The Murto Vineyard, located in the heart of the Dundee Hills, is surrounded by some of the most iconic vineyards in the Willamette Valley and fruit from this vineyard sets itself apart from its neighbors with its signature density of color, which shows itself right away in the glass. This vineyard was originally planted in 1978 with subsequent plantings in 1992 all under the tutelage of pioneers Dick Erath and Jim Maresh. Tended since 1991 by the Murto family, it was acquired by Real Nice Winemakers in 2018.
In 1991 Mike and Robin Murto purchased six acres of property in the Dundee Hills, with no intention of growing grapes. However, the land had been in farm (tax) deferral and needed to be actively farmed to maintain the deferral status. As they looked around at neighboring properties, all they saw was grapes – so that is what they decided to plant.
In 1992 the first Pinot Noir vines were planted. At the same time an adjoining 20-acre property became available and the Murto’s acquired it as well. This property was planted with eight acres of grapes that had been planted in 1978. Now the couple were faced with tending these vines while also planting their own.
Knowing next to nothing about grapes the Murto’s bought viticulture books and talked to other growers. Their neighbors, especially, Jim Maresh and Dick Erath, were their mentors, and they called them when assistance was needed.
At the time the Murto’s both had day jobs, so the vineyard work was done in the evenings and weekends. In spite of “making some mistakes” the couple learned how to properly tend the vines, and sold their fruit to other producers. Over the years additional vines were planted. Eventually the vineyard included 16 acres of Pinot Noir and one acre of Pinot Gris.
The Murto’s did most of the vineyard work themselves, including all of the pruning. Pruning started in late December and finishing in early February. They each had their own tractor and sprayer which allowed them to do all of the spraying and tractor work. This was a lot of work but satisfying, and allowed the couple to maintain a high quality of viticulture which was reflected in the high quality of grapes produced.
From 2002 to 2015 the couple had wine made under their own Cleo’s Hill wine label, using grapes from the Murto Vineyard. They generally produced 50-80 cases of Pinot Gris and 150 cases of Pinot Noir. Their wine was sold direct to customers as well as in selected wine shops.
The Cleo’s Hill label was inspired by their vineyard cat, Cleo Marie, who would regularly follow them when they went out to work in the vineyard. She would sit on top of the trellis poles and watch the activity below. As the Murto’s moved through the vineyard Cleo would hop off one pole and scurry up another, supervising their work. Cleo has since passed away but the Murto’s say her spirit is still alive and well in the vineyard.
According to the Murto’s they never “worked so hard, met so many nice people, or enjoyed such great wines, as we have while owning this vineyard. When we set on this path in 1991, we had no idea where it would take us. But, in hindsight, it’s been a great journey and one we are both happy to have taken.”
The Murto Vineyard was sold in 2018 when the Murto’s decided it was time to retire.