After UC Davis, she honed her craft in Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, did a stint in Western Australia, and another back in Sonoma Valley before the call of Southern Oregon brought her north. That was nearly 20 years ago, and today, Donovan’s mark is all over the booming Southern Oregon wine industry. Name a startup winery in this region in the last two decades and there’s a fair chance Donovan has had a hand in it, whether by way of consulting, educating, winemaking or pouring a glass of a local varietal for a grateful guest.
Donovan has her own boutique wine label—L. Donovan Wines, which produces under 1000 cases of wine a year. Donovan loves creating her own wines, but says that situation can be compared to “how the cobbler’s children go shoeless.” She explains, “My wines never take precedence over my clients’ wines.” The clients of whom she speaks are those of Pallet Wine Company, a business she co-founded in 2007 when she bought a “10,000 square-foot dilapidated old building in downtown Medford” and created the region’s first custom crush facility. “There wasn’t anything like this in the area, and it’s a very common business model in growing wine regions,” she says.
Pallet Wine Company is a full-service winemaking facility, servicing winemakers who don’t want the expense and effort of building out their own facility. “My typical client has their own vineyard and their own tasting room, but outsources production to us,” she says. “We have all of the equipment, the staff, the understanding about alcohol compliance, and we make it easy for people.” In this way, Donovan has mentored dozens of winemakers and facilitated many wineries, helping to grow what has become an important industry for the region, in terms of nurturing emerging artisans and boosting tourism. “We’ve helped at least six wineries establish in Southern Oregon,” she explains. The first year, Pallet had five clients; this year, they had over 30.
Donovan loves working with passionate grape growers and winemakers, and especially enjoys the cooperative spirit her work entails. “We’re sharing equipment, we’re sharing ideas. I love the vibe, especially at harvest when we’re one big family. All of the clients are here, chatting and solving problems.”
The natural next step came in 2016, when Donovan bought the building next door to Pallet Wine Company and opened The Urban Cork, a tasting room to showcase Pallet’s clients’ wines as well as other regional varieties. “We rotate 130 wines a month through flights,” she says. The Urban Cork provides Southern Oregon visitors with the chance to come to one hip location to try many local wines, rather than driving around to each individual tasting room. Plus, the space supports winemakers who don’t have their own visitor destination. “This is an opportunity for winemakers without tasting rooms to host a release party or a private tasting.”
Donovan couldn’t be happier to be in Southern Oregon making wine at this particular time, when the number of regional wineries has doubled in the last decade. As opposed to places she made wine in the past, “in Southern Oregon we have such diversity. We can grow over 30 varietals in one year, and from different sites, so that they are never the same wine in the bottle. It keeps it interesting.” Donovan also loves seeing so many passionate people step into winemaking. “It’s comforting to know that so many farmers are going the organic, biodynamic route, with focus on the vineyard and soil health,” she says. “There is a harmony required to make great wines, and that all starts in the vineyard.”