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Domaine Serene's Revolving Door

A top Oregon Pinot producer hires its third winemaker in three years

Harvey Steiman
Posted: May 18, 2011

When Erik Kramer took the reins last month as the new winemaker at Oregon’s Domaine Serene, he became the winery’s third in just over three years. Kramer, most recently assistant winemaker at Adelsheim, replaces Eleni Papadakis, who left Domaine Serene under conditions both she and winery general manager Allen Carter characterized as “amicable.”

Not so the previous roster change. When Tony Rynders, who had been Domaine Serene’s winemaker since 1998, left in 2008, Serene co-owner Grace Evenstad told Wine Spectator, "It became apparent that Tony did not share our vision for Domaine Serene." Evenstad and her husband, Ken, then filed a lawsuit, accusing Rynders of stealing winery secrets. The lawsuit was settled out of court, no money changing hands (except that which went to the lawyers).

While no one is talking much about why Papadakis left, there is no doubt that the Evenstads continue to have ambitious goals for their project. Founded in 1989, Domaine Serene is located in the Dundee Hills of Oregon's Willamette Valley. Well-known Oregon winemaker Ken Wright made the wines for the first few years, before Rynders took over in 1998. Wright, Rynders and Papadakis made consistently outstanding Pinots, including one of the highest rated in the classic-rated 2008 vintage—the Grace Vineyard bottling, which scored 97 points.

The Evenstads came to wine late, buying the property after spending their lives building a successful pharmaceutical firm. A love for Pinot and a bottle from Oregon they tasted in 1989 inspired them to take the plunge.

After his abrupt departure, Rynders went on to start his own Oregon winery, Tendril, and partner with Madaiah Revana on a Pinot Noir called Sitar. He also owns vineyard property in Walla Walla and consults with Swiftwater Cellars in Washington.

Papadakis left Domaine Serene “for personal reasons,” she said, and disclosed no specific plans. “It is extraordinarily difficult to let go of the wines that I poured my heart and soul into over the last few years,” she said. “And yes, I do still wake thinking of tending this or that barrel.”

“At present I am looking for opportunities that will allow me to engage in more collaborative winegrowing,” she said. She hopes to remain in Oregon, where she is “excited about cool-climate Chardonnay.”

Kramer, who earned a degree in geology at Florida State University, studied viticulture and enology at Lincoln University in Christchurch, New Zealand. He has experience at wineries in Washington and New Zealand.

Howard Terrell
Clovis, CA —  January 21, 2012 10:00pm ET
What a tremendous setback for Domaine Serene to lose a world class wine maker like Eleni Papadakis.

She is one of the few great female wine makers in a very male dominated profession.

Her Pinot Noir's have consistently scored in the mid to high 90's for the last several years.

These kind of scores make the difference between a wine that sells for $125.00 vs $12.50 per bottle.

Will the newer wines made without her be able to measure up?

Regards / Howard

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