and Linda Lindsay.
“Art and I wanted something different, something that would get people’s attention,” she said. “We came up with several names we liked, then began eliminating them. Finally, it came down to Stone Bridge and Little Wolf.”
“And that’s how we arrived at Stone Wolf,” she said. “We borrowed a word from each of the two we liked best. It wasn’t a sophisticated approach, but it worked.”
That philosophy of breaking the mold, or at least cracking it somewhat, has guided Linda’s decision-making ever since. A former marketing executive and then real estate broker, she possesses promotional savvy, successful salesmanship and a dedicated work ethic.
During her career in real estate, she said, “I sold dirt. Land rather than buildings. I always liked getting clients to imagine what they can turn the property into.”
And that is exactly what she and her husband did when they bought a 40-acre tract high in the hills southwest of McMinnville.
The father of a good friend had owned the property since 1953, and it passed to the friend in 1981. He planted two of the 40 acres to Pinot Noir, and the Lindsays assisted him.
Linda said that many good times were had on that land, so you could say it was part of the extended family for a long time.
When their friend was going to sell the property in 1996, the Lindsays leaped at the opportunity to buy it and create their own rural haven. They built a house on the site, leaving behind the hustle, bustle and suburban sprawl of Tigard for a quiet life in the country.
Getting into the wine business was the furthest thing from their minds at the time. But they did have those two acres to maintain.
Two years later, they planted another six acres.; and with that, the Lindsay Vineyard began to take shape. Art took over as vineyard manager, while continuing to pursue his career as a lumber broker. Linda assisted him, while also working as a real estate broker.
She did make one concession, though. She began to focus her land sales efforts on the Yamhill Valley.
As time passed, she became intrigued with the idea of making wine. She met with noted winemaker Kerry Norton, then at Eola Hills Cellars in Rickreall, and commissioned what would become Stone Wolf’s Pinot Noir Legend.
Before long, she took another big step, buying grapes in order to expand production.
For the next five years, she operated Stone Wolf from an office in the Cozine House in downtown McMinnville. Along the way, she hired Peter Higby, who had 20 years of experience in the wine industry, to serve as her business manager.
In 2002, they found a facility across from the Yamhill County Fairgrounds on N.E. Lafayette Avenue and converted it to a winery. Stone Wolf has been there ever since, and its marketing-minded owner is constantly coming up with new ideas to move the business forward.
On a recent visit to the winery, I encountered Linda, clad in sweatshirt, jeans and rubber boots, working in the lab. She had an air of self-confidence and contentment, akin to a mother wolf proudly surveying the productivity of her pack.
To quote Rudyard Kipling, “The strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack.”
In addition to Higby, Lindsay’s pack includes winemaker Matt Cechovic, his wife, Jessica, and cellarmaster Zach Best.
Relaxing in her office after ensuring the day’s work was going smoothly, she related how the business grew slowly and methodically, how an emphasis on Pinot Gris helped build the brand’s initial reputation and how a solid relationship with a major distributor made a huge difference.
“Odom-Southern, a division of Southern Wines & Spirits, got us into Safeway from the start,” she said. “The Stone Wolf brand took off from there. Odom’s efforts on our behalf have been terrific and it gave us the confidence to launch Rascal.”
Beginning in 2007, a flood of inexpensive Oregon wines, each bottle featuring the silhouette of a Golden Retriever, began appearing on Fred Meyer stores shelves throughout the state.
It may have been a lovable domesticated dog rather than a formidable wild wolf, but what Rascal lacked in lobo-like stateliness, it made up for in doggone good quality and value. At $6.99 a bottle, nothing came close to Stone Wolf’s Rascal.
The latest releases of Rascal, in both its Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir versions, account for approximately 30,000 of the winery’s 35,000-case production. The wine is marketed through another Linda Lindsay brainchild, The Great Oregon Wine Company.
At $10 to $20 per bottle, Stone Wolf’s primary lineup of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Müller-Thurgau are all very competitively priced in their niche.
Rascal added an even lower priced option to that portfolio, but Lindsay didn’t quit there.
She sought out yet another avenue of competitive advantage with an enticingly P.C. twist. As a result, Stone Wolf became the first winery in North America to offer wine in recyclable kegs.
Made in Germany, the 40-liter plastic containers, designed for recycling after one use, weigh only seven pounds. They contain Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir under the Rose City Fine Wine brand name.
The winery’s latest customer coup is being featured as the exclusive wine pour at The Rose Garden.
It’s all part of the intuitive, seat-of-the-pants, marketing acumen that can be credited to mama wolf Linda Lindsay and the pack of employees that make Stone Wolf Vineyards like a close-knit family.
STONE WOLF VINEYARDS
ADDRESS: 2155 N.E. Lafayette, McMinnville
HOURS: By appointment only