Pat Spangler, a former floor trader on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, turned a dilapidated Oregon winery into one of the best around, thanks to delicious winemaking and attention to detail. Spangler Vineyards is this year’s Oregon Winery of the Year.
Spangler grew up on an Ohio sheep farm, far from anything resembling a winery. Right after graduating from high school in 1985, he ran into a friend in Columbus who was getting into making beer. The drinking age in Ohio then was 18, and Pat thought making his own beer sounded like fun, so he promptly become a home brewer.
Four years later, he moved to Chicago to work at the CME. He was also dating a woman who traveled a lot. One place they traveled together was California wine country, back in its formative days. It was the first time he had tried red wine. Then, by chance, they went to Seattle and visited Chateau Ste. Michelle. This was long before the explosion of wineries in the Woodinville region and was his first opportunity to taste wines from the Pacific Northwest. The experience changed him. That fall, he stopped making beer and switched to wine.
“But it was just a hobby at first,” Spangler said. “I never thought I’d ever do this professionally. Frankly, it’s one of those things that picked me. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d ever own a winery or be a professional winemaker. It’s something I just love doing.”
He ended up buying a home in the Chicago suburbs that had 250 established vines growing on the property. The previous owner had been a home winemaker and even had an old cellar. Spangler’s first wines weren’t too good, he admits now, but the hook was set, and he figured he had found his future calling.
In 2002, he cleared out his house, quit his job and moved to the Sonoma County town of Santa Rosa, looking for an opportunity to buy an existing winery. He continued home winemaking, even winning medals in the California State Fair.
A few opportunities came up but always fell through, then an Oregon winery called La Garza Cellars came up for sale in the Umpqua Valley city of Roseburg. Spangler bought it in 2004, changing the name to Spangler Vineyards.
La Garza started as Jonicole Winery in 1973. Its first Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted in 1968, making them among the oldest vines in the Umpqua Valley, except for those planted by Richard Sommer at HillCrest Vineyard in 1961.
When Spangler bought La Garza, it had 3½ acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as 3 acres of Syrah and 3 acres of Merlot. While the building was a massive fixer-upper, it did come with several stainless steel tanks, 165 barrels of in-progress wine and 3,000 cases of finished wine. From this, he was able to find enough wine that met his standards of quality to release under his new Spangler label. He sold off the rest, giving him enough capital to get him started.
Spangler tends to love Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, even though he’s based in a state famous for Pinot Noir ( “I’m not a Pinot guy,” he says), and he’s proved to excel in both, making delicious examples of Syrah and arguably among the best Viognier in the Northwest. He is one of the few wineries in Oregon to make wines from all six red Bordeaux varieties.
Spangler shows his versatility with other interesting varieties. For example, in Wine Press Northwest’s Platinum Judging, Spangler earned Platinum awards for Petite Sirah (a Rhône variety), Zinfandel (Italian) and Dolcetto (Italian). It’s this diversity of wines that makes Spangler’s wines more interesting to consumers and has led to 10 career Platinums.
In addition to his estate vineyards, Spangler also sources grapes from Southern Oregon and isn’t afraid to go as far as Milton-Freewater in the Walla Walla Valley to bring in the grapes he craves.
His drive to achieve award-winning quality starts with top grapes, paying particular attention to every detail and not being afraid to blend varieties to get the most from every drop he makes. After nearly 30 years of winemaking, Spangler has a good handle on quality, which shows in every glass of Spangler Vineyards wine.
ANDY PERDUE is the wine columnist for The Seattle Times and the founding editor of Wine Press Northwest.
This story was originally published March 19, 2018 12:00 AM.