By Carla Shryock
Bob Kerivan originally planted grapes to give his wife, Lelo, something to do.
The two, frequent visitors to the Southern Oregon coast, had recently bought a 10-acre parcel of land in Cave Junction, 45 miles from the ocean and 5 miles north of the California border. The year was 1978, and Bob had just retired from a career as a transportation executive.
“I bought a fifth-wheel trailer and a pick-up truck and away we went to start a new life,” Bob says.
Lelo, the green thumb of the family, recognized the potential of growing European varietals on their property. The German native had grown up around wine and wanted to keep busy. As a bonus, there were few restrictions on planting grapes at the time.
“We bought a little vacation place and somebody said, ‘you can grow grapes here without a permit,’ ” Lelo recalls. “I couldn’t believe it. You can plant varietals without asking the government?”
The Kerivans — and their grape production — soon outgrew their original plot and by 1986 had converted a 75-acre neighboring field in the Illinois Valley to launch their first foray into the winery business. Eventually, they purchased more land near Cave Junction and 80 acres in the Applegate Valley, close to Jacksonville.
Today, Bridgeview Vineyard & Winery owns more than 200 acres of vineyards and produces 65,000 cases of Oregon wine per year. According to Bob, that makes them the largest producer of case wines in Southern Oregon.
“It started out as a hobby,” Lelo confesses. “The hobby got out of hand.”
Lelo’s son, winemaker Rene Eichmann, joined the staff in 1980. Seven grandkids now are involved in the business, doing everything from production to sales.
The staff at Bridgeview bottle more than a dozen Bordeaux-style wines, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Riesling. While they’ve multiplied their production of pinot noir and produce a popular Cab-Merlot, they have long been known for their Riesling. The climate and geography lend themselves to the production of this clean and crisp varietal.
“We have some of the best Riesling in the world right here,” Bob says. “If you draw a (longitudinal) line from here we go right through the upper part of Germany and the lower part of France. It’s the same type of weather.”
Bridgeview bottles three Rieslings and some of their other wines under the Blue Moon label. Bob liked the idea of using a distinctive blue glass for the bottles to attract attention on wine shelves. So the Kerivans applied for a patent and own the U.S. trademark for wine bottled in blue glass.
The blue bottle glass is one of many innovations the Kerivans instituted at Bridgeview. “I’m known as a renegade in the industry, and I’m proud of it,” Bob says. Early on, the couple ventured far from typical American wine-growing techniques by adopting European practices they discovered during trips to Germany. One technique essentially tripled the output of vines per acre.
“We grew 1,800 to 2,000 plants to the acre. In all of California, Oregon and Washington there were 650 plants to the acre,” Bob explains. Their carefully researched techniques soon became a mainstay of American growers.
Today, visitors to Bridgeview can enjoy their wine as they sit on one of the many decks overlooking the lakes and gardens on the property.
Bridgeview wines can be found in retail locations and restaurants in all 50 states.
Carla Shryock is a free-lance writer and photographer based in Salem, Oregon.