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A trip to Italy inspired West Linn resident Michael Noel to plant his own vineyard



Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Michael and Lisa Noel have quite a collection of wine at their West Linn home. Among the bottles is their very own label - Noel Family Vineyards. The vineyard, located in Newberg, produces up to 125 cases of pinot noir each year.There is a recurring pattern in the life of Michael Noel: discovery followed by doing.

For instance, the saxophone: On a business trip to New Orleans years ago, Noel was enchanted by the “amazing sound” of a jazz group rehearsing in a hallway of the hotel at which he was staying.

“It was my first brush with jazz,” the West Linn resident recalls. “When I came home, I bought a tenor saxophone, and I took lessons for two years.”

And there was quilting: “I love the beauty of Amish quilts, and I thought ‘I’m going to make an Amish quilt.’”

So he studied the craft and made a quilt for his then-young son.

“My wife makes fun of me because I’m prone to sort of looking at something and saying ‘I can do that — I’m going to do that,’” Noel says.

“It seems to me like that’s living, right? To do this stuff.”

His largest such undertaking — Noel Family Vineyard — was inspired by a glass of wine, or several, enjoyed around the farm table in the kitchen of a winemaker in Verona, Italy, nearly two decades ago.

“It does go back to that farm table in Verona in Italy,” he says, “sitting around the kitchen table, just being with people — conversation, friendship, slowing down and appreciating what you have and what’s around you.”

Noel Family Vineyard consists of two-acres of pinot noir planted in red-brown soil some 800-feet above sea level in the Chehalem Mountains in Newberg. It’s an organic operation, Noel says. And he works with a vineyard manager and winemaker, both veterans in the Willamette Valley wine scene. On the grounds of that “magical thing called the vineyard” there is a small house in which Noel and his wife, Lisa, seek to re-create for visitors that formative wine experience in Verona.

Photo Credit: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Noel Family Vineyards' first harvest was in 2010. This year, Michael Noel anticipates that the grape harvest will begin around Sept. 25. Here, Michael and Lisa Noel are pictured in the wine cellar of their West Linn home.

“It’s stunning. The view is like some other country,” Noel says of his vineyard’s locale. “It’s layer upon layer of hillside culminating in the Coast Mountain Range — the sunset to the west, and you know the Pacific Ocean is on the other side. It’s amazing. It’s an amazing view.”

Today, Noel Family Vineyard produces up to 125 cases of pinot noir each year from its two acres. Noel’s wine can be found at a handful of restaurants in the region, including Allium in West Linn. He also sells wine directly through the vineyard’s website.

Recently, Noel poured his wine for the sommelier of a 3-Michelin-Star restaurant in Chicago, laying the foundation for possible distribution there. And, there has been talk about traveling to Japan to pour wine for Yutaka Takano, a Master Sommelier he met on a previous trip to that country.

Wine writer Elaine Brown visited Noel Family Vineyard during summer. In an article on Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews, she describes Noel’s pinot noir as “a wine for wine lovers still finding their way into pinot.”

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: MICHAEL NOEL - Michael Noel says that his vineyard is totally organic; no herbicides, pesticides or fungicides are used.

“Pretty, delicate, with integrated and distinctive spice elements,” she writes, “carrying nice tension and depth — all about red fruit, and a northern forest aroma and flavor held in fine-boned balance.”

But, as with all agricultural pursuits, it didn’t happen quickly. Noel had to cultivate his newfound passion for wine.

“Between Italy and taking the plunge into buying land and planting grapes,” he says, “there was about a 10-year intense consumer phase.”

During that time, the Noels explored the Oregon wine country, tasting wine and learning every facet — down to who built the barrel — of wine production.

“They open up their doors to you,” he says. “They take you through tours — the cellars, the vineyard. They tell you everything about how they do things, which is just so wonderful, so collegial. There are really no secrets. And I’m a curious guy; I want to figure it out, and the information was there.”

All those weekends in wine country finally begged the question: “It was just like ‘why wouldn’t you want to do this every day?’” Noel says.

To that question, he couldn’t produce an answer.

The Noels bought the Newberg property in 2007. A year later, they planted their grapes. Their first harvest was in 2010. The 2014 harvest will begin later this month.

Noel, an executive with a tech company in the healthcare industry, says he hopes that one day the vineyard will be self-sustaining.

“It would be easy to be nervous,” he says. “But I really love the product. I love our story. I love our wine. I’m confident. In the whole seven or eight years, there has never been thinking that it wouldn’t work or couldn’t work, or was the wrong thing to do. There was never any hesitation all along the way. I can’t really tell you why, other than it just seemed like the most normal, natural thing to do.”

Contact Luke Roney at 503-636-1281 Ext. 103 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Photo Credit: SUBMITTED PHOTO: MICHAEL NOEL - Noel Family Vineyard is planted with Dijon, Pommard and Wadenswil pinot noir clones.

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