Jan Jackson/For the Capital Press
MONMOUTH Ore. — Sipping wine while listening to live jazz at Airlie Winery is a six-week Sunday afternoon experiment that is paying off for owner Mary Olson.
Her dog-friendly facility, built on the banks of a picture perfect pond, encourages customers to bring picnic lunches, buy a glass (or a bottle) of wine and relax their day away. Adding the live bands that seem to bring along their own groups of fans has already introduced new customers to the vineyard and the award-winning wines.
“To make yourself unique, you have to pay attention and find activities around what people want, and more and more people want something in addition to the wine,” Olson said. “I looked to see what fellow members of the Heart of Willamette Winery Association were doing, and they were providing music. Many were booking Saturday nights so I chose to experiment with Sunday afternoons.
“Tours and tastings are still popular, but there are people who seem to enjoy coming out and relaxing with wine, food and music,” Olson said.
Being dog-friendly has also worked out well.
“We had one couple who hadn’t been here before and when they realized they could have brought their dog, the husband drove the 24 miles back to Corvallis and got him,” she said.
Olson fell in love with Oregon when she was stationed here with the telephone company for two years. Born and raised in Wisconsin, her long-term goals were to own a winery and get a dog. So 22 years ago, when she retired from US West, she satisfied both.
“The realtor, working on my behalf, found this couple who were wanting to retire and I bought the winery from them in 1997,” Olson said. “Planted in 1993, it was large enough to have a winemaker but not so large as to require hiring a lot of other people. Elizabeth Clark is my winemaker, Susan Simons takes care of sales and marketing and I have two guys that work in the field. The vineyard was pretty isolated at the time but as vineyards and wineries continue to grow up in the area, it is actually good for us. Oregon’s wine industry is growing and through our associations, we are supporting each other.”
In addition to wine tastings, winery tours, wine clubs and special events, more and more venues are providing food and live music.
“People are very particular about what they want to spend their time on and I believe they are looking for personal experiences,” Olson said. “I love the tasting room and the customers are great but it is also rewarding to see them enjoying a laid-back time by the lake.
“What entertains people we have to pay for and I think musicians and artists are going to be a big part of our future. We are becoming a true Oregon wine industry and as we each do better, we all do better.”
Ask about her long list of awards for her wine, Olson credited the rich soils of the Willamette Valley and her winemaker, Clark.
“Once they taste they know why we’ve been around so long,” she said.
For more information visit www.airliewinery