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Fermenting a legacy


Buddha Kat Winery gears up for anniversary

Buddha Kat Winery is one of the oldest new wineries in the state. On Friday, Aug. 23, the winery will celebrate its first anniversary.

If that sounds incongruous, how about this? One day a geologist from Alaska drove by a “for sale” sign and decided to get into the wine-making business.by: POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI - Buddha Kat Winery owner Lorie Dilley laughs with Josh Rude, her head winemaker. The company will celebrate its first aniversary Friday.

It all makes sense, we promise. Buddha Kat is the name Lorie Dilley’s kids picked when she bought Wasson Brothers Winery on Ruben Lane last August. In wine circles, the age of a winery is important. Because Wasson Brothers was the 83rd winery established in Oregon, Buddha Kat got to keep the distinction.

Dilley moved from Anchorage, where she was a partner with an engineering firm, just over a year ago to care for her father. She was looking for something else to do with her time and noticed the sign at Wasson Brothers one day.

“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do, move to Oregon and buy a winery?” she said.

Once she bought the business, she needed somebody who knew how to make wine. So she posted an ad for a winemaker and found Josh Rude, a recent graduate of the Institute for Enology and Viticulture in Walla Walla, Wash.

“Of all the people I interviewed, he was the only one who brought me some of his wine,” Dilley said. Rude, 32, made his first batch of wine when he was 12.

“In elementary school, I learned how yeast turns sugar to alcohol and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” he said. Of course, that first batch had to be hidden from his parents, and he admits it was not necessarily a good batch.

“What I get paid for now is slightly more scientific,” he said.

With Rude secured, Dilley was prepared to make and sell wine. She still buys a lot of her grapes from the Wasson Brothers, and Rude has proven to be a wise investment. One of his fruit wines won a gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition, and he took a bronze for his Riesling at a competition in Newport.

Of course, that means Buddha Kat offers award-winning wines.

In terms of marketing, Buddha Kat has maintained a presence at all the festivals and competitions, and is working to rebuild a relationship with the distributor the Wassons used. But Dilley said it is both in her favor and challenging that wine has become more popular in the past decade.

“It think it’s changed,” she said. “It used to be considered more high-end, but now it’s a lot more popular.”

While more people are drinking wine, more people are making it as well. For this reason, Dilley understands the importance of reputation, and Rude and his awards go a long way toward that end. Another factor that could help as Buddha Kat grows is the position Oregon holds as a wine-making region.

“A good example is California in the 1970s,” Rude said. “It took California a very long time to convince people that their wine was good. Oregon is starting to get a reputation for its pinots and its chardonnays.”

Dilley said another strategy they have is to alter the perception of fruit wines.

“We’d like to help them to be perceived as higher quality,” she said. “And also to make them stand out from the others.”

Buddha Kat produced 7,000 gallons of wine last year and plans to keep up that rate. The winery will hold an official ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate its birthday Friday.