Trappist Abbey ‘holy’ devoted to prized Willamette Valley wines

March 13, 2017 

  • Ghost Hill winemaker has roots in the Abbey

    Not only has the Abbey Wine Warehouse stored for the local wine industry, they’ve also employed the wine industry. Mike Bayliss, owner of Ghost Hill Cellars, began his tenure at the Warehouse while still attending high school.

    Bayliss said, “Mostly I worked in the fruitcake business, handled maintenance in the bindery (and) delivered books. I never knew what I was going to do when I went to work and I liked that part of it. There was a lot of variety.”

    In total, Bayliss spent 39 years with the Abbey and, in that time, became close with many of the monks.

    “Brother John (Carl John Benedict) and I were very close. He was my best friend. A friend of my wife tells the story about when our son (Michael) was born. We were at mass and Michael was a week or two old. Brother John took the baby back into the monastery to show him off to everybody and it was an hour or two before he came back out. The kids called him Uncle John,” Bayliss said.

    Brother John passed away in 2016 but the many memories the two men shared hold a special place for Bayliss.

Monks at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey in Carlton, Oregon may be cloistered but they still support the world renowned wine region they call home. In fact, for 26 years the Abbey has developed a reputation in the Willamette Valley for being “holy” devoted to the care of some highly-prized bottles.

Traditionally, all abbeys are self-sustaining to allow for honest work, time in contemplative meditation and living in the world but not of it. Some choose to make and sell fudge, liqueurs, beer and even stained glass. The Trappists—as they are referred to— maintain 900 acres of forest land, bind books, bake heavenly fruitcakes and operate the Abbey Wine Warehouse.

According to Father Richard Layton, business manager for the Warehouse, it all began in January of 1991. Since the late 50’s, the Abbey operated a church furniture plant assembling pews and other house of worship necessities. When sanctuaries began ordering chairs to maximize their square footage, the Abbey moved on to office furniture and then contracted with three successive furniture makers that, ultimately, went out of business.

In the end, the Abbey was left with an empty 20,000 square-foot building equipped with electricity, lighting and ventilation. Father Paschal Phillips, a former attorney, was the Abbey business manager at the time. Father Layton shared that he was friends with Susan Sokol Blosser and Roland Soles (then winemaker at Argyle Winery) and inquired to them what he should do with the space.

“Father Paschal was one of my favorite people,” Sokol Blosser recalled. “He talked to Bill Blosser and me and a few other people about how they could help in the wine business. We suggested that they could warehouse wine for us; that they had the storage that we didn’t have.”

An author among other things, Sokol Blosser recounted that the Abbey Wine Warehouse started with six wineries and 30,000 cases.

Remembering Father Paschal’s original business plan, Father Layton chuckled “I think his idea was it’d be one pallet at a time and most of the time he’d sit back smoking a cigar.”

Unaware of all the government regulations regarding alcohol, an outside manager was brought in to set up bookkeeping and handle the tax end of the business. From bonded wines; to wines that have had taxes paid on them; to wines preparing to be shipped; to shipping wines out of state, there are assigned and trained personnel to track every step.

By 1993 the original building was full and Father Layton convinced the community to invest in an adjacent 20,000 square-foot warehouse. Today, the Warehouse provides storage for about 150 wineries and 245,000 cases but Warehouse manager, Chuck Sinner, has seen those numbers go as high as 320,000 cases on occasion.

Long the only storage facility in the area, the Warehouse is now the smallest of the four currently operating but they hold their own just fine. Originally employing three workers, staffing has increased to 12 including fork lift drivers and office, inventory and regulating personnel. Longevity is common and most employees have been with the Warehouse for over 5 years, with a handful boasting 20.

This is where the Warehouse finds its niche.

“I like dealing with our customers, especially the ones that have been with us for years like Ken Wright and Kramer. I also enjoy the smaller wineries coming up and building relationships with them,” Sinner said.

Because the Warehouse does not ship internationally, it focuses on smaller wineries that are either startup or boutique, retaining only one large winery account currently. Charging a much lower monthly rate than some of the bigger facilities is a particularly attractive feature and it still offers custom labeling services.

Sokol Blosser has very warm feelings for the Warehouse and the role they’ve played in the Oregon wine industry over the years. She recounted that they packed gift boxes when Sokol Blosser Winery didn’t have the personnel to do it and, in turn, her winery took Christmas gifts to the Warehouse staff they became familiar with over the years.

“I really think that Father Paschal was a man of vision. To be able to look at the wine industry at the time that he did and see that there could be this opportunity was really visionary and very strategic,” Sokol Blosser said.

Viki Eierdam is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Wash., who writes a food and wine blog, “Corks and Forks” for the Vancouver Columbian Newspaper.

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