Was there a specific wine, moment or place that unlocked your passion?
Tom Huggins: There wasn’t really a specific wine or winery that got me hooked. As an agricultural insurance agent, I specialized in insuring vineyards and wineries. One of my clients was a vineyard developer and consultant. We became good friends, and in fact, all of my clients all seemed to love what they did – it was more a “way of life” for them. I told the developers one day that I might be interested in getting into the business myself, and they said, “Tom, why don’t you come along with us today. We are going to look at some property west of Salem that we think has great potential.” I ended up making a deposit on the property, which became our first of several vineyards. It is on Oak Grove Road, and we named it…guess what?…Oak Grove Vineyards.
Since all I had money for was the down payment on Oak Grove, I coaxing several fraternity brothers from Oregon State University, along with my parents, siblings, and friends to join me and we planted grapevines the following year, 1982. We then added some stockholders, bought more land, and planted more grapes, and then started the winery– Eola Hills Wine Cellars in 1985. Today, we have 5 different vineyards and manage several others totaling more than 300 acres, and have evolved into one of the more prominent operations in Oregon.
What did you study in school and what were you doing before you started in the wine industry?
TH: I studied Engineering, Business Management and Marketing – nothing to do with growing grapes or making wine, but it helped prepare me to know how to sell them.
How has being in the wine industry changed you?
TH: I don’t think it has a lot– other than I am in a different business now. It has definitely become my “way of life.”
What’s your favorite part of being in the wine industry?
TH: The wine industry has enabled me to make a living doing what I really like. It has also been very rewarding to have worked so many years with my brother Jim (Vineyard Manager), my late mother and father (former tasting room manager), my other brother and 2 sisters as stockholders, and now my daughter Kylie (National Sales Manager), and my son Brett (Regional Sales Manager). We added a travel component to our business, and always tie everything to wine with trips to various wine regions around the world (2021 will be our 15th trip abroad). As a big sports fan and outdoor enthusiast, we do a lot of biking, hiking, and travel to sporting events– always hosting large groups with like interests.
Looking back, was there something in your past that led you to wine?
TH: As I alluded to in my first answer, having so many clients that all loved what they did, it made me want to have that same type of life, and after 38 years I have no regrets!
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