• Sarah O'Kelley

Winemaker Q & A: Anne Amie Vineyards


In an effort to diversify the blog I am excited to introduce some q&a sessions with winemaker friends! First up: Thomas Houseman of Anne Amie Vineyards in Willamette Valley, Oregon. I have known Thomas for too long to count. Many moons ago we collaborated on an event at my own restaurant, and we just hit it off. 

When I sold that restaurant and took some time off to really study wine I knew that I wanted to work at least part of a harvest somewhere, and Thomas came immediately to mind. So in September 2015 I packed a few pairs of old jeans and ratty t-shirts and boots and flew to Oregon. There I spent ten days working my butt off but having the time of my life. Thomas creates a fun, caring working environment that is a reflection of himself. I will forever cherish that time! (See pic above for proof; the smile does not lie.)

I am thrilled to introduce you to Thomas and perhaps to Anne Amie Vineyards, but many of you wine nerds have most likely visited there if you have done an Oregon wine country trip. If you have not be sure to check it out once our world opens back up and you feel safe to travel. It’s  a gorgeous location with equally gorgeous wines. 

P.S. Yes, it’s true Thomas’s first career was in modern dance in New York City! Keep reading to see how that leads to a career in wine.

How long have you been making wine?

My first harvest was in 1999. But, my first full-time job was in 2002. I have been making cool-climate wines ever since.

What initially drew you to this world? Happenstance? Or even a certain bottle?

Wine was never part of my life growing up in the South. My parents don’t drink. They have never tasted my wines. Isn’t that a little strange? When I was dancing professionally, we often wouldn’t get to eat until after performances. It would often have been 10+ hours since I had eaten a real meal. We’d have receptions after the show with VIPs- often with fine wine and food. It was all I could do not to wolf down the food and wine. But, I had to keep my composure and talk. It was at these receptions, while I was starving, that I first discovered fine wines.

How has it felt to be a winemaker during the COVID pandemic? Even as the world pauses grapes keep growing…

I am thankful to have had a job to do. I have been able to go to work every day. It has given me focus. I have been very fortunate, and I am appreciative. I realize my story is not the story that most have, and I am grateful for that every morning.

What has been your own therapy during this crazy time -- Wine? Food? Exercise?

All of the above. What started as necessity, has become a challenge. It went from eating out of the garden to not have to go into a store, to foraging for what is available seasonally in the woods, to trading others for what I foraged for durable goods, to a complete overhaul of my diet and lifestyle. My diet has been almost completely guided by what I can grow and forage (and trade). I have also been hiking every weekend. It has become a game to find trails that are about as difficult to find and hike as possible. This means I don’t encounter other humans. And, fortunately, I have found lots of edible things on my hikes to supplement my gardening. Once again, I realize how fortunate I am.

Have there been any especially memorable bottles or meals during this time? I know I have certainly tried to find reasons to celebrate and open special bottles. There has also been that “smoke em if you got em” feeling to this whole thing!

I would like to say I have cracked open some wonderful bottles of wine, but I have really just been a creature of habit. I have drunk a lot of rosé. We have our Pinot gris rosé on tap here at the winery. It is just too easy to pour a jelly jar full, cook dinner, and watch another beautiful sunset from the patio. I would say, the one skill I have mastered FINALLY during this time is how to make salad.

And what is the key to a great salad??

Salad, like so many things in life, is about simplicity. I think I was always trying too hard, adding too many flavors- essentially I was asking the salad to multitask. And, as we all know, multitasking means nothing gets done right.

How does the 2020 harvest look to you? From a perspective of quality? But also from the perspective of staffing? Is that any different from “normal” non-pandemic years?

It is really still a work in progress. We are trying to figure everything out. We have a framework, but the rest is still responding to what is going on. Let’s just say (no pun intended) it is a fluid situation.

On a personal level what lessons do you hope to take away from this tumultuous year and what is your vision for moving forward as a country and as a global citizen?

So many thoughts here. The biggest one is that I can really see for myself is to be thankful for friends. My world has gotten much smaller, as I have shut myself off from the chaos around me. I just want to be clear, it is not about being less open to the world around me, but quite the opposite. I am open to the world, but grateful for the little things in life. For me, that is about being grateful for good friends, a job that I love, and how I have slowed my life in a way that has allowed me to appreciate these things in a way that I didn’t see when I was busier.

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