Digging vines, studying climate, sniffing soil, pursuing the pinnacle pinot noir … If there’s a new chapter in the works for the Oregon wine story, it surely includes Christine Clair ‘10, Willamette Valley Vineyards’ winery director and someday successor to that winery’s founder.
Clair, who studied business entrepreneurship at the College of Business, metaphorically “inhaled her first bouquet” of the Oregon wine industry while still a student by reading “At Home in the Vineyard,” the plucky bohemian memoir of Oregon wine pioneer, Susan Sokol Blosser. Clair kept drinking in the story.
“I checked out Susan’s book from the Corvallis Public Library, and once finished, I continued to read through the rest of their wine section,” Clair said. “After that, I went to visit Jim Bernau and asked for an internship at the winery.”
Clair worked at Willamette Valley Vineyards for a year and a half while she finished her degree. And much like the scrappy stories of her predecessors’ business success with the Oregon grape, with graduation Clair got busy and creative.
Heading south to the Rogue Valley, she spotted her plot to start her own wine brand, GodKingSlave.
Clair bartered barrels and fermenting equipment from established wineries in exchange for social media training, a bandwagon onto which the older cellar owners had not yet jumped. She spent hours and miles on I-5, selling her product in Portland, 16 cases at a time straight from the car, not returning to southern Oregon until it was all gone. Miraculously, she always had exactly enough cash for her next season.
This went on for three years with a few notable successes until Bernau truly recognized the kindred spirit, the entrepreneur, the commitment, the winemaker, the hard worker as the one he wanted to keep his own dreams alive at Willamette Valley Vineyards.
“Jim has been a great coach and mentor to allow our next generation of leaders to develop beneath him as he scales back his operational involvement and focuses more on strategic initiatives,” Clair said. “We’ve been on a deliberated and long succession plan together as he reels back on operational duties more and more each year.”