David Lett: “Papa Pinot”

David Lett: “Papa Pinot”

Willamette Valley’s David Lett

David Lett, also known as “Papa Pinot,” was a pioneer of the Oregon wine industry. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in the state’s wine history. His work with Pinot Noir and other varietals helped to establish the Willamette Valley as a premier wine-growing region. And his dedication to sustainable farming practices laid the foundation for the region’s ongoing commitment to environmental stewardship.

David Lett: Early Life and Education

David Lett was born in Los Angeles in 1939 and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. He attended college at the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied political science and economics. However, his love of wine soon led him to pursue a different path.

David Lett, "The Papa Pinot"
David Lett “Papa Pinot” at Eyrie Vineyards | Photo by Ron Zimmerman

In the early 1960s, Lett moved to Burgundy, France, where he studied winemaking and viticulture. He was particularly interested in Pinot Noir, a grape variety that he believed could thrive in the cool, damp climate of the Pacific Northwest.

Founding Eyrie Vineyards

In 1965, Lett moved to Oregon with his wife, Diana, and began planting grapes in the Dundee Hills. He founded Eyrie Vineyards in 1966, making it one of the first wineries in the Willamette Valley. Lett’s early work with Pinot Noir helped to establish the grape as the region’s signature varietal, and his wines quickly gained a reputation for their exceptional quality.

Despite initial skepticism from other winemakers and critics, Lett continued to produce Pinot Noir and other varietals in the Willamette Valley. He was committed to sustainable farming practices and used organic and biodynamic methods to care for his vineyards. Lett’s dedication to environmental stewardship laid the foundation for the region’s ongoing commitment to sustainable agriculture.

Legacy and Impact

Over the course of his career, David Lett’s contributions to the Oregon wine industry were immeasurable. He helped establish the Willamette Valley as a premier wine-growing region and was a pioneer of sustainable farming practices. His dedication to Pinot Noir and other varietals helped to put Oregon wine on the map, and his wines continue to be recognized for their exceptional quality.

In addition to his work with Eyrie Vineyards, Lett was also an advocate for the Oregon wine industry as a whole. He was a founding member of the Oregon Winegrowers Association and helped to establish the Dundee Hills as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). Lett’s legacy continues to inspire winemakers and wine lovers alike. His pioneering work in the Willamette Valley will be remembered for generations to come.

David Lett passed away in 2008 at the age of 69. But his impact on the Oregon wine industry lives on. Today, Eyrie Vineyards is still operated by the Lett family and continues to produce exceptional Pinot Noir and other varietals using sustainable farming practices. The winery’s tasting room in McMinnville offers visitors the opportunity to taste some of the wines that made David Lett a legend in the industry.

winery tasting room
Eyrie Vineyards’ Tasting Room in McMinnville, Oregon

Conclusion: Papa Pinot

David Lett’s contributions to the Oregon wine industry were immeasurable. His pioneering work with Pinot Noir and sustainable farming practices helped to establish the Willamette Valley as a premier winegrowing region. His dedication to environmental stewardship and commitment to producing exceptional wines continue to inspire winemakers and wine lovers alike. And his legacy as the beloved “Papa Pinot” will be remembered for generations to come.

Click here to plan your Willamette Valley Wine Tours.

Want to read more? Try these books!

The Heartbreak Grape: The Search for the Perfect Pinot Noir Pacific Pinot Noir- A Comprehensive Winery Guide for Consumers and Connoisseurs

References:

Asimov, Eric. 2008. “David Lett, Oregon Wine Pioneer, Dies at 69.” The New York Times, October 14, 2008, sec. Food. https://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/14/dining/14lett1.html.

“DAVID LETT.” 2017. Oregon Wine History Archive. June 26, 2017. https://oregonwinehistoryarchive.org/interviews/david-lett-2/.

“The Eyrie Vineyards.” n.d. Eyrievineyards.com. Accessed June 2, 2023. https://eyrievineyards.com.

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