Bethel Heights Freedom Hill Pinot Noir 1999
United by our interest in wine, in 1977 Ted Casteel, Pat Dudley, Terry Casteel, and Marilyn Webb abandoned the academic life and, together with Pat’s sister Barbara Dudley, bought 75 promising-looking acres northwest of Salem, with 14 acres of newly planted cuttings in the ground. We moved to the vineyard in 1978 (except Barbara, who was in California working as a lawyer for farmworkers with the Agricultural Labor Relations Board) and started a new life. In 1979 we cleared and planted 36 more acres. In 1981 we harvested our first crop and started home winemaking in Terry’s basement. In 1984 we produced our first commercial vintage of 3000 cases: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Gewurztraminer, all Estate Grown.
For the first thirty years Ted was responsible for managing the vineyards and Terry made the wine. Pat and Marilyn shared responsibilities for marketing and business management. Over thirty years we grew our wine production to 10,000 cases, and made common cause with our fellow pioneers to establish the Willamette Valley as the home of New World Pinot Noir.
Meanwhile, five cousins grew up knowing the tidy rows and wild hidden places of Bethel Heights as their backyard playground, science lab and adventure park. Now they have taken their places as co-owners, co-workers, and stewards of this place.
In 2005 Ben Casteel (son of Terry and Marilyn) took over from his father as Winemaker at Bethel Heights. In 2007 Jon Casteel (second son of Terry and Marilyn) launched Casteel Custom Bottling, a mobile bottling company that serves wineries throughout Oregon, including Bethel Heights of course. Mimi Casteel (daughter of Ted and Pat) worked with the family at Bethel Heights until 2017 when she started farming her own vineyard at Hope Well, and launched her Hope Well Wine project. Jessie Casteel grew up among the vines at Bethel Heights, but now lives in Chicago. Jessie brings a creative outlier perspective to the direction of the family business, and serves as our ambassador in Chicago and points east.
Now there is a new generation of cousins – ten so far – who all come home to Bethel Heights for family occasions, to eat the blackberries and taste the grapes and pat the goats and walk through the ravine to Mr. Hatcher’s haunted house. This place is now for them too.
Running north to south, adjacent to the Willamette River, the Eola-Amity Hills AVA has shallow and well-drained soils created from ancient lava flows (called Jory), marine sediments, rocks and alluvial deposits. These soils force vine roots to dig deep, producing small grapes with great concentration.
Like in the McMinnville sub-AVA, cold Pacific air streams in via the Van Duzer Corridor and assists the maintenance of higher acidity in its grapes. This great concentration, combined with marked acidity, give the Eola-Amity Hills wines—namely Pinot noir—their distinct character. While the region covers 40,000 acres, no more than 1,400 acres are covered in vine.
Thin-skinned, finicky and temperamental, Pinot Noir is also one of the most rewarding grapes to grow and remains a labor of love for some of the greatest vignerons in Burgundy. Fairly adaptable but highly reflective of the environment in which it is grown, Pinot Noir prefers a cool climate and requires low yields to achieve high quality. Outside of France, outstanding examples come from in Oregon, California and throughout specific locations in wine-producing world. Somm Secret—André Tchelistcheff, California’s most influential post-Prohibition winemaker decidedly stayed away from the grape, claiming “God made Cabernet. The Devil made Pinot Noir.”