The wine industry is filled with people making this highly stylized profession their second act. Not surprisingly, many of them are Type A personalities who crave the craftsmanship and personalization that come with the vintner designation. Alas, it is true that you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy.
Such is the case of Don Hagge, founder of Vidon Vineyard in Newberg. While the farming aspect of the wine world takes him back to his North Dakota days as a child, there’s a large part of him still firmly planted back in Houston.
A trained technology scientist, Don’s former title was Chief of the Physics Branch for the Apollo program; Apollo 13 being his last mission. Leaving NASA at the ripe age of 38, Don still had decades of tinkering ahead of him and vineyard management has proven a constant source of problem solving.
There’s dealing with cork taint—Don keeps a list of blind tasting results in his tasting room as proof of why he uses glass stoppers; frustration with industry bottling lines—so he created his own; more control with aging his wines—thus, the employment of flextanks; constantly searching for the most efficient way to minimize waste between tastings—build your own wine dispensing system that uses nitrogren, of course; and eliminating the upkeep of wine clubs—roll out one that accrues points with every purchase rather than discounts a percentage of every bottle, case, etc. The Vidollar Rewards Program may be replaced in the not-so-distant future. Don’s already working on a Wine Club 2.0 version called VinAlliance and the growth potential is impressive and collaborative.
So, is there any rest for the weary in the wine world? At the young age of 84, Don shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he has blueprints to expand his winery since it’s been at capacity for a couple years now. His wife and partner in vine, Vicki, simply sighs the knowing sigh of a patient and faithful spouse.
He does find the greatest peace on his tractor and when he’s crafting his earthy and aromatic Chehalem Mountain AVA wines. Minimal intervention is the goal but that’s not to say he doesn’t have significant opportunity to weigh in via LIVE-certified (low input viticulture and enology) farming and being part of the Carbon Reduction Challenge (CRC)—a winery program that addresses and attempts to reduce greenhouse gas.
On his 12 ½ acre site, Don grows predominantly pinot noir and a smattering of chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot blanc, viognier, syrah and tempranillo. The 3-clones pinot noir comprises his greatest focus; Brigita Clone 777, Mirabelle Clone 115 and Hans Clone Pommard—a tribute to his three, beloved grandchildren. Ranging from fruit-forward to complex notes of herbs, wood, leather and spice, all his pinot offerings have the weight and structure to withstand aging while being balanced enough to enjoy now.
The other varietal I had the pleasure to taste was his 2014 Chardonnay. All estate fruit, it had an approachable roundness with a hint of oak to bump up its elegance and leave a smooth, lingering finish. With the holidays approaching, this would make a lovely accompaniment to the Thanksgiving bird or Christmas brunch.