Guest Blog Post by Beth Barnes, owner of Chris James Cellars
Have you had a chance to stop in at Chris James Cellars? We are one of the newer additions to 3rd Street. Our tasting room that shares the first floor of the 1882 building at 645 NE 3rd Street opened in December 2020 – not exactly the ideal moment to open a new location, but nonetheless, we went with it. With the help of our rockstar tasting room manager, Kris, this location has become a popular spot on 3rd Street to drop by for a flight or a glass of one of our 30+ wines from Columbia Valley and Willamette Valley. We rotate the flight in our tasting rooms each week so that frequent guests still get to try an assortment of different wines.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Beth Barnes. My husband, Chris, and I own and operate Chris James Cellars. I wanted to share our story with you to help you understand the passion and effort behind each bottle of our wine…
Chris James Cellars is a family owned and operated vineyard and winery that produces unique and interesting wines in Carlton, Oregon. The owners, Beth and Chris, produced their first wines in 2015 and have since grown to offer a wide selection of whites, reds and sparkling wines. Their approach to white wines is to emphasize and preserve the varietal aromatics, flavor and acidity; in red wines they seek to develop intense flavors through harvest decisions and wine-making techniques during fermentation; they focus on mouthfeel and silky texture during maturation.
In 2011 Beth and Chris sought out to find the perfect place to establish a vineyard in Oregon. After a lengthy search, they selected a 62 acre lot on the western edge of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA in the foothills of the Coastal Range. The site was selected due to its aspects, elevation, and geology. Nearly every aspect is represented on the property and the soils are primarily deep volcanic soils. The volcanic soils of the Willamette Valley are known to contribute to the world class terroir of the region. In September of 2011 Beth and Chris purchased the property and started their journey. They named the property Old Wagon Road Vineyard.
In 2012 a small part of the property was cleared to prepare for vineyard planting starting in 2013 with additional every year through 2022. A diverse selection of grape varietals were chosen to produce estate wines that are new and interesting as well as classic to the region. The varietals include Pinot Noir (Pommard, 777, 828, 943 and Wadenswil clones), Sauvignon Blanc, Dolcetto, Lagrein, Gewürztraminer, Gammay Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Scheurebe, and Huxelrebe, along with 7 new varietals planted in 2022. The blocks are planted on slopes with Eastern, Western and Southern aspects. The vineyard that started as 4 acres has now grown to 25 acres featuring 17 different types of grapes.
As the vineyard was expanded and matured Chris developed an interest in winemaking. Chris first attended Chemeketa’s viticulture program and farmed a block at the school’s vineyard. After attending for one growing season he transitioned to the enology program where he was able to make wine from the grapes that he grew (among other grapes!). It was during this time in school that Chris produced his first vintage at an off-site winery from the vineyard’s first harvest.
In the fall of 2015 the vineyard yielded half a ton of Sauvignon Blanc and approximately two tons of Pinot Noir. 2015 was a unique vintage as it was the hottest year on record for the region and there was a drought emergency declared throughout Oregon. The lack of water, extreme heat, and young vines produced concentrated and intense wines.
With one vintage under his belt, Chris designed and built the winery in the Spring and Summer of 2016. The winery was completed in August of 2016 in time for the season’s harvest. The winery has a large processing and barrel room, cold room and space for a tasting room (to be finished later).
With the new winery, Chris James Cellars expanded its lineup of white wines as well as purchased Pinot Noir fruit from other vineyards in the Willamette Valley. Chris processed over twenty tons of fruit, including Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Lagrein and Dolcetto.
During the Winter of 2017 the estate tasting room was finished, and we welcomed our first guests in April 2018. The tasting room features a beautiful outdoor space and a cozy indoor space to sit and relax while enjoying our wines and enjoying the spectacular views of the vineyard and coastal range. We regularly host public and private special events such as Stargazing in the Vineyard, a Birds of Prey Encounter, and a Harvest Dinner. A second tasting room in McMinnville, Oregon was opened in late 2020.
Today, Chris James Cellars produces nearly 3,000 cases of wines each year. Chris continues to produce a wide range of white wines and has started to produce “big reds” from the Eastern Oregon & Washington region in 2017. The wines of Chris James Cellars have been recognized through awards, positive reviews, and remarkable scores. In 2022, Chris James Cellars was name Oregon Winery of the year by Great Northwest Wine Magazine! We look forward to many more great years.
Chris is an engineer who has worked in the technology sector for over 20 years. He has a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Computer engineering and an MBA. As an engineer, he has always had an intense desire to make the things that he is interested in. This desire motivated forays into cooking, heavy equipment, and engine building; but farming and wine making has always held a special place in his heart.
Both his grandparents and great-grandparents owned vineyards on the east coast. His grandparent’s farm was located in Vineland, New Jersey where they farmed the Noah grape. The crop was used for sparkling white wine production. When Chris was a child he would spend time working on the farm picking berries and helping out on the farm (or so he thinks).
Beth has a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering and an MBA. She now works as a business analyst and spends her time raising their son, Jensen.
Beth supports the business by overseeing the business operations, tasting rooms, and wine club. While farming is not in her blood, she does enjoy living on the beautiful vineyard and producing spectacular wines!