Byron Dooley’s passion for wine began in college, was fostered around the world, enriched in Napa Valley, and continues through today, as he continues to make wines that we love.
The story of how he found his way to his dream job began while Byron was attending Oregon State University. He and his wife, Dana, were first introduced to wine through wine tasting excursions that Byron can still recall today.
“I can still remember some of those early bottles and the moment of tasting them: the silky texture, complex layers of fruit, and the long lingering flavors,” Byron said. “The seed had been planted and the passion for wine grew until it eventually called to become my primary pursuit.”
Byron and Dana were then introduced to European varietals in Illinois, where Byron’s passion continued to grow, just in a different state. His respect for fine wine and European wine making techniques deepened, and they began vacationing around the world in a quest for quality wine.
“As our interest in wine increased over the years, more of our activities started to revolve around trying different wines in different settings, in wine tasting groups, conducting wine dinners, and of course, traveling to different wine regions, primarily in France and Italy,” Byron said. One of his favorite memories takes place in Cinque Terre in the Liguria region on the coast of the Italian Riviera, where he remembers a Vernaccia that was the perfect complement to fresh Pesto and lightly seasoned seafood.
Despite a passion that drove travel and in-depth research, Byron didn’t begin a career in winemaking until after years in the technology industry in Silicon Valley. In pursuit of a dream, Byron and Dana sold their house in San Francisco and moved to a 140-year-old farmhouse in Napa County’s Howell Mountain appellation, where Byron went back to school at Napa Valley College to get a degree in viticulture and winemaking. He planted a small vineyard and started producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. He interned at respected Pinot noir producer Williams Selyem, and also made his own Bordeaux-style wine from two successive vintages of Napa fruit. Meanwhile, Dana launched a chocolate business based on recipes and techniques she’d developed over a 20-year period.
As Byron’s graduation approached, he and Dana began looking for their next step and found the answer in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, where they first fell in love with wine, so many years and excursions ago. They fell in love all over again with the areas beauty, climate (rain and all), and world-class Pinot Noir.
For Byron, it was about the wine more than anything. In spring 2004 he knew he found the site he wanted to plant his vineyard at. After researching the slope, orientation and soil composition, meeting with the vineyard and wine making experts, Byron bought what is now Luminous Hills and planted the clone and root stock that would make the best use of such an ideal location for Pinot Noir.
His first vintage was in 2006, after engulfing himself in the collaborative nature of wine making in the Willamette Valley. Byron began contracting with select growers in the Willamette and Columbia Valleys, and created a portfolio of limited production wines that reflect the distinct characteristics of their terroir. Byron continues to work closely with growers when making viticultural decisions to ensure each bottle and each vintage is an expression of its unique growing conditions.
“It’s been a satisfying journey of developing a long-term plan, working each step of the plan, adapting to the changing conditions along the way, and putting an emphasis on enjoying the process and relationships along the way,” Byron said.
And so he has landed here, in a cozy tasting room for Seven of Hearts / Luminous Hills wine, where he is determined to make wines that we love, share them with enthusiasm, and have fun doing so. We hope you will stop by the Carlton tasting room for the next chapter of this great adventure, by enjoying a glass of wine that reflects a very special place, the pursuit of a dream, a little luck, and a lot of heart.
“While the road to where we are has been different than one would have or could have predicted, we are in the place we hoped to be doing what we love: making about 4000 cases of wine with two areas of focus: producing estate Pinot noir from a unique and special place, and making the many other varietals I love by exploring other vineyards with diverse soils and climates around the Willamette Valley and Columbia Valley.”