Take a trek down memory lane with Winemaker Katie Santora as she reflects on the past ten years at Chehalem! From Assistant to Head Winemaker, Katie has seen Chehalem grow and develop into a love letter to the Chehalem Mountains.
How did you first learn about Chehalem Winery?
It is such a random story! I first met Wynne Peterson-Nedry (daughter of Chehalem founder, Harry Peterson-Nedry) in 2007 while getting my degree in enology and viticulture at UC Davis. The program was small, and it was easy to get close to all the amazing people within the program. Of course, being Harry’s daughter, Wynne always talked about the amazing wines in Oregon, and I really wanted to make wine in the region. In 2008, she ended up helping me get my first harvest job in the Willamette Valley, just up the road at REX HILL. I was instantly in love with Oregon. I stayed for a couple of years and then wanted to get back on the road to work a harvest in Australia.
Once on the road, what got you to join the Chehalem team?
It was 2011, and after working in Australia for ten months, I found myself back at my parents’ house in Salt Lake City, figuring out my next steps. Wynne, by then Head Winemaker at Chehalem, and I had continued to stay friends during this time, and I got a text from her saying, “Hey. I am not sure where you are, but I’m in Salt Lake City for a winemaker dinner. If you are here, I would love to catch up.”
It was a complete happenstance that I was. So we got together, caught up, and the conversation led to her asking what my next steps and goals in the industry were. I told her that I wanted to return to Oregon, but I was looking for a full-time job. She mentioned that Chehalem might be hiring, and if I was interested, I should send my resume to her father, Harry. Of course, I was interested! I flew to Chile to work one more harvest abroad, and after an extensive hiring process, I got the Assistant Winemaker position at Chehalem in 2012; the rest is history.
How does it feel to be working at Chehalem for ten years?
Amazing and surreal. This is the longest commitment I’ve had anywhere in my life, and it went by so quickly. When I started in 2012, my goal for taking the job was to commit to four years. I thought, “Yes, I can do that…” Now, with a house and two kids, we are still going strong ten years later! I feel really lucky to be at such an amazing winery for so long.
What’s been your favorite vintage over the past ten years?
This is a hard one for me to answer. There are so many vintages that mean so many different things to me personally, but 2012 stands out because it was my first harvest at Chehalem and my first one back in Oregon after a stint in Australia and Chile. There was 2015 when the crop was SO heavy that year, and we somehow magically fit it ALL into Chehalem. All the harvests I did with my brother, Joey, who worked here, have a special place in my heart. And then 2018, the first harvest running the show. That vintage has a really special place for me.
Plus, there are the ones that are tasting great right now! The 2016 Pinot Noirs are coming into their own and are just delicious! I also love the 2019 white wines and the 2018s all around.
What are some of your favorite memories from the past decade at Chehalem?
Oh my gosh – Ten years of memories to sort through! It’s hard to put any stand-out memories down in writing. But a common thread through all of them is the people in this industry. The wine industry attracts like-minded people. People who like to work hard, are really smart, love eating and drinking, and are usually having a good time. We have had so many amazing people work at Chehalem over the years, leading to silly and ridiculous moments together to hard, grinding hours in harvest. Winemaking is not a glamorous job, but through the toughness, we have had some fantastic times that lead to great memories.
What are you excited about in the next ten years?
I am excited to continue to see the evolution of Chehalem. I feel like it is just beginning. One thing I’ve learned while working in the wine industry is that change happens slowly. So to see the impact of a decision made, for example, in the vineyard one year, you’ll have to wait two or three years to really see it come into fruition. I’ve had to learn how to be more patient, slow down and watch a bit more.
Cheers, Katie, to this spectacular milestone!