Creation of the Matteri Vineyard
I've always had an interest in growing grapes. My dad's great uncle, who had helped raise him and his brother, had a small winery in Sebastopol in Sonoma County in California before Prohibition closed it. My grandfather always made just a little wine for the family as well (my dad, who is 93, recently told me that “just a little” was about 5 barrels a year!). Knowing this history, and my enjoyment of wine, I have always had a vision of growing grapes even during my training and practice as a physician.
I had come to Oregon in the early 1980's for an obstetrics and gynecology residency. I really wanted to study with Leon Speroff at OHSU, one of the most preeminent reproductive specialists in the country. My route to Oregon was very roundabout. After biology at Stanford, I had returned to Atlanta where my mom lived and attended Emory Medical School. From my days as an undergraduate, I was enamored with the hormonal processes that controlled most of our physiologic actions, especially reproductive functioning. We were in the pioneering stages then. After training in internal medicine and medical endocrinology at the University of Tennessee in preparation for a career as a reproductive specialist, I was broadsided by a lecture from Patrick Steptoe, who described doing in vitro fertilization (IVF) successfully with animals. I realized that humans were next, and sure enough, in 1978, the first test tube baby, Louise Joy Brown, was born. How would I survive as a medical reproductive specialist if in vitro fertilization became successful? I couldn't operate as an internist---I would always have to refer to a gynecologic colleague for surgical egg retrieval. I guessed, though it wasn't as obvious then as it appears in hindsight, that IVF would forever change how reproductive medicine was practiced, and would require surgical skills I didn't then have. That precipitated my moving back west, starting over, and doing a second residency and fellowship, in gynecology and reproductive endocrinology.
After finishing my gynecologic residency at OHSU, I completed my fellowship in reproductive endocrinology at USC, and came back to Oregon---the land that I had fallen in love with---and established the Portland Center for Reproductive Medicine (now Oregon Reproductive Medicine), near Good Samaritan Hospital. When setting up the practice, my goal was to provide both the highest scientific quality, as well as the best patient care possible. After starting a successful practice, and bringing partners on, our program became a pioneer by establishing one of the first major embryology clean rooms to protect the environment around the embryos to facilitate high pregnancy rates. We were also a leader in growing embryos to the blastocyst stage for embryo transfer, resulting in much higher pregnancy rates. 25 years later, Oregon Reproductive Medicine every year continues to have some of the very best pregnancy rates in the world. Helping women and men achieve their dream of having children, with the best chances possible, has been unbelievably rewarding. In vitro fertilization has completely changed reproductive medicine, and newer IVF treatments utilizing genetic testing of embryos to determine which are the most healthy, prior to transfer, is further increasing pregnancy rates and healthy babies. The field is growing with leaps and bounds.
For the first 10 years, though, my practice was a solo one. Although my free time was very limited, establishing the new practice and having 3 children, I looked for a place in the wine country that would be suitable for growing grapes in the future. After months of looking with my limited time, I found a spot in 1992 near the town of Yamhill at the foot of the Coast Range that I thought was ideal. As I established the practice and helped raise the children, I would occasionally get away and spend an evening, or weekend afternoon, clearing scrub oak and planting trees. It relieved the tensions of work, was great exercise, and made me intimately familiar with my land. My ultimate goal was always to grow grapes, when the time was right.
After a fire in 2010 which destroyed years of work in planting trees, I appreciated that I had really enjoyed the time spent planting, and that a new window, and new phase in my life was ready to open up. The practice was successful and thriving, new partners were carrying on with the tradition of the best reproductive medicine, and it was a perfect time to think about a new phase in life. My goal for our vineyard would be similar to my goal in setting up my medical practice---to strive to have the best vineyard possible---to provide the best grapes possible---so that the best wine could be made.
Even as I made the decision to plant, I really didn't appreciate how outstanding a grape growing area the Yamhill Carlton AVA was. The terroir, the land and soil and climate in the northern Willamette Valley, are perhaps the most perfect in America for growing the Pinot noir grape. Just as American reproductive medicine slowly became the world leader in fertility care, I believe that Oregon has the potential to become the world leader in Pinot noir wine. My goal is to grow grapes that contribute to that potential.
Robert Matteri, MD