PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Paul Durant has fond memories of seeing the Willamette Valley’s wine industry blossom right in front of his eyes.
“For me, I’m not trained as a viticulturist, but I grew up as one,” said Durant, the owner and general manager of Durant Vineyards & Olive Oil Mill. “I really had the benefit of growing up in the Oregon wine industry. From it’s earliest days up until now. And it’s completely changed.”
Five generations ago the family began with English walnuts, hazelnuts, Italian prunes and cherries. Then 50 years ago the Durant family was one of the first to grow wine grapes in the Dundee Hills in Yamhill County.
“It’s the irony of ironies. It wasn’t great ground for walnuts or hazelnuts but it turned out to be pretty amazing to grow grapes,” he told KOIN 6 News. “It’s pretty wild to think about. I don’t think my parents would have ever envisioned that it would be what it is today.”
In 2004, the Durants started planting olives before founding their olive oil mill in 2008 — the only one of its kind in Oregon.
The experienced winemakers found out quickly they had a lot to learn about olive oil.
“I really describe that as initially when we jumped into it and planted 13, 14 acres of olives, we really thought, ‘Oh we can do this.’ And as it turns out, it was really a big challenge,” Durant said. “We planted the wrong varieties. We planted in the wrong places, and so that agronomy track is still, I’d say, in its infancy.”
They also had an olive oil production side and “really started honing our craft in making extra virgin olive oil. And it’s become a big part of our business.”
Durant has also seen the resilience of olive trees compared to grapevines.
“They’re indigenous to the Middle East and they grow out of rocks. So even through the big heatwave we had June of 2021, the olive trees were fine,” he said. “I irrigate very little. They’re able to absorb that without a lot of difficulty. And in this case here, where we’re having an early heatwave, the trees are waking up early, so we’ll probably have an earlier bloom, potentially a bigger crop and all those things. So in the case of olive trees, it really is a benefit to us. The grapes are more of a challenge.”
There have been many challenges and successes over the past 50 years. The Durants are looking ahead.
They hired a culinary team to look at how they can integrate wine and olive oil with food events. There will be one June 9 in downtown Portland, the first of what they hope will be many dinner in the city events.
They also have a number of events throughout the year at their property that includes the Durant Kitchen, Durant Body & Spa, Red Ridge Farms specialty plant nursery, gift shop, overnight lodging, event spaces, expansive gardens and the Durant Nature Trail.
“My dad always said ‘Oregonians are good to Oregonians.’ That adage is just as true today as it was 50 years ago,” Paul Durant said. “I’m just happy to be in Oregon.”