Weekly Interview: Melissa Burr of Stoller

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 05-27-2011

Each week, as regular readers know, Terroirist poses 16 questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Melissa Burr, the winemaker at Stoller Vineyards in the Willamette Valley.

I first learned of Stoller in the spring of 2009, while planning a winetasting trip to the Oregon. We decided to make our visit to Stoller the first stop of the day – and it certainly made for a great start to the trip. Stoller is set on an absolutely stunning piece of property in Dayton, and I was very impressed with the wines.

Melissa was raised in the Willamette Valley, and when she started college, she thought she would major in naturopathic medicine. She soon developed a passion for wine, though, so switched her focus – and after completing her BS degree, studied winemaking at Chemeketa and fermentation science at Oregon State University. Before joining the team at Stoller in 2003, she worked as a harvest hand at several Willamette Valley wineries and as the production winemaker at Cooper Mountain Vineyards. Learn more about Melissa below the fold…

Terroirist: What’s open in your kitchen right now?

Melissa Burr: A 2007 Sierra Vista Syrah and a Château St. Michelle 2009 dry Riesling.

How did you decide to pursue a career in wine?

I fell into it; my husband and I lived next to a grocer in Portland that carried great affordable wines while I was going to college; I was set to study naturopathic medicine and I switched to winemaking and he went into viticulture.

How did you learn to make wine?

On the job; most of my learning took place in the winery rather than text book.

How do you spend your days off?

With my family, lately trying to go explore campgrounds. We just bought a fifth-wheel trailer and it has been fun to go “camping” in the cold springtime at some neat spots. Camping is so luxurious in an RV. Hiking, fires, etc. and then a hot shower and movie.

Who are your favorite winemakers in history?

I am always inspired by the multi-generation wine folks; the Europeans who have kept the vineyards in the family.

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why?

I think the new wave of mid 20 something wine folks are very exciting; the ones who travel the globe doing harvests and attending tastings, studying, etc. This next wave of upcoming winemakers are going to make wine very globally and that interests me.

What mailing lists, if any, do you purchase from?

None right now… mostly I go to wine shops for purchase. We have a chain of stores called New Seasons who specialize in quality produce, meats and cheese and they do a great job of sourcing affordable international wines. And they offer 20 percent off cases.

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? The most interesting?

I have been lucky – and have tried so many amazing wines I cannot tell you the best one. I don’t have one of those ah-ha moments with wines.

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive?

Honestly I don’t have much of a cellar. The oldest bottle is probably an ‘03 Stoller and the most expensive is probably one of our Cathy’s Reserve. Once I get rich and famous I will have a more interesting answer. I take donations too!

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose?

Geeze, good question. I think I would say a new red and a new white every night.

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker?

Having patience; one chance a year to make/ferment the wine, waiting through its development, waiting for its release… waiting for the 99 points in the Spectator.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own?

Right now it’s all about Burgundy; I am planning a trip to visit in a few weeks and I am very much looking forward to learning more of the tradition and craft of what they do over there.

Is beer ever better than wine?

Not to me; I appreciate beer and do enjoy it but I think wine is far more interesting and diverse…just my opinion. Plus it goes better with food for me; I get full from beer quickly and tired. But I love a good crisp aromatic IPA.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

Some things that they will never know!  Aside from those things, I am very good with pouring liquids from one container to the next.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

If I weren’t making wine, I probably would be doing something with food. I think whole, natural “super foods” are extremely important these days and I dream of products often that I would like to create. If I wasn’t doing that I would like to work in the tourism industry somewhere tropical. Maybe I would make or sell some distilled pineapple brandy to rich folks traveling to Bali. My kids would be barefoot tan surfers.

How do you define success?

I would say by ending the day with the most smiles possible. As tacky as that may sound, life is short and you’re ultimately successful if you can focus on enjoying as many moments as you can; when you can and while you are able.

Comments (2)

  1. I got to visit Stoller about a year ago, what an impressive place. Such incredible facilities she gets to work in. The place was empty because it was March. There was a single barrel of Tempranillo in the cellar that piqued my interest. I’d love to know where that is now.

  2. We visited earlier this spring and tasted the Tempranillo, which was amazing. They have it available in 3 packs only, but it is delicious!