James Frey knows he’s fortunate to have two jobs he’s passionate about.
He makes wine for his Trisaetum Winery in Newberg in the fall and summer. And he’s an artist in the winter and the spring.
Frey incorporates dirt, pressed pinot noir grape skins and vine cuttings from his vineyards right onto the canvas.
It’s his way of honoring his source of inspiration, he says.
“It provides fascinating texture and it ties the art back to a sense of place,” says Frey.
Walking through the leafy rows of his stunning vineyards, you can easily see where he finds his inspiration.
“It’s such a tranquil place and there’s such a beauty and peacefulness. Even with a storm rolling in. When I’m painting in the winter, my paintings tend to be more stormy, but still peaceful and serene,” says Frey.
Frey says his painting also inspires his winemaking. Every year, he makes 10 varieties of Pinot Noirs and Reislings by balancing elements like acidity, tannin, aromatics and fruit. He says it’s similar to painting with multiple shades of reds, greens, blues and other colors.
“You can’t make a great wine without art,” says Frey. “Just like I’m combining colors in a paint, I’m combining different barrels to try to create interesting and unique complex wines.”
Frey is one of the 11 Willamette Valley artists featured in an exhibit at the Oregon Historical Society called Oregon Vineyards: Through the Eyes of an Artist.
The owner of Art Elements Gallery in Newberg helped curate the show, which presents many artistic styles.
Loni Parrish remembers the first Oregon vineyards planted in the 1970s. “A good friend of mine — Mary Grace Marsh — her dad took out his fruit orchard and put grapes in. They were eccentric anyway. We just thought Jim had gone over the edge. He had put in grapes for Erath.”
Since then, the wine industry has grown tremendously and has radically changed Newberg, according to Lauren Wylie, Art Element’s gallery manager and a curator of the Oregon Vineyards exhibit.
The Willamette Valley wine country woos tourists from all over the country, says Wylie.
“They’re people who are used to going out and spending money and enjoying nice food and nice art. It’s bringing a whole cultural group to our community. And we’re better for it,” she says.
These cultural tourists have attracted artisanal liquor makers, new restaurants and clothing boutiques to town, she adds.
Parrish wants to keep Newberg authentic and steer clear of becoming a mega wine city.
“We’re not like another wine city that I won’t mention and hope not to be like that,” she says. “We’re really proud of where we live and the beauty of our country and the hospitality of our town.”
Land-use laws will keep the “country” in “wine country,” according to Parrish.
Wylie believes Newberg merchants will stay true to their core values, while embracing a local industry that’s a growing force on the national and international wine scene.
“Without the wine industry we wouldn’t be here,” says Wylie.
Like making wine, it’s all about finding the perfect balance.
The Oregon Historical Society currently hosts Oregon Vineyards alongside the exhibit Clink! A Taste of Oregon Wines. Artifacts and photos in Clink! take you on a journey from the wine industry’s beginnings, through Prohibition, through international fame and into the future. Both shows run through September 20.