David and Gayle Reed turn a wine hobby into a wine business
Gayle Reed, left to right, David Reed, Brian Perry and Somer Perry, family owners of Sams Creek Cellars, toast in the tasting room at the new vineyard near Gold Hill. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
The entrance to Sams Creek Cellars near Gold Hill. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]
In the 1970s, David Reed was on a ferry in San Francisco Bay with his future wife, Gayle, and ordered a glass of wine, a petit sirah from Napa.
“It was just wonderful,” he said. “Maybe it was also the atmosphere and the company, but it really stuck with me, and I remember thinking it would be fun to do something like that one day.”
It was a premonitory moment. David and Gayle Reed recently celebrated the grand opening of Sams Creek Cellars, a boutique winery producing artisan wines from grapes grown at their 15-acre vineyard near Gold Hill.
The property is located on alluvial floodplains at the confluence of Sams Creek and the Rogue River.
Before moving into the wine industry, David was self-employed as a commercial building dismantler, primarily dismantling bankrupt sawmills in Northern California and Oregon.
“I really enjoyed what I was doing with the mills, but it had a predictable end with the nature of the forests and the mills closing.”
David was the one who discovered the 97-acre property near Gold Hill more than 20 years ago, but Gayle was all for it.
“He kept trying to get me to go see him,” she said. “I loved the beauty of the surrounding area and the fact that it is nestled in this beautiful little valley along the Rogue River yet close to town. I thought it would be a perfect place to raise kids.
The couple bought the property and built a house there.
David first dipped his toes into winemaking by buying 80 pounds of pinot to see if he would profit from it. He did. So, in 2007, he planted Cabernet Sauvignon. Two years later, he made wine from it.
“I really liked it,” David said. “I then planted a zinfandel and liked that too, and it snowballed.”
When did he decide to turn the hobby into a business?
“I don’t know exactly,” he said. “I loved what I was doing, and it took me. Having more wine in the garage than I could drink was definitely part of the decision.
The terroir also played a role. The vineyard has different soil types due to the terrain, with sand and gravel in one area and fine topsoil in other parts.
“There are grape varieties that thrive in one region and others that thrive elsewhere,” he said. “There was trial and error to figure that out.”
The cold nights and strong westerly winds blowing through the canyon help produce grapes with thick skins, increasing their pigmentation and creating dark, rich and complex wines.
At first, friends and family pitched in. One of David’s best friends and his wife helped plant the first grapes.
“Everyone loved coming to help out,” David said. “It was a family adventure, from picking the grapes to helping with the crushing, pressing and bottling.”
Most’s favorite part was the pressing of the wine because, even though it was raw, it was finished.
“My 93-year-old father-in-law and 84-year-old mother-in-law were more than happy to come and help, as long as they could taste the wine,” he said.
The Reeds decided to build a tasting room seven years ago. It is a 1,248 square foot building with a small food prep area, two bathrooms, a wine cellar, and a bar that seats about 30 people.
“We designed the tasting room to have primarily outdoor seating,” David said, “to provide a beautiful setting under the walnut trees, with views of the vineyard and surrounding hills.”
In search of a family environment, they added two patios with tables and parasols and a large shade sail. They also have two grassy areas, one large which is landscaped with lawn games.
Today, Sams Creek Cellars grows 11 varietals, some for stand-alone wines and others in smaller quantities for blends. They grow Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Orange and Chardonnay.
“Most are in production now,” he said, “and many are ready for release. We plan to offer a rotating selection each week for tasting and purchase.
At the inauguration, the winery presented a 2012 syrah, a 2015 syrah, a 2015 pinot noir and a rosé called Somer’s Kiss, named after the Reeds’ daughter.
Recently, Sams Creek Cellars added a 2016 Zinfandel and a 2017 Cab Sauvignon to the rotation. Next year they look forward to a full harvest of chardonnay from plantings made two years ago.
David and his son-in-law Brian Perry are the winemakers. Their method is to use the least amount of additives in the belief that this helps the wine better reflect the growing season, location and terroir of the year.
“Our wines are distinguished by our fruity orientation,” David said. “We produce and harvest high quality grapes and try to have the wines made themselves.”
When it comes to choosing his favorites among his wines, David is a bit like the father who hesitates to single out a child.
“My favorite is zinfandel…and pinot noir…and syrah,” he said. “These wines are all full-bodied reds, brought dry. They have a complex bouquet, vibrant initial flavors and excellent mouthfeel. They also look exceptional in the wine glass.
Gayle had a 40-year career as a financial adviser, retiring in 2020.
“My only business now is the grandchildren and the cellar,” she said.
She says she has always loved wine.
“When David and I traveled, I always enjoyed tasting the wines of the region. Work often took us to San Francisco, and I loved discovering the fine wines of California.
These days, you can usually find her in the tasting room on the weekends, greeting customers, pouring wine, and making sure everyone has a wonderful experience.
“I guess you could call me the hospitality manager, as well as the chef and the bottle washer,” she said. “Being a small family business, I help where I can.”
His son-in-law Brian Perry joined the business in 2015. He took classes at the Southern Oregon Wine Institute and began working with David on vineyard development and winemaking.
Both David and Gayle have roots in southern Oregon. David was born in Boise, Idaho, moved to Phoenix, Arizona when he was 12, then to Phoenix, Oregon when he was 16, and has been in the area ever since. He graduated from Phoenix High School and received a BS in Commerce from Southern Oregon State College (now SOU).
Gayle was born in Fort Worth, Texas, but grew up in southern Oregon, where she moved when she was 5 years old. She graduated from Crater High School in 1972 and attended the University of Oregon and Northeastern Missouri State before completing a business degree at Southern Oregon State College.
The greatest satisfaction for both of them is seeing people enjoy their wine and the atmosphere of the tasting room at Sams Creek Cellars.
Where do they see themselves in 10 years?
“I look forward to working less behind the counter and enjoying the wine and the people more,” Gayle said.
They intend to gradually hand over the winery to Brian and Somer.
“It’s a family affair,” David said.
For more information about the winery and its wines, see samscreekcellars.com.
Contact writer Jim Flint at [email protected]