Business Spotlight: Willamette Valley Vineyards

WVV wine pour
Photo by Zach McKinley

It’s no secret that the Vancouver waterfront is becoming known as a true wine tasting destination. With more and more tasting rooms from a variety of Washington and Oregon wineries popping up, it was an easy decision for Jim Bernau, Founder and CEO of Willamette Valley Vineyards to expand to Clark County. The Oregon winery specializes in growing and making cool-climate varietals, such as Pinot Noir, but they also grow and make Bordeau and Rhône varieties on the Oregon side of the Walla Walla American Viticultural Area. These wines and more are featured at the Vancouver tasting room and restaurant, which opened in August 2022.

The company has roots dating back to 1981, when Bernau started searching for vineyard land. He found an old overgrown pioneer plum orchard in the Salem Hills and in 1983, began planting pinot noir grapes. He watered his vines with 17 lengths of 75-foot garden hose he bought on sale. He conducted the first ‘crowdfunding’ in the nation to build the winery by obtaining permission from the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1988, resulting in a growing fabric of laws that opened the door for other small businesses to seek community-based funding. Today, the company has grown to include more than 26,000 wine enthusiast shareholders, is listed on the NASDAQ under the symbols WVVI and WVVIP, and operates nine retail locations across Oregon, Washington, and California. Its newest location in downtown Bend, Oregon will open this December.

“Willamette Valley Vineyards has grown in the last 40 years to farming over 1,000 acres, producing over 200,000 cases annually with the help of over 400 employees,” Bernau said. “Each year the winery makes more wine and 2023 is projected to be our biggest harvest yet.”

So far, the downtown Vancouver tasting room has been well received by Clark County residents. During its first year open, the space welcomed 35,000 guests. With sweeping views of the Columbia River, ample patio seating, outdoor fireplaces, and a cozy inside space with a three-sided fireplace and three unique wine barrel booths, guests can truly enjoy an indoor-outdoor experience. However, one of the most unique offerings in Vancouver is its one-of-a-kind ‘Red Blending System’ designed by David Markel and artist Josh Kinsley. This allows guests to try their hand at winemaking, blending different red varietals from the Walla Walla Valley.

“The Vancouver Waterfront is an impressive new development that highlights the beauty of the Columbia River,” shared Carissa Cook, Development Manager. “The Vancouver Waterfront gives the community a place to gather and connect that showcases our region. This was the perfect place for us to bring a winery experience to our customers who live in the area.”

Looking ahead, Willamette Valley Vineyards will be participating in ‘Dine the Couve’ for the entire month of October. In addition, starting October 13th, the location will offer ‘Sustainable Harvest Dinners’, an elevated food and wine experience that features a three-course, pre-fix meal showcasing the harvest bounty of the Northwest. They will also offer a Stock Your Cellar event on November 9th and a Christmas Ships Dinner and Viewing December 4-6 and December 13-15.

Brooke Strickland
A lifelong resident of the Pacific Northwest, Brooke Strickland is a full-time freelance writer that specializes in writing blogs, website content, and business news for companies & publications around the country. She is also the co-author of Hooked on Games, a book about technology and video game addiction.

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