Annie Shull is quick to admit that she is not from a wine family and didn't care much for the stuff herself as a young adult. So how did the Twin Cities native end up co-owning a winery in Oregon, much less tasting through as many as 50 barrels in a day?
By coming home, at least in a figurative sense.
Shull (then Christensen) grew up in the almost impossibly quaint little pocket of St. Paul called St. Anthony Park. Mayor George Latimer used to drive her to preschool. But after attending Murray Junior High, Como Park High School and the University of Minnesota, she went coastal, to Massachusetts for college and then to Northern California for high-tech work.
Then and there, her wanderlust morphed into "a yearning for a place that felt like home," she said.
"When I visited Oregon on business trips, everyone was friendly, people said hello and asked -- genuinely wanting to know -- how are you? I found this very much like Minnesota."
So she moved there and, while working at Sequent, fell in love with a fellow employee. Turned out that Scott Shull had winemaking aspirations, and he spent a long lunch in the office cafeteria delineating for Annie "all the government agencies he had just garnered approval from to transform Raptor Ridge from amateur winemaking to a fully licensed commercial winemaking venture."
Not what you'd call the most romantic rendezvous, but soon both a marriage and a winery emerged in the Chehalem Mountains, about 20 miles southwest of Portland.
Annie, a tall, dark-haired, handsome woman, did some organic gardening and beekeeping on the property, selling Raptor Ridge honey and helping with the winemaking in a converted barn. She kept her high-tech job until 2000, when the winery had grown to a 1,000-case-per-year output and needed a sales and marketing wiz such as herself.
Scott, meanwhile, became one of Oregon's best winemakers by absorbing its history. "I can't tell you how many times I would hear Scott mention [legendary Eyrie winemaker] David Lett," said Thomas Liquors merchant Peter Vars, who interned at Raptor Ridge last autumn. "In the winery he would literally say 'What would David Lett do with this fruit?'"
The wines reflect that approach. Like most Oregon wineries, Raptor Ridge's prime focus is pinot noir, ranging from a smoky, friendly Willamette Valley bottling ($24) to single-vineyard offerings (the $48 Shea Vineyard is rustic splendor incarnate) and an earthy but silky Reserve ($44).
Raptor Ridge -- named for the hawks, kestrels and owls that populate the estate vineyard called Tuscowallame (indigenous for "place where the owls dwell") -- is now up to 4,500 cases a year and is about to move into a new winery two miles from home.
"I can ride my bike to work every day," Annie said with a smile.
Scott Shull also makes a dandy rosé and pinot gris (see Wine of the Week) as well as the Diversité Pinot Noir for nearby Le Cadeau. That winery is owned by recent Minnesota transplants Tom and Deb Mortimer, another part of the Willamette Valley's close-knit wine community.
"Sure, we are competitors," Annie said, "but we are such a new, young industry that we all know the rising tide will float all boats. Early on, the pioneers learned how to improve the product by sharing best practices and meeting frequently around the tasting table to talk about the good and the bad.
"We have not lost that, and we have been strongly encouraged by the likes of Robert Mondavi to hang onto that for dear life."
Mondavi, of course, grew up on the Iron Range -- yet another Minnesota touchstone in the cycle of Annie Shull's life.
Bill Ward • firstname.lastname@example.org