Ghost Hill Cellars, a Bayliss family legacy

September 5, 2017 

  • ‘Living’ history at Ghost Hill Cellars

    According to Mike Bayliss, Ghost Hill could’ve just as easily been named Bad Luck Hill. In the early 1860s, the Gold Rush was going strong in Oregon. An old military road (likely the Salem-Astoria Military Road) ran through what is now the Bayliss family farm. Although it never saw any military action, it was a main thoroughfare for settlers. One night, a miner made camp under a small cluster of trees with his gold dust booty and his trusty horse. Sometime in the middle of the night, another man sneaked into his camp, killed him and his horse and made off with his miner’s gold. Legend has it that people still see the slain miner today walking around looking for his treasure.

    Or, could it be a long-dead bank robber? Bayliss also says a bank robbery took place in Carlton in the late 1800s. During a shootout, one of the robbers was mortally wounded but managed to escape on horseback. He rode out to the Bayliss farm, hid in a swale covered in trees, sent his horse ahead and later died from his wounds. According to Bayliss, it took a month for his body to be recovered.

    “Two people dying of gunshot wounds in the same place? I’m glad they called it Ghost Hill because it could’ve been called Really Really Bad Luck Hill,” he said.

Bayliss-Bower Vineyard sits on 234 undulating acres in of the Yamhill-Carlton American Viticultural Area, one of Oregon's most celebrated AVAs. On a hill that wasn’t good for much else, 16 acres of vines bear fruit for Ghost Hill Cellars’ all-estate Pinot Noir program. It is a testament to the blood that runs through the veins of Mike Bayliss and the three-generation legacy he inherited and aspires to pass on.

In the Pacific Northwest, grape growers are the substance of the vineyards. They are simultaneously visionaries and the keepers of a heritage, the ones who had the forethought to replace a crop that was no longer profitable and the tenacity to bequeath something tangible to the next generation.

“I don’t know if people can understand what it’s like to have farming in your blood, to be part of the soil," Bayliss said. "I was raised here. My grandfather and my dad were raised here. My great-grandfather passed away here. I couldn’t be happier any other place.”

Twenty years ago, with that perspective rooted in his mind, Mike and his wife, Drenda, struck up a partnership with the fifth generation — their son, Michael, daughter, Bernadette, and son-in-law, Cameron — to continue what began over 90 years prior.

“We knew it would be fairly good grape ground. I asked Ken Wright about it and showed him the hill I wanted to plant it on and I said ‘So, what do you think?’ and he said ‘How much do you want for it?’” Baylis said.

Grapes were planted in 1999 and today, in keeping with the high environmental standards that Oregon is known for, Bayliss-Bower Vineyard is LIVE-certified and Salmon-Safe. UC Davis graduate Eric Hamacher came on as winemaker during the 2015 harvest and brings a traditional approach to the grapes that marries well with the Bayliss philosophy. Prior to working directly for Ghost Hill Cellars, Hamacher had been using Bayliss-Bower fruit for his own label, making it an easy transition.

Since Ghost Hill makes about 1,000 cases annually, the remaining grapes are sold to area wineries. Back in 2013, some of the Pinot Noir made it into 200 cases of Grow Africa Pinot Noir — a collaboration between Grow International and former Ghost Hill Cellars’ winemaker, Rebecca Pittock Shouldis. Proceeds from its sales are used to train and equip families in Africa to become small-scale farmers.

With his affinity for history, Mike has repurposed special pieces into the Ghost Hill Cellars tasting room. Seventy year-old handmade glass was taken from nearby Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey, the tasting bar is a portion of the altar floor, circa 1954, and the back wall is fir from a barn his grandfather built in 1906.

The wines themselves tell the story best. Their 2012 Prospector’s Reserve Pinot Noir received 94 points from Wine Enthusiast and their 2012 Bayliss-Bower Pinot Noir scored a 93. Recently, Wine Press Northwest rated the 2015 Rosé of Pinot Noir ‘excellent.’

About his venture from grain to grapes, Bayliss said, “It’s been a real learning experience and it’s more hands-on than farming. You have to market your product and I’ve done things that I had no idea I could do.”

VIKI EIERDAM is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, Wash. She produces a wine and travel blog.

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