Oregon winemaker Ryan Huett is about to release his first ever private label wines under the brand name of Raylee Wines. Ryan has been the winemaker at one of Oregon’s oldest bonded wineries for the last few years, Laurel Ridge Winery, but this will be the first time he has hand crafted small lot premium wines under his own brand. We were able to sit down with him for a bit to talk about the upcoming release.
So how did you get into winemaking in the first place?
“Several years ago we were living in the cloud forest of Costa Rica where we own a small eco-resort, and a group of investors from California came into the area and planted the first 25 acres of wine grapes. I had always been into wine as a consumer, but after a successful career in real estate, I was really looking for a new passion to pursue. Watching these guys from Cali put this vineyard in…..really got my wheels spinning. Just a few short months later we were on a plane, and moving to Oregon. I spent 3 years pursuing degrees in both enology and viticulture at the Northwest Wine Studies center in Salem while simultaneously working for Laurel Ridge. It was a long three years!
What wines will you be making and at what price points?
“Well, we are in the Willamette Valley, which in my opinion is the best place in the world to grow Pinot Noir, so of course that will be on the list. I have also really fell in love with Oregon Syrah grown in the Columbia Valley on the Oregon side of the river. I like to use it as the primary component in a red blend that I will be producing called Syn. I also really love Rose made from Pinot Noir, so that will be a staple in the line-up. Finally, I will include either Pinot Gris or Chardonnay each year. As far as price is concerned, I am really fortunate, as I am able to hand craft these small lot wines with very little overhead and have access to the wonderful Laurel Ridge facility as winemaker there. This allows me to pass the savings on to my buyers so that these meticulously cared for wines can be purchased in the $19- $29 range. Also, I limit my production to a 1000 cases and only sell direct to consumers and local stores.
So why the name Raylee?
Well, that’s a story almost 20 years in the making. Tammy and I have two wonderful boys (well men now). Jonathan is 20 and Lucas is 17. Before Luke was born, we had received a misleading sonogram stating that Luke was going to be a girl. We picked the name Raylee using Tammy’s middle name of Raye and my middle name of Lee. To our surprise, and delight, Luke was born in May of 1998. So when it came time to pick a name for the brand...it just seemed like the logical choice. I guess you could say I finally got my little girl. I think any winemaker would tell you that making wine is akin to raising children, as it takes a great deal of care, planning, and nurturing to produce something beautiful to send out into the world.
How would you describe your winemaking style or philosophy?
Well...first of all, I am a huge believer that source is everything. I have worked hard over the last several years to build relationships with growers in the area to identify some of the vineyards that truly are hidden gems. I think it is a huge asset not to be limited to a single vineyard for my production, and I am able to seek out the best possible fruit for each vintage. In regard to winemaking, I guess you could say I am an observant minimalist. I feel fortunate to have worked with very experienced winemakers over the last several years, while being able to study at a winery that is on the cutting edge of new winemaking technology. When I say “observant minimalist”, I guess what I mean is that I really like for the fruit to speak for itself as much as possible, but always utilizing the latest techniques of monitoring the wine and its chemistry to avoid any potential issues that could affect the quality. This profession is a beautiful marriage of art and science, and is particularly appealing to me.
So how can we order your wines?
Because of limited production, our wines will be available online at rayleewines.com. You can email me or give me a call. It is important to me to connect with people interested in my wines, as this is the reason I am producing them. I am starting a wine community this year, and hope to grow over the next few years. I can ship to most states, and if you happen to be in Oregon, I will more than likely personally deliver the wine so that I can meet as many community members as possible.
What are your hopes for the brand in the future?
More than anything, I would like to build a community of wine lovers who can have access to small lot premium wines at affordable prices. I have made the commitment to myself and my customers to keep production at minimal levels so that quality is never compromised. Those things are really important to me, as this endeavor has never been about money for me, but rather, passion.
To learn more about Raylee Wines please visit: http://rayleewines.com