ALPINE – Neil and Sue Shay’s property in the foothills of the Coast Range seems straight out of a pastoral painting. The spread sits on a ridge, with views almost all around, and bluebirds and other feathered critters frequent the area.
Plus, it’s the perfect site for growing grapes, the couple said, and they’ve planted three acres of the fruit for pinot noir, chardonnay and other varieties of wine.
“We feel like we have our own little piece of paradise here,” Sue Shay said.
They’re willing to share a bit of that feeling.
Bluebird Hill Cellars, the Shays’ winery, which will celebrate the start of its third summer in business this Memorial Day weekend.
(For many wineries, the holiday weekend is an annual event, with bottle releases and more. Boutique wineries often open for the season on Memorial Day weekend.)
The Shays have been making wine together since 2000. When they moved to Benton County from Florida in 2011, however, they had no idea that they were going to create a winery.
That was in part because their property was an overgrown Christmas tree farm when they moved here. The couple planted 400 grape vines for hobby winemaking in 2013.
Then they decided to go commercial.
“We always loved making the wine not just for us, but to share with friends and family. Now that’s extended,” Sue Shay said. She and her husband said they get a thrill and sense of accomplishment when people love their wines.
Transforming the Christmas tree farm into a vineyard turned out to be an arduous process, however, as they had to rip out Douglas fir and other varieties of trees from the ground.
“It took about three years to replant it once we decided to get into business,” Neil Shay said. Now they have 5,500 vines.
Things are going well, so far, with plenty of awards and increased productivity.
In 2017, Bluebird Hill Cellars harvested 6.5 tons of fruit. This year, the Shays predict they will haul in 10 tons of grapes.
Last year, they had 500 cases of wine, but this year, they are starting the season with 700 cases.
While Sue Shay works full time at the winery and Bluebird Hill Farm Bed & Breakfast, which is set up in their home, Neil Shay helps out on the weekends with the businesses. For his main job, he’s a food and nutrition researcher in the food science and technology department at Oregon State University.
Having a doctorate in biochemistry makes some aspects of making wine a bit less daunting, Neil Shay said.
Bluebird Hill wines can be found at Market of Choice, Cork & Bottle Shoppes and other shops in the area, as well as local restaurants such as Del Alma and The Cellar Cat.
Neil Shay said that Bluebird Hill’s success in the wine world isn’t that unusual for the Monroe-Alpine area, which includes Oregon State’s research vineyard, well-known names such as Broadley Vineyards, Benton-Lane Winery, and Alpine Vineyards, and relative newcomers such as Sweet Earth Vineyards, TeBri Vineyards, and more.
Bluebird Hill Cellars, 25059 Larson Road, starts its season Memorial Day Weekend, and is open from noon to 5 p.m. on May 25-28.
From June through November, the winery is open from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
For more information about Bluebird Hill Cellars, call 541-424-2478 or go to www.bluebirdhillcellars.wine.