Growing up, the Van Duzer Corridor was the dividing line (albeit a longish one) between where I was and where I wanted to be; the strand dividing the perpetual sodden glower of Oregon’s central coast and the alien warmth of the Willamette Valley. Even on bright days, the Corridor was dim as the interior of a Douglas Fir-lined wardrobe, shadowed and shaded by bottomless green. There was a moment of exhilaration when we crested the 650-foot summit and our old car could sink into the lazy curves of its decline.
Henry Brooks Van Duzer
The corridor is named for Henry Brooks Van Duzer, a New York-born engineer who became a lumber executive and State Highway Commissioner after emigrating to Oregon in 1898. According to Oregon Biographies he was a keen salmon fisherman; the State Parks website notes: “Mr. Van Duzer was a strong supporter of Oregon State Parks and promoted the protection of roadside stands of native forest.” The Oregon Historical Society Research Library holds a “1 cubic feet (1 document case, 1 flat box and 1 oversize fold”) collection of his papers, which include “Scrapbooks and memorabilia regarding Duzer’s activities with the U.S. Fir Production Board, Portland Chamber of Commerce, the Democratic party and the Oregon Highway Commission… Scripts and stage set illustrations for plays; Certificates; Ephemera.”
This suggests a man of varied interests, a man who valued community and creativity. I would love to know if he wrote the scripts, or drew the stage illustrations himself. If not, whose were they and why did he save them?
Mr Van Duzer’s death notice (Oregonian, April 29, 1951) reported he died at St. Vincent’s hospital after an “extended illness.” Among other things, he belong to the members-only Waverley Country Club (a splendid, Gatsby-esque establishment that boasts it was the second private golf club established west of the Mississippi) and the Multnomah Athletic Club. His wife Francis and adopted daughter, Constance, survived him. If there were grandchildren, I can find no reference.
This slim data argues that Van Duzer would be as pleased by his name’s connection to wine (the contemporary Waverley Country Club has not one but three wine cellars) as he would be by the tribute to his role on the highway commission.
Blowin’ in the Wind
To the best of my memory we never stopped at the park at the west end of the corridor. On the journey out, it was too near home to need a pee; on the way back, close enough to hurry on. According to Oregon State Parks, it is on the site of an early-20th century toll station, one of the many iterations of the passage that began as a wagon trail from the valley to the coast.
That wasn’t a choice I understood as a child. My coastal home town, Lincoln City, averages 82 inches of rain per year and summer highs of 68ºF. Newburg, on the other side of Van Duzer, sees 81ºF and 41 inches of rain. Why would anyone in their right mind go toward the coast? Didn’t they know the only thing that cowed the rain clouds was the steel-blade north wind that drove a stinging surface layer of sand across the beach’s pristine white face?
It transpires, though, that the searing sea wind plus 18-odd miles equals a gift to wine-grape growers. Moderated by distance, the breeze that emerges into the Willamette Valley helps equilibrate temperature, protecting the vineyards in its vicinity from excessive highs or lows. According to Willamette Valley Wine, the wind also, “dries out the vine canopy and decreases fungus pressure… supporting sustainable practices by drastically reducing the need for fungus spray As a phenomenon of wind protection, the grape skins thicken, leading to an abundance of anthocyanins (color) and tannin.”
Message in the Bottle
Joe Wright, direct of winemaking and viticulture at Left Coast Estate, one of the half-dozen wineries in the Van Duzer Corridor AVA explains: “The corridor brings a lot of wind because the extreme diurnal temperature shifts push and pull air through the corridor. This evaporates moisture, especially on south-facing hillsides, so you have a really concentrated berry.”
Another characteristic of the AVA, as noted in the Federal Register document approving its creation, is that its soils are “primarily uplifted marine sedimentary loams and silts with alluvial overlay, as well as some uplifted basalt. The soils are typically shallow, well-drained, and have a bedrock of siltstone.”
These are perfect conditions for wine grapes, in general, and Pinot in particular, as its thin skin and fastidious nature makes it susceptible to root rot and fungal damage. They also contain a gift from the sea. “When the Pacific Ocean used to lap up against Idaho, the bedrock beneath under the Left Coast vineyards and the Van Duzer Corridor was sand and silt,” says Wright. “The weight of the water compressed it into bedrock interladen with potassium-rich seashells.”
The ancient remains of these tiny creatures lend a distinctive mineral note to the wines grown on this soil, making the 1,000 cultivated acres of this 60,000 acre AVA a gift to growers and drinkers alike.