If a person wanted to build a business that could last for generations, wine making is just about perfect because it never goes out of style.
That’s what Domaine Serene founders Grace and Ken Evenstad had in mind when their passion for Burgundy wine became a dream of owning their own winery. In 1989, they made that dream come true when they purchased 42 acres in Oregon’s Dundee Hills and planted a hilltop vineyard with Pinot Noir.
The Evenstads created what they intend to be a family legacy that will produce the finest wines for centuries to come.
“Our one goal was to make the world’s best Pinot Noir,” Grace said. “Every decision has been quite easy to make since then because we are focused on quality.”
Longevity is another priority. With the discipline to think multigenerational with the family business, Domaine Serene has sought to advance its legacy.
“We want to make decisions for the future,” Grace said.
The Evenstads placed their wineries and labels in a family trust to prevent them from being sold. The innovative idea ensures quality operations continue regardless of whether future generations are directly involved.
“Our vineyards are very special to us,” said Ken. “We want them to continue to be treasured.”
Many wineries in Oregon and California have not kept in the family and sold, or turned into housing developments. In other cases, when owners retire, wineries go downhill.
“The rich history and pride that originally went into those wineries are a faint memory,” Grace said. “I can’t bare for that to happen to Domaine Serene.”
The Evenstad family motto is “the enemy of the unknown thing is the known thing.” In other words, once you know something, you don’t explore other options. In the early 1990s, there was a lot still unknown about Oregon’s wine industry.
Back then, you could only find Pinot Noir in Oregon and it didn’t leave the state. Domaine Serene helped to change that.
Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow.
“All the stars have to align,” said Ken.
The reason they were able to find land for the first vineyard is that it was west-facing and high-elevation. People didn’t think grapes could grow at that height or direction. Ken comes from the pharmaceutical industry, and was used to challenging assumptions.
“We hired a consultant to confirm what we had already thought, which was that it would be a very good place to plant Pinot Noir,” he said.
The land had recently been logged. After the debris was cleared, they planted the vineyard and waited.
It turned out they were right, and other wineries were quick to follow. Soon, accolades for Domaine Serene began to roll in, and Oregon became know for Pinot Noir.
Early on, Domaine Serene didn’t have employees. It was Grace’s passion project. She learned to make wine, sort and punch down grapes, check brix and sugar levels, and to bottle and label the wine by hand. Ken took a month off work to help during harvest.
Now the business is run by a board of trustees, which includes family members. The family’s entrepreneurial values are evident in the second and third generations. The Evenstad’s son Mark, serves on the board, and three grandchildren have participated in summer internships at the winery that Grace oversees to teach the values of integrity, grit, hard work and perseverance.
The Evenstads encourage their children and grandchildren to explore outside work and gain life experience before coming into the family business. They are not quick to rush the process.
“I hope that a family member will work for Domaine Serene and ultimately be the face of the business,” Grace said. “But they will have to be the best qualified.”
In 2014, Domaine Serene was named one of the 50-greatest wineries in the world. In 2015, it purchased Château de la Crée, a Burgundy wine estate in eastern France, where they are discovering new tastes and flavors from the varieties that first inspired the Evenstads to open a winery.
Domaine Serene continues to innovate and grow. The original winery has expanded three times. A new white wine production facility is under construction, with the first vintage of a new product, sparkling wine, anticipated in 2018.
The red hills of the Dundee remain very special to the Evenstads. Here many of the vineyards are named after family members.
“This is the place where it all started,” Ken said. “We still believe it is a magical place.”