The Ponzi family helped create the Oregon wine industry in the late 1960s, and the future looks bright for the kids and grandkids of the original owners.
IN THE LATE 1960s, Dick Ponzi left behind a successful career as a mechanical engineer in California to pursue a dream. He and his wife, Nancy, moved to Oregon and helped create the Oregon wine industry.
More than 45 years later, their children have taken over Ponzi Vineyards, and the winery has been one of Oregon’s most progressive operations.
In 1970, with three kids in tow, they planted their first vineyard in the northern Willamette Valley and built a winery alongside such fellow giants as Dick Erath, David Lett, Charles Coury and David Adelsheim.
Three to try
Ponzi Vineyards 2014 Tavola pinot noir, Willamette Valley, $25: Regardless of price, this is consistently one of Oregon’s best pinot noirs each year. Aromas of strawberry, boysenberry and violet give way to flavors of Rainier cherry and cocoa powder.
Ponzi Vineyards 2014 pinot blanc, Willamette Valley, $20: This is a perfect summer wine to enjoy with seafood and poultry, thanks to aromas of crisp apple, lime zest and mint, followed by flavors of Asian pear and dusty minerality.
Ponzi Vineyards 2013 reserve pinot noir, Willamette Valley, $60: Aromas of Bing cherry and strawberry are followed by vibrant flavors of rhubarb jam, cinnamon, milk chocolate and raspberry. A remarkable wine from a challenging vintage.
In 1984, the Ponzis launched BridgePort Brewing, a move that kicked off Oregon’s remarkable craft brewing craze. They sold it in 1995, then made their next move: opening a high-end restaurant in the heart of Oregon wine country. The Dundee Bistro launched in 1999 and remains one of the Willamette Valley’s top dining destinations.
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For the first couple of decades, it didn’t seem as if the Ponzi children would ever take to the wine industry. Growing up amid vines sounds idyllic, but when your last name is affixed to thousands of bottles of wine, you’d be one embarrassed teenager, too.
Anna Marie Ponzi moved to New York to work in the magazine business. Her sister, Luisa, focused on medical school. Yet the tug of family and wine brought them back.
Anna Marie returned in 1991 and today is president and director of sales and marketing. Luisa put her chemistry background to work in the cellar and was named head winemaker in 1993. Their brother, Michel, worked at Ponzi for more than 20 years before moving to Italy to own and operate an olive oil company.
Since the second generation took over, Ponzi has grown from 16,000 cases per year to 50,000. Luisa makes several styles of pinot noir, along with many other grapes. One of her favorites is arneis, a rare white grape from northwestern Italy that grows beautifully in Oregon.
And the third generation is poised: Dick and Nancy have eight grandchildren, and one already has started working in the wine industry.
Just as the past has brought success for Ponzi Vineyards, the future also appears fruitful.