This week I am focusing on a particular Hispanic winemaker, Jesús Guillén Olvera. Jesús is mostly known for being the head winemaker at White Rose while also making his label Guillén Family Wines. His story started in 2002 when he arrived in Oregon with a degree in Computer Systems Engineering and no zero interest in wine. Jesús, just like all of us, tasted his epiphany wines, and there was no turning back. In case you are curious, those wines were 1999 Archery Summit Arcus Estate and 1999 Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve. He becomes a vineyard worker for Patricia Green Cellars, followed by working alongside his dad at White Rose Estate. Jesús went way down the rabbit hole by reading every book he could, and his obsession didn’t go unnoticed. Greg Sanders, the owner of White Rose, saw the passion, drive, and desire he had and offered Jesús a job in the cellar. The White Rose consulting winemaker Mark Vlossak from St. Innocent mentored Jesús. Jump ahead to 2004 and Jesús was the cellar master for White Rose, and in 2006 he took the opportunity to produce wine under his label.
The opportunity was in the crop that had suffered a severe mole infestation, damaging approximately 1,300 vines. Jesús was a little surprised when he heard the vines were going to be ripped out and burned with the fruit. He proceeded to harvest the fruit, and the owners of Vista Hills vineyard were so impressed by the wine they offered Jesús an ongoing grapes contract for his label. This contract is still in place today. In 2009, one of Jesús’s vintage Pinot Noirs attained a 96 point score in The Wine Advocate – one of Oregon’s all-time highest scores in that publication.
Not only was Jesús’s wine spectacular, but he also had a massive heart of gold. He worked with other vineyards to help provide career opportunities for Oregon vineyard workers. He also wanted to change the narrative behind the wine. So often, the story talks about the winemaker and how the wine is produced. To make high-quality wine, it starts with the fruit. The vineyard workers, who are 90% Latino, are the people growing the fruit without recognition.
When Jesús’s name came up last week during #ajsHappyHour, so many people talked highly of how extraordinary his wines were. Out in wine country, I have heard his name pop up time and time again. I have yet to have any of his wines and currently pursuing to get my hands on a bottle. At some point, the wines he made will no longer be available. Late in 2018, he passed away from a brief and sudden battle with cancer. In closing, I have provided an excerpt from Washington Wine Blog on Jesús’s passing.
Jesus Guillen passed away yesterday, far too early at the age of 37. A brilliant and humble man, he will be greatly missed by the Oregon wine community. I had the great opportunity to interview Jesus years ago. I was very nervous for this interview as it was one of the first I had done for WWB. Jesus was just as nervous as I. Soft-spoken, and down to earth, I cherished this conversation with him. Visiting White Rose on many occasions, I remember Jesus best for his smile that would light up a room.