Croft Vineyards was born in 1983, when Chancy and Toni Croft decided to build upon their love for wine, turning it into a serious endeavor to coax something lovely and unique from the soil. Obviously (to us, anyway) there is no better place to do that than Oregon, so they packed up their bags and headed down from Alaska with nothing but a love for the soil, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a sense of humor about the ups and downs that were certain to follow. But just like the grapes they now cultivate, Toni and Chancy were ready to grow, evolve, and adapt; deepening their understanding of the complexity of PNW grapes, and leading to the world-class wine they now serve. Tastings are currently available at their tasting room, Stomp, which is nestled next to the Willamette River and ready to welcome you as family.
We had a conversation with founders Toni and Chancy, and their grandson and partner, John and Amber, crucial members of the team at Croft and the Stomp tasting room.
- What are your roles at Croft Vineyards and what part about them brings you the most joy?
Amber: John and I have our hands full with all the ins and outs of running Stomp Tasting Room. I focus primarily on the menu, food and wine pairings, social media, wine distribution, and the occasional event planning (when possible). Together, we also manage our newly launched Wine Circle, tend to the family orchard and play a big role when it comes time to harvest all the grapes from our vineyard. We understand this probably reads as many roles and it is a large reminder of how much work goes into running a small family business. There is no specific job title for anyone here. We all just do what needs to be done to the best of our abilities and that brings us joy in knowing all we can accomplish by working together.
- What inspires you?
Amber: There is something so special and unique about Oregon’s wine industry. The Oregonian spirit is one that collaborates, inspires and works together. Being able to contribute and be a part of it is such a huge inspiration. We look forward to not only bringing new and exciting things to the table, but also to hold close to what it means to grow grapes and make wines here in the Willamette Valley.
John Craft and Amber Gurubel
Founders Toni and Chancy Croft
- What do you think are the best and most challenging parts of working for a family run business?
Toni: John and Amber will be the first official winemakers in the Croft family. While Chancy and his son, Lee, have primarily focused on tending to the vineyards, they have hired professional winemakers in year’s past who have each contributed to the Croft’s business and reputation of award-winning wines. Amber and John are excited to be able to make wines from the grapes that their older generational family members have helped to grow over the past four decades.
Amber & John: It’s sometimes difficult to turn off “work talk” and create separation from business when we’re all together. And to be honest, it’s not always easy working with family. Sometimes you want to fire them and other times you want to give them a promotion. The frustrating part is not being able to do either! Haha. But at the end of the day it feels good knowing that we have been able to work through challenges and problem solve together. That’s really what it’s all about. What we look forward to the most though is being able to share it all with future generations to come.
Croft’s tasting room has a great patio, perfect for sipping wine and enjoying their beautiful setting.
Pizza and Pinot on the Patio! At Croft you can pair your wine with 12 inch pizzas made from scratch.
- Your tasting room, STOMP, used to be a 1940’s era dance hall! How do you think that plays into setting up the atmosphere desired at Croft? Any chance for a future big band Swing dance party at a future Croft event?
Toni & Chancy: People have told us that the building was used for Grange meetings (farmers meeting to discuss crop forecasts and politics) and that dances were also held on site. If so, they were probably country western or square dances. However, the idea of a big band swing dance party is exciting! We look forward to throwing all sorts of dance parties and other fun events once we are able to again.
Amber: The building that houses Stomp Tasting Room is known to be over 80 years old. When Chancy and Toni Croft purchased the property that the building lives on, they decided to restore it rather than build new in order to preserve its rich history. Most modern buildings require new materials and are largely made out of plastics; however, this building features more than 6 different types of native Oregon timber. We have also installed solar panels in an effort to preserve a better environment. There are many reclaimed features throughout the building and Terri Croft has done a fabulous job of sourcing repurposed materials that bring a certain charm to Stomp. The historic feel that you get when you enter Stomp Tasting Room now has a new exciting ambiance to it.
- I read on the Croft Vineyards website that you “believe in a convivial way of life where friends and family come together to celebrate each other with delicious wine and nourishing food.” How do you think that philosophy affects the wine and tasting experience? Can you tell us about a favorite memory or two in your lives where wine has brought people together?
Toni & Chancy: One great memory was the 2017 eclipse (which was a combined celebration of Chancy’s 80th birthday party). People from all over the nation gathered on our property where they could reserve a campsite and enjoy a festival-type event with food, live music and the best view of the total eclipse of the sun in the country. It was truly memorable as one of the many ways we love to bring people together.
Amber: Every family and friend’s gathering for us always has two things in common: food and wine. It’s always at the centerpiece of every event. It brings us together, holds us close, and carries us through until the next time we can be together. Making great wines is what keeps us inspired and driven, but after it’s all said and done with, it’s that open bottle of wine and who you’re sharing it with that really matters.
The dedicated team at Croft Vineyards!
- Do you have a favorite Croft wine and gourmet nibble from the tasting room menu?
Amber: We make a tasty cherry BBQ sauce using the cherries grown on our property for a pizza that is piled with goat cheese and fresh basil. It’s unique and packs all the yummy flavors that pair nicely with a well-aged Oregon Pinot.
John: My personal favorite is the Smoked Salmon Dip! My father (vineyard Manager), Lee, and I catch all the salmon up in Alaska on fly rods and then smoke and can (jar) the salmon in house. Besides being absolutely delicious and unique, we are happy to sustainably source the salmon for our dip. I never thought I would be able to write off father/son fly-fishing as a business expense. 😉
- Your website also describes the Croft “desire to be with the earth, honor it, and coax something lovely from its soil.” First off, that is so beautiful (and let’s be honest, super Oregonian). And it creates a sense of pause. To pay attention. To have patience. And to see the beauty of what grows when nurtured. Do you find that philosophy has translated to other parts of your jobs, or to life in general? Has working in the wine industry helped teach you patience in this busy, sometimes chaotic world?
Toni and Chancy: In our opinion, patience and timing are critical to all aspects of grape growing. When growing organically what is done with the canopy and soils this year affects what is possible next year. Farming is not instant gratification. Protect the soil and the workers and rewards will result.
- I love how the Croft family seems to have a sense of humor about its approach to wine, freely admitting that many “hilarious, frightening, and light-shedding missteps” were taken along the way. How do you think this sense of humor affects the wine, the atmosphere, and the way the business is run?
Toni and Chancy: In 1983, we planted all grapes on own-rooted stock because the vineyards were so isolated. We are now surrounded by other fields, and because of phylloxera we have had to replant on American root stock—THE ENTIRE VINEYARDS! This large reminder keeps us light-hearted and helps us to realize that we are not always in control.
Amber: The Croft’s are a very unusual bunch. From my very first year here in Oregon working with them, it was clear that taking yourself too seriously was never a part of any agenda. They have a beautiful way of reminding you that mistakes happen, life goes on, and we are all just human. This was a very important lesson for me to accept as I usually strive for perfection. In an industry that can be so very assuming and pretentious, I respect their attitude of having a sense of humor when things go wrong and realizing we can’t control everything that happens to us (or the wine!). Our tasting room, Stomp, is also set up in a similar ideology. We try to create a warm, approachable atmosphere where all people can come, regardless their depth of knowledge in wine, and enjoy themselves with glass in hand.
Croft’s tasting room, Stomp has the kind of vibe you will want to toast to!
At Croft’s tasting room, an appetizer of goat cheese, crackers, cherry compote, figs paired witht Sauvignon Blanc, yes please!!!
- Croft has both Estate wines and Backcountry wines (with adorable names, PS) can you tell us a little bit about the difference?
The Croft’s are all originally from Alaska and have a deep love and appreciation for the outdoors. This is what inspired the Backcountry Series. It features high-quality wines that you can take with you anywhere to enjoy. Besides, drinking outdoors is more fun! Ps: be on the lookout for a backcountry wine released in a non-breakable container, coming soon!
10. Also, I love the labels on the backcountry wines, who is the artist for those?
The original River Runner label (all vintages up to 2013) was designed by Karen O’Neal, a good family friend. The redesigned River Runner (vintage 2014 and current) and the Ridge Roamer labels are by Meaghan Ghorashian, another family friend who has a boutique creative studio in Portland, Or. The labels are all inspired by different Crofts and their outdoor experiences in Alaska.
The Ridge Roamer label designed by Meaghan Ghorashian, inspired by the Croft’s love of the outdoors.
The River Runner labels by artists Karen O’Neal and Meaghan Ghorashian.
11. I was told that if I ran into a Croft Vineyard family member, I should ask about the wild run under McKinley’s majesty…. So I have to ask…
John: Oh man, I’ve heard many many variations of this story sitting around the family dinner table. Having personally not been on the trip, I will try and summarize the commonalities of the more frequently told variations. I’ll keep it brief-ish, but first a little backstory – my Grandparents’ lifelong friend, Peter Lekisch, is the one who initially provoked my grandparents into taking a whitewater rafting instructional trip and in turn, purchasing their first whitewater raft. Over the years my grandparents, Peter, and his wife Ellen, rafted numerous rural, technical and dangerous rivers up in Alaska. In fact, our River Runner Red label is in loving dedication to Peter (d 2013). On to the story:
Sometime in the mid eighties, my grandparents, Peter and Ellen, rafted the “Devils Canyon” stretch of the Talkeetna River in Central Alaska (personally, I try to avoid anything with Devils, Death, Nightmare, certain demise, etc. in the name, but they were braver than I, I also wasn’t born yet). That particular stretch of river had many class V rapids, including but not limited to small drops, large drops, keeper holes, shallow rocks, lateral hydraulics, standing waves, boat-eating pour-overs etc. – basically it’s a very burly stretch of whitewater, (as the kids would say) they were “shredding the gnar.” In one of the larger boat-munching holes, a wave knocked off Peter’s hat. Now this wasn’t just any hat, it was a bright reddish-orange hat signed by some hall of famer Yankee baseball player, Dave Winfield I believe. Sounds expensive right? Peter, being the extremely generous man that he was, knowingly and enthusiastically overpaid for this particular hat at a charitable auction. He never would reveal the exact amount he paid, but we believe it to be somewhere between a couple grand and the right to name his first-born child. As the story goes they chased this hat downstream for many miles, all the while navigating the (supposedly) “biggest rapids this side of the Mississippi,” until eventually the hat succumbed to the silty water, sank into an eddy and was never seen again. Though at the time Peter was quite bummed, once back in civilization, they all found the humor in the situation over a bottle of wine. “It was an ugly color wasn’t it?” asked Peter, they agreed unanimously.
In both iterations of our River Runner Red Pinot Noir label, you can see Peter’s bright orange-red hat sinking slowly downstream.
The Croft’s during harvest have built a warm and dedicated team that produces award-winning wines and, they remember “its all about the grapes!”
Long-time employee and all-around knowledgeable operations manager, Esteban, and his son’s Miguel and Roberto, head up a crew of farmers bringing Croft Vineyards wines to wine lovers.
12. John, what has it been like developing the riverside trail and picnic area? And Amber, when creating a tasting room menu, how do you decide what to pair with each wine?
John: It has been quite the task to be honest. When my Grandparents first bought the property on River Road (where STOMP tasting room is) I immediately saw the potential river access. My affinity for boating, combined with my love for working on trail crews up in Alaska, fueled the dream of having a river trail. The first couple years I did everything by hand, then finally my grandparents were corralled into purchasing a small John Deere tractor (which has probably saved me many chiropractic visits). With the tractor’s aid in relocating ginormous driftwood logs, we finally have the river access I dreamed about. Our river access is just a short 5-minute walk through the cherry orchard from the tasting room. Currently, access is limited to family, good friends and Wine Circle members only – so sign up!
Amber: Food and wine pairing is all about slowing down and paying attention. Paying attention to taste, textures, colors, and aromas can go a long way. I try to let the wine speak to what it pairs best with by creating a balance of matching the intensity of the wine with the intensity of the food. It’s exciting what a good pairing can do to the wine drinking experience.
13. If each of you could name a wine, what kind of wine would it be and what would you call it?
Toni: Chancy would make a Gamay Noir Beaujolais early release harvest wine, a red wine made to drink young rather than age. He doesn’t have a name for it yet. I would make a sparkling wine named after our favorite French expression “Savoir-Vivre!” (meaning, “Knowing how to live”) made of Sémillon.
John: I have a name and label but no varietal, maybe my grandfather and I can team up? I would call the wine “Farmdog Field Blend”, the label would feature Amber and my adorable Aussiedoodle Nali.