It would be remiss of me to talk about my experience as a harvest intern (see: Harvest Hands) without also talking about the place and the people that made that experience possible, Wine by Joe and Joe Dobbes Family Estate. Proprietor, president and winemaker, Joe Dobbes, gave me the opportunity to tell my story. Now, I’ll tell you his—and it’s a good one.
Dobbes started his winery in 2002 with $50,000. In his first vintage he produced 2,000 cases of wine. In 2011, he made over 45,000 cases between his three brands. In the last few years, Dobbes has seen great achievement and growth, but he is the first to admit that it hasn’t been overnight success. In fact, he has been at it for a nearly a quarter century.
Joe’s story starts in his mother’s and grandmother’s kitchens. Dobbes grew up in Oregon, spending a good deal of his childhood in these kitchens—where he discovered his spark for flavor and creativity. Despite his early experience, a flavor-filled job wasn’t his original plan. Dobbes studied biology with the intention of going onto medical school. But life, as it sometimes does, had other plans for Joe. Something called to him, and that something was the siren song of wine production. In wine Dobbes found the means to use his education, the skills which he honed in his family kitchens and his desire to create.
The early ‘80s rolled around and Oregon began attracting attention for its wines. Inspiration hit Dobbes like a ton of, well, grapes. “I grew up in Oregon and I saw the future here with a chance to be on the ground floor, or more accurately, on the second floor behind the first wave [of wine producers],” says Dobbes.
He traveled to Europe, where he spent over two years working for Wiengut Erbhof Tesch in Germany, and honing skills as an apprentice at Domaine G. Roumier and Domaine Comtes Lafon in France. Upon his return, he started working for Hinman Vineyards as a winemaker. He soon moved up the ladder and took a position as winemaker and vice president of production for Willamette Valley Vineyards and their family of brands. By 2002, Dobbes was ready to venture out on his own.
He started Dobbes Family Estate with single vineyard and single AVA (American Viticultural Area) wines, as well as alternative varieties from Southern Oregon including Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Syrah. Dobbes has also branched out from his flagship brand in recent years. His other wine ventures include Jovino, which is sold exclusively to restaurants, and Wine by Joe, his value brand that focuses on quality, consistency and price sensitivity. The latter brand has proven itself and was named 2011’s #1 “Hot Small Brand” to watch by Wine Business Monthly magazine.
The success of the Dobbs brands has also translated into profitability for other wineries, as Dobbes also makes wine for several others through his custom winemaking business. He currently works with about a dozen private clients.
For Dobbes, having a successful business means sharing his success. Dobbes donates a portion of the sales from the Wine by Joe brand to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Northwest. Dobbes himself has lost two family members to suicide and has found a way to channel his family’s tragic losses into something that can propagate change and save lives. “My business has donated about $20,000 to AFSPNW since about 2004. I wanted to be able to give to a worthy cause when I started my business, and this is my cause,” says Dobbes.
Over the last 25 years, Joe Dobbes has seen a lot happen in Oregon. Trends come and go, businesses rise and fall, and vintages are either close to impossible or almost perfect. As Joe is tying up the last loose ends of the 2012 harvest, he is excited about the results so far.
“2012 was a dream vintage, especially after two very challenging and expensive vintages. No heroic winemaking, no twenty-four hour harvest shifts, not much rainwear, no birds, no rot, lots of smiles,” says Joe. For contrast, he compared it to other recent vintages saying, “The wines will be more forward and yielding than 2008’s. My guess is a combo between 2006 and 2008.” He added that the only real downside to this vintage was lower yields than normal. What does that means for us? Next year, when you start to see the 2012 vintage hit the shelves, buy it…by Joe.
Taste for yourself. The tasting room is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
If you can’t make it to Dundee, here are some recent releases available for purchase:
Dobbes Family Estate | 2011 Sundown Vineyard Viognier | Rogue Valley | $26
Luscious and exotic with tropical fruit aromas along with notes of peach and honey.
Wine by Joe | 2011 Pinot Blanc | $26
Yellow grapefruit, lemon, honeysuckle blossoms with a slight hint of fresh herbs.
Dobbes Family Estate | 2010 Skipper’s Cuvee Pinot Noir | Rogue Valley | $45
Black cherry, blackberry and plum flirt with savory cinnamon characters and a hint of black pepper.
Dobbes Family Estate | 2008Youngberg Hill Vineyard Pinot Noir | McMinnville-Willamette Valley | $65
Cherry pie, dark berries, black licorice and cola dominate in this full bodied and rich Pinot.