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Remembering Gary Andrus

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Feb 2, 2009 9:34am ET

I got word that Gary Andrus had died Friday in an email from Josh Bergström, whose eponymous winery ranks among Oregon’s best. Josh wanted me to know as soon as he did, because he understood what an impact Andrus had made on him personally and on Oregon wine more generally. Fittingly, I got four more emails later that day from other Oregon vintners.

Bergström credited Andrus with bringing a level of professionalism to Oregon in 1992 when the longtime California vintner (Pine Ridge in Napa Valley’s Stags Leap District) bought a vineyard in Dundee Hills, the epicenter of the Oregon Pinot Noir world. He built a showcase winery in the middle of the vineyard and introduced Archery Summit wines to the world. Andrus sold Archery Summit in 2001 as part of a divorce settlement, but the winery continues to rate among the best, making rich, fleshy and distinctive Pinot Noirs.

Archery Summit’s wines always sold for a premium above the Oregon norm, a lesson not lost on Bergström, who also prices his best Pinots aggressively. That puts the pressure on the vintner to make the wines special. To their credit, Andrus did that at Archery Summit and Bergström does at his winery.

Andrus’ daughter Danielle worked at Archery Summit with her dad, and later married Laurent Montalieu, who was the winemaker at WillaKenzie Estate. They now own Northwest Wine Company, a custom winemaking facility that a number of small wineries use to produce their wines. Together Danielle and Laurent own and run Soléna Cellars in Oregon.

Meanwhile, Gary got back in the wine business with Gypsy Dancer, which produced small quantities of varying-quality wine in Oregon and New Zealand.

Although I must have met Gary in California, I never really had a conversation with him until I showed up at the new Archery Summit winery in 1995. The first vintage (1993) had impressed me when I blind-tasted the wines. I will always picture him as he was that day, clad in full Oregon regalia—Pendleton shirt, down vest, hiking boots—emerging into the chilly winery from his laboratory. He often told me he loved the science of wine more than selling it.

He showed me around the winery, especially proud of the tunnels dug into the hillside under the estate vineyard. They were meant for aging wine in barrel and bottle.

Archery Summit remains one of the most impressive-looking wineries in Oregon. It’s not so elaborate, but out there in the middle of the estate’s picturesque hillside vineyard it creates a scene like a French painting. In the same Dundee Hills neighborhood are Domaine Drouhin and Domaine Serene.

Andrus' businesses had their ups and downs over the years. And he could be impulsive. In the 1980s, he prematurely announced a partnership deal between Pine Ridge and Jean-Michel Cazes of Château Lynch-Bages in Bordeaux. It never happened.

Although Andrus made some impressive wines, some puzzled me when they veered off the quality plane. This was especially so at Gypsy Dancer, which got off to a spotty start. Some wines were promising, but others missed badly. The Oregon wines from his long-established A&G Vineyard in Dundee Hills were good, but the ones from the closely planted estate vineyard (the former Lion Valley Estate) haven’t rocked me. In bad health the last few years, he never got that ship righted. Mired in debt, the New Zealand project petered out after two vintages.

His vinous legacy is Pine Ridge and Archery Summit.

As a U.S. Olympic skier, Andrus competed against the world’s best, and he played with the big boys in the wine world. If he didn’t win every race, the others definitely knew he was there. He had an impact.

Todd Bishop
San Francisco, CA —  February 2, 2009 10:58pm ET
Coincidentally, without knowing that, I opened my last bottle of '99 Pine Ridge Rutherford Cab on Friday night. My in-laws were visiting us in San Francisco over the weekend, and we grilled some filets that night, so I wanted to open a nice bottle with some age on it. It was still lovely and going strong. I've only been engaged with wine as a serious hobby for about 9 years, since finishing school, and that particular bottle was an early favorite in my exploration / discovery of Cabs, so I enjoyed the sentimental value. Too bad we didn't know we should have been toasting to the legacy of the winemaker. (Fortunately, I still have some of their other bottlings left on the rack from that great year.) Oddly enough, this wasn't the only recent coincidence I've had when reading your blog: one of our Christmas gifts to my in-laws was a dinner at Town Hall, one of our favorite "special event" places in the city, and we had already booked reservations there for last Saturday night during their visit, when I read your "what are we drinking now" story. I was excited to try the Lapostolle Syrah; unfortunately they didn't have any left! I've always enjoyed your perspective on both food and wine (especially with the benefit of being able to go to the same restaurants). Cheers.
Dennis D Bishop
Shelby Twp., MI, USA —  February 3, 2009 5:01am ET
Thank you for the very insightful blog! I intend to open a bottle of Andrus Reserve over the weekend with some friends and share my new found knowledge of Mr. Andrus! dennyb
Laura Long
Santa Rosa, CA —  February 3, 2009 11:09am ET
The wine world has lost one of its most colorful and generous ambassador's. Gary was always generous with his time and his opinions. When I was a newbie wine person in the 80¿s, I met Gary on a wine ski trip and he seemed larger than life but was one of the most approachable folks that I met during that time.His wife and children were lucky to have him in their life. He will be missed.
Morgan Winery Inc
santa lucia highlands,ca,usa —  February 3, 2009 7:58pm ET
What was unique at Archery Summit was the wine elevator. Gary didn't want to pump his Pinots, so he put a racking tank in an elevator that would bring the wine up from the barrel cellar to above the bottling level without pumping. I think it was the first, at least on the West Coast. I knew Gary for over twenty five years and will miss him. Dan Lee
Chris Haag
vancouver, bc —  February 4, 2009 6:27pm ET
I agree with Dan Lee, the AS winery is a unique building and the elevator is certainly different.I think it will be Archery Summit night one night this weekend...
Steve Wilhoit
Shoreview, MN —  February 5, 2009 7:41pm ET
Gary was one of the greats in exploring all wine can be. Always a dreamer. Boyish and full of life. Fortunate to have known Gary. He will be missed and always remembered with a smile.
Steve Wilhoit
Shoreview, MN —  February 5, 2009 7:42pm ET
Gary was one of the greats in exploring all wine can be. Always a dreamer. Boyish and full of life. Fortunate to have known Gary. He will be missed and always remembered with a smile.
Neil Selman
Santa Monica —  February 7, 2009 4:27pm ET
Those of you who live in the Los Angeles area can taste a wine made by Gary during his NZ years called Shotover River Wines. My wife and I, along with two other couples started Shotover River Wines when one couple decided to live in NZ. Gary made our 2006 Shotover River Pinot Noir and it is delicious; very Oregonian in style, using grapes from our vineyard in Central Otago. Our wine is being sold at Anisette in Santa Monica, which is a fabulous place to eat and try Gary's only NZ Pinot as his wine got entangled in financial issues.Gary was truly a unique individual, and a great winemaker. We offer our condolences to his family and hope Gary has found eternal peace.
Lisa Andrews
CHATTANOOGA,TN 37402 —  February 11, 2009 5:37pm ET
Harveythank you for the nice notes on Gary. He was one of the very first Napa winemakers I had the privledge of meeting and was always a great guy.Best to his familyLisa Andrews

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