From hobby to commercial vineyard

ALPINE, Ore. — As wine hobbyists, Sue and Neil Shay were not originally planning to create a commercial vineyard when they bought their 6-acre property in 2010.

“We bought it for the view,” Sue said. “We were already wine hobbyists before we moved here, we have been making wine together since the early 2000s. We thought it would be a hobby vineyard and we’d grow wine from that, and sometime over the summer we knocked our heads together and decided to become a commercial winery.”

The Shays had started by planting a quarter of an acre in 2013, clearing out the overgrown Christmas tree farm.

From there, they ordered 2,500 vines for the following spring, and continued to purchase more vines. Bluebird Hill Cellars was born, named after the population of bluebirds that inhabit the property.

The Shays grow 80% Pinot noir grapes, 15% Chardonnay grapes and 5% Pinot gris grapes. As of last year, their wine was produced half-and-half from their grapes and the grapes from other vineyards.

At 1,000 cases of production, they have 10 wines: a red and white blend, three whites, one rosé, four Pinot noirs and one Syrah.

One of the biggest challenges for the Shays was scaling up production. The first year they opened with 214 cases of seven different wines.

“That for us seemed like we were making a lot because before that we only made one barrel (around 25 cases),” Neil said.

To avoid any big mistakes, the Shays hired an Oregon State University student consultant, and Sue said in retrospect it was a “great idea” that made the learning curve much easier.

“One of the things we love about wine, you can spend your whole life learning about it and still not know it all,” Sue said. “It’s constantly challenging and you’re constantly learning.”

Along with the winery, they also rent two rooms out as a bed and breakfast. Having a bed and breakfast was always a dream for Sue, but she said that life had gotten in the way. As things were picking up with the vineyard in 2015, Sue opened the bed and breakfast at the house.

“It’s worked out really well,” she said, “A lot of people like to stay on the vineyard.”

She added that bed and breakfasts at a vineyard are starting to be more common, and since they opened a few other smaller wineries have started doing it, too.

“Sue is a great hostess,” Neil said about his wife. “She has a 9.9 out of 10 rating on”

For Sue, the biggest reward has been the sense of accomplishment “of what we put together, just the two of us. Being able to say we built this, we planted this vineyard.”

While that is part of it for Neil, another big part has been the feedback they have received about their wines.

“We’re pouring 10 wines and for someone to go through the tasting and say all these wines are really good,” he said. One couple had told him that they had the best selection of wines in the Southern Willamette Valley. “That was a nice compliment.”

The vineyard was designed for the Shays as they move into retirement, and they look forward to hitting their peak at producing 1,200 to 1,500 cases.

“We don’t plan on getting much bigger than this,” Sue said. “(We want to) keep on keeping on. Keep on making better wine.”