Alder Tree Winery in Sandy is a family-run operation, from the vineyard to the customer

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Terry and Debbie Lorentson started with four rows of vines in 1995, to see if Pinot grapes would grow on their property, which sits at an elevation of 750 feet.

When one’s professional life is finished, most retirees take up a leisurely activity strictly for pleasure.

For Sandy residents and former schoolteachers, Terry and Debbie Lorentson, retirement gave birth to a pastime that quickly got out of control.

“I call it a hobby that’s gone awry,” said Terry, who owns Alder Tree Vineyard along with his wife. “I wouldn’t say it’s a second career, because I don’t think I’d ever retire from this. I’ll probably die right out there in the vineyard.”

It’s safe to say Alder Tree Vineyard is probably one of the best-kept secrets in Sandy. The Lorentsons don’t advertise their presence, nor do they manage large crews working among the grapevines. When the pair is in the mood to host a wine tasting, they simply put a small sandwich board sign out on the road.

But make no mistake — Alder Tree Vineyard is the real deal.

Located in an area not noted for vineyards, Alder Tree sits on 5 lush acres of gently sloped land, framed by a picket fence and the large tree after which the vineyard was named. For those driving the back roads outside Sandy, stumbling across this serene setting is almost like being transported to the Napa Valley area of California. by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The winery is named for an alder tree on the couples property, marking the entrance to the tasting room.

Terry’s interest in winemaking dates to the 1970s, when he took a stab at rhubarb and berry wines in the couple’s first home. It was drinkable, he said, but not exactly what he had in mind. Or his wife’s, after a container exploded in their closet during the fermenting process.

In 1995, Terry planted his first vineyard on the couple’s property in Sandy, with 12 vines he hoped would produce a Pinot Noir variety.

“We started with those because they are the most persnickety to grow,” Debbie said. “I know that’s not a wine word, but it was a way to see if we could grow grapes at (750-feet) elevation.”

It was a slow process, with a lot of trial and error and the couple’s introduction to an industry where they were clearly novices. The intention was always to create a family-run business, involving the couple’s three daughters and son, but developing a working winery proved to be more complicated.

“It was like giving a mouse a cookie,” Debbie said. “It started when we drilled a well. Then we needed a building to cover the well. Then we needed a tractor for the vineyard. And then the tractor needed a building. It’s been quite a process.”

Once Terry found success with his original plantings, he approached suppliers to increase the vineyard’s size. His mission was to expand his number of vines slowly, but most suppliers weren’t interested in selling vines in small numbers.

“At first, they didn’t want to sell me only 350 vines,” Terry said. “They wanted to sell in quantities of 1,000. We just weren’t set up for that then.”

The vineyard produced its first harvest in 2001. Debbie called it an “I Love Lucy” moment when she stomped those first grapes in a commercial garbage can — barefoot.

“It wasn’t a drinkable wine, but it was a great celebration,” she said, laughing.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - The entire winemaking process takes place on the Lorentsons five-acre property in Sandy.

Today, Alder Tree Vineyard is a bonded winery, with 1,600 vines producing nearly 100 cases of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay each year. The entire operation, from crushing the grapes to applying labels to the bottles, is done onsite by Terry, Debbie, their family and friends.

In 2007, the winery won a silver medal in the amateur category at the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. That was followed by a bronze medal from Winemaking Magazine. Both were for a 2006 Pinot Noir.

“We were unknown,” Debbie said. “And there was a lot of competition, so we were happy to be recognized.”

Terry sees the uppermost tip of the Willamette Valley as ripe for growth in the vineyard industry. He views Alder Tree as a complement to Sandy’s other winery, Buddha Kat, as leaders in the charge to establish the gateway to Mount Hood as wine country.

“I’d like to see this area as a destination for wine tasting, like Hood River or Dundee,” he said. “There’s something so interesting about wine. The Romans made it, and when people came to the United States, they brought vines with them to establish vineyards. There’s a connection that just goes on. I like to get to know the people who buy my wine, but I hope we can enhance our community a little too.”

More info

Who: Alder Tree Winery

What: Locally grown and produced Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay wines; wine tastings for groups or individuals by appointment only; discounts on wine purchases are available.

For more information or to schedule a tasting, call Alder Tree Vineyard at 971-227-0686. The winery also can be found on Facebook.

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