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.
One of Pinot Noir's most successful New World outposts, the Willamette Valley is the largest and most important AVA in Oregon. With a continental climate moderated by the influence of the Pacific Ocean, it is perfect for cool-climate viticulture and the production of elegant wines.
Mountain ranges bordering three sides of the valley, particularly the Chehalem Mountains, provide the option for higher-elevation vineyard sites.
The valley's three prominent soil types (volcanic, sedimentary and silty, loess) make it unique and create significant differences in wine styles among its vineyards and sub-AVAs. The iron-rich, basalt-based, Jory volcanic soils found commonly in the Dundee Hills are rich in clay and hold water well; the chalky, sedimentary soils of Ribbon Ridge, Yamhill-Carlton and McMinnville encourage complex root systems as vines struggle to search for water and minerals. In the most southern stretch of the Willamette, the Eola-Amity Hills sub-AVA soils are mixed, shallow and well-drained. The Hills' close proximity to the Van Duzer Corridor (which became its own appellation as of 2019) also creates grapes with great concentration and firm acidity, leading to wines that perfectly express both power and grace.
Though Pinot noir enjoys the limelight here, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay also thrive in the Willamette. Increasing curiosity has risen recently in the potential of others like Grüner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc and Gamay.
Showing a unique rosy, purplish hue upon full ripeness, this “white” variety is actually born out of a mutation of Pinot Noir. The grape boasts two versions of its name, as well as two generally distinct styles. In Italy, Pinot Grigio achieves most success in the mountainous regions of Trentino and Alto Adige as well as in the neighboring Friuli—all in Italy’s northeast. France's Alsace and Oregon's Willamette Valley produce some of the world's most well-regarded Pinot Gris wine. California produces both styles with success.
Where Does Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio Come From?
Pinot Gris is originally from France, and it is technically not a variety but a clone of Pinot Noir. In Italy it’s called Pinot Grigio (Italian for gray), and it is widely planted in northern and NE Italy. Pinot Gris is also grown around the globe, most notably in Oregon, California, and New Zealand. No matter where it’s made or what it’s called, Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio produces many exciting styles.
Tasting Notes for Pinot Grigio
Pinot Grigio is a dry, white wine naturally low in acidity. Pinot Grigio wines showcase signature flavors and aromas of stone fruit, citrus, honeysuckle, pear and almond. Alsatian styles are refreshing, expressive, aromatic (think rose and honey), smooth, full-bodied and richly textured and sometimes relatively higher in alcohol compared to their Italian counterpart. As Pinot Grigio in Italy, the style is often light and charming. The focus here is usually to produce a crisp, refreshing, lighter style of wine. While there are regional differences of Pinot Grigio, the typical profile includes lemon, lime and subtle minerality.
Pinot Grigio Food Pairings
The viscosity of a typical Alsatian Pinot Gris allows it to fit in harmoniously with the region's rich foods like pork, charcuterie and foie gras. Pinot Grigio, on the other hand, with its citrusy freshness, works well as an aperitif wine or with seafood and subtle chicken dishes.
Given the pinkish color of its berries and aromatic potential if cared for to fully ripen, the Pinot Grigio variety is actually one that is commonly used to make "orange wines." An orange wine is a white wine made in the red wine method, i.e. with fermentation on its skins. This process leads to a wine with more ephemeral aromas, complexity on the palate and a pleasant, light orange hue.