Laura Cusick, winemaker, grew up in the Pacific NW and moved to Maine for a bachelor’s degree in environmental science & education. Her passion for the outdoors then took her to Jackson, Wyoming, where she became involved in the restaurant scene, and after that to New Zealand, where her restaurant management continued and her love of wine grew.
A decision to study viticulture & enology at Lincoln University in Christchurch led to a cellar master position at a large, conventional winery, where Laura learned exactly how she did not want to make wine – an invaluable experience! When she and her husband moved back to the US in 2015, it became a mission for Laura to find somewhere that she could produce wine with minimal intervention, and work with high-quality, beyond sustainably-farmed fruit – thus finally bringing her care for the environment and her love of wine together. She has been with Craft Wine Co. since 2017.
Meredith Bell, consulting winemaker, is owner/winemaker for Statera Cellars and EST Wines, and has been with Craft Wine Co. since 2014. Born and raised in the Portland metropolitan area, and with four generations of her family still in the area, feels very connected to the Willamette Valley. She studied biochemistry at UCLA and started thinking of wine as a possible career, and not only a hobby, while living abroad in a dry country. Upon her return to the states, she headed back to school and to earn her masters in viticulture and enology from UCDavis. From there she worked a vintage in Burgundy and in Gippsland, Australia, before returning home to the Willamette Valley, where she has been ever since.
The Willamette Valley is a beautiful place to work and to call home. Laura and Meredith love that the valley is not a monoculture dedicated only to grapes, there are also hazelnuts and hay farms and many other types of agriculture.
They are hopeful that this diversity will endure, along with the enthusiasm for exploration of ‘alternative’ varietals (i.e., non-Burgundian). Thanks to the Missoula flood events about 15,000 years ago, there is also a great diversity in soils across the valley. They consider themselves lucky to have relationships with some excellent growers in the Willamette Valley as well as in Southern Oregon, across an array of climates, soil types, topography and elevations.
Laura and Meredith work with bio-dynamic and/or organic growers wherever possible and encourage their conventional vineyards to farm with minimal impact, supporting soil health and bio-diversity, always with an eye towards converting to organic or BD when possible. In the cellar, they use minimal intervention techniques, utilizing SO2 where necessary but no other additives. It is so important to them as a company to ‘tread lightly’ in all ways, while producing interesting wines that are expressive of both time and place.
Their decisions are usually made as fruit comes in the door during harvest, they are not by any means bound to working to a ‘recipe’ or a standard practice.
This means that vintage variation is very much a factor, and that they often make wines that will never be repeated – at least not in the exact same iteration. Very little use of new oak allows the beautiful fruit that they are lucky enough to work with to really shine. Native yeast and malo-lactic bacteria from the vineyards and their winery facility do the hard work for us. Laura and Meredith keep the attitude that winemaking should be fun and experimental in nature, and they allow ourselves to ‘think outside the box’ when it comes to blending and labelling.