Meet the Winemaker: Suzanne Larson
Left Coast Estate
Q: What's life like in Oregon?
A: Life is wonderful in Oregon. The Oregon Wine Industry is a very collaborative affair, full of interesting, talented, and hard working people, colleagues. And then there are all those who come to all of us to taste the results of our efforts and attention and learn about Oregon wines. Here, at Left Coast, we live on a nearly 500 acre working farm so, in that microcosm, there is the daily beauty of the agricultural life from the ripening of the grapes on the vines to the golden turn of the leaves as we finish bringing in the fruit of another harvest. There are the moments of beautiful sunsets and the special, gorgeously penetrating morning light of a winter's day. In summer, there are flowers, vegetables, and fruit growing across Left Coast as guests, friends, family gather among the towering white oaks facing the Tasting Room for a musical performance and a glass of wine. Beyond vineyard life, Oregon has so much to offer. It is a natural wonder to explore, the coast, mountains, food, wine. Oregon is a special, good place to make a life, all the more if wine is being well made too as part of that life!
Q: What inspired you to begin producing wine in a state that people said couldn’t grow grapes?
A: Today there are more than a thousand vineyards in Oregon and close to that number of wineries as well. Left Coast was founded 150th. So while we are no longer new kids on the block, we certainly were not among those in the 1960's and '70's who proved to the doubters that Oregon had the makings of a serious viticultural future. We had three years in France, into the early 1980's, in no small part, learning to eat and drink there. That, too, was a marvelous time in life, and what has grown into Left Coast had its dreamlike beginnings then. Case in point: the small herb garden, to the back of our Tasting Room, was inspired by another such garden of that period. It also recalls that turning point moment that day when I realized a bottle of wine made all the difference for that day, lunch, outlook, experience. I wanted to live like that, make a wine, find a place that could make that difference. In the states, I felt the place for that was Oregon, the Willamette Valley, for Pinot Noir. That it took a return from living and working in France, not to the Pacific Northwest, as had been the plan, but to Denver, Colorado, job offers instead, was a surprise. Yet, two decades later, post the births of the younger generation of three, now working together to move Left Coast onward and upward, the humble beginnings of this family farm, estate vineyard, and winery became a reality.
Q: What excited you the most about starting this journey into the wine industry 18 years ago?
A: My great grandparents, on my mother's side, were Norwegian immigrants who came to this country and homesteaded north of Seattle, Washington. The eleven offspring they produced, of course, made up their farm labor force. My grandparents were dairy and berry farmers as well. While removed by a generation from their very hard work, I had been well aware, growing up, of the lifestyle, its demands, challenges, but also its satisfactions, its ties and comforts too in the land, what it took and what it gave back. I remember seeing a newspaper article in my grandmother's hope chest when I was quite young. It told of how my grandparents' berry estate had done much to employ, support, and feed the local community during the Great Depression. Sustainable farming has a broader meaning now, but, then, I was taken with the importance and power of what farming can return to those who farm and share in that life and work. I also remember vividly, going into a metal building on a cold, rain filled, gloomy day, as I was driving back, along the coast, from a trip to Northern California. As I went through the doors, the whole life of the town seemed to be there, in the form of a bookshop and cafe. The feeling of a gathering place was embracing and infectious. I spoke with people; I settled into the warmth and welcome of the place. I wanted to create, replicate that at Left Coast.
Q: As the Brand Ambassador for the estate, what does your job entail?
A: Pre COVID, I was out in the market a rather great deal in that role. I enjoyed that very much and also saw much more of my colleagues from other operations then. 50 or so of us are selected to go out to various cities for the Pinot in the City events each year. I have represented Left Coast at nearly all of them. These, abandoned in 2020 and 2021, should be returning for 2022. A similar Oregon Trails series was begun by the Oregon Wine Board that includes Southern Oregon versus the Willamette Valley concentration for Pinot in the City. In essence, I support and represent Left Coast to the best of my ability, sharing our story. I have lived the history and the growth of the past 18 years. I was in the state of Wisconsin for a Wine Dinner recently. A sommelier in a small lake town bought our 2018 5 case lot at the 2020 Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction that 61 wineries first contributed to six years ago. We have offered up lots each year. It was a lovely and delicious evening with a well traveled and sophisticated audience. I have just begun going back out into our broader markets. I did a sparkling wine seminar and harvest dinner in Vail, Colorado, last month and in August attended the opening event for the Oregon Wine Experience that benefits children's health. Unfortunately, due to a resurgence of COVID in lesser vaccinated southern Oregon, the main events went virtual again this year.
Q: Finally, what does the wine industry mean to you?
A: I mentioned the collaborative nature of the Oregon industry earlier that really does make Oregon a very special place. That is recognized also by the Californians and Washingtonians, but, more importantly, appreciated and practiced here in Oregon. I will ever be grateful for the doors opened to me, the calls picked uo, and am committed to return in kind that attention and responsiveness to colleagues old and new. Our younger generation, my son, Taylor Pfaff, Left Coast's CEO, and our Director of Sales, Shardul Ghogale, were MBA classmates at the Kedge Business School of the University of Bordeaux, and those industry connections, too, have been very meaningful for them both.
Photo credit: Left Coast Estate