Holly Witte says she was clever enough to marry a winery. Jim and Holly Witte, the husband-wife team that runs A Blooming Hill Vineyard outside Cornelius, deliver prize-winning pinot noir, pinot gris, chardonnay, riesling and other blushes and blends. Like the 1960s CBS sitcom Green Acres, where Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor traded New York City for a country farm, the Wittes’ (pronounced Wittey) urban broadcasting careers evolved to rural life and viticulture.
“We came together late in life,” Holly Witte said. “We’ve blended a lot of things, not just our furniture. I took on the life of a farmer’s wife in the vineyard. And, we’ve blended our religions and our respect for each other’s religion.”
Originally a New Yorker, Holly grew up on Eastern Parkway across from the Brooklyn Museum. “Union Temple,” she said, “was my home.” A native Chicagoan, Jim attended Jesuit Loyola University as a business major. They first met at his New York City television production company in the late 1960s.
“About 10,000 years ago I was Jim’s very bad secretary,” Holly said, explaining that she and her first husband worked for Witte, who was also married at the time. “The company brought mobile unit capability to events. The first remote broadcasts from Central Park – Barbara Streisand concerts, Lincoln Center productions – came on TV because of this facility. The company also built the studios for Sesame Street and the Electric Company, putting them on the map.”
Anchored in the city, Jim Witte learned farming from his grandfather and always dreamed of having his own place.
“His grandfather was a fruit farmer and made wines in the basement,” Holly said. “He gave the kids a little nip. When the retirement mark hit in 2000, Jim was living in Los Angeles. A friend said, ‘come to Oregon, this will be pinot noir world.’”
Their parallel lives continued. Holly’s husband died in 1980; Jim’s wife in 2004. By that time, Holly lived in Seattle. “A mutual friend called and suggested we get together,” she said. “We had a lovely reunion, a picnic by the pond. Jim showed me the early stages of the vineyard. He started to call, and I told him he was geographically undesirable. Obviously, he was persistent. We married in 2006.”
Running a winery
Of course, winemaking doesn’t happen by itself. Jim attended the viticulture program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, worked at local wineries during crush time and started planting in 2000. “It takes about four years to get the first crop of grapes,” Holly said. “We had our first commercial vintage in 2008, and opened the tasting room two years ago on Memorial Day Weekend.
“It’s been a lot of work,” she continued. “The hardest part is that you are completely dependent on the weather. When the conditions are terrible, you worry if you’re even going to have a harvest. But, every harvest is different, and it’s exciting to see what the bounty of the earth will be each year.”
Meanwhile, they have Jim Witte’s other passion. Thirteen horses live at the winery, including three who have raced at Portland Meadows. Two dogs, four cats and 14 pigeons round out the team.
“Jim built an aviary for this injured pigeon he found,” Holly said. “Wilbur could only take short hops, but eight months later, he was cured. It broke our hearts, but we had to let him go. He came back a day later, and brought other pigeons with him. We discovered Wilbur was female when they had eggs and babies. Now, they live in the barn and wait for Jim, who throws them a handful of food each morning.”
A Blooming Hill Vineyard (5195 SW Hergert Road, Cornelius, 503-992-1196) is open each Friday, Saturday and Sunday between noon and 5 pm. Sample their wines at Hot Lips Pizza, the One Horse Tavern in Gaston, the Beaverton Farmer’s Market and various small restaurants. Upcoming events at the winery include Girls’ Night Out, July 20, 6-9:30 pm, with a chocolate fountain, scented candles, lotions and bakeware; the August Wine Dinner; and their new wine club program. For more information, visit abloominghillvineyard.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Polina Olsen is a freelance writer in Portland.