Willamette Odyssey - Wine & Spirits Magazine

Willamette Odyssey

An Oral History

From left to right: Sadie, Ian Lombard, Mark Tarlov and Felipe Ramirez soak up afternoon sun in the Witness Tree Vineyard, November 2018. (Photo courtesy of Ian Lombard)

Mark Tarlov, former movie producer, cast the characters and set the stage for many of Oregon’s leading wineries.

THE CAST (Abridged)

Judith Roberts
Roberts met Tarlov in 1979 when he began working for Warner Bros., where she worked as an entertainment lawyer; they married in 1983. Roberts went onto become a successful screenwriter; she and Tarlov would often work in tandem—she writing and he producing films. Their relationship spanned four decades and the entirety of Tarlov’s time in the wine industry.

Larry Stone
Stone was the wine director at Rubicon in San Francisco when he met Tarlov, a customer, in 1995. He later worked for Tarlov as the general manager at Evening Land Vineyards in Oregon. He went on to found Lingua Franca on the property adjacent to Evening Land’s Seven Springs Vineyard.

Sashi Moorman
Moorman made Evening Land Vineyard’s first wines from California’s Occidental Vineyard in 2005. He then helped to establish the Tempest Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills. He and Raj Parr now share responsibility for Sandhi, Domaine de la Côte (launched with the acquisition of the Evening Land Santa Rita Hills property), and Evening Land. He also makes wine under his Piedrasassi label.

Raj Parr
While working as the beverage director for the Michael Mina group, Parr was a sommelier partner for Evening Land. He now shares responsibility for Sandhi, Domaine de la Côte, and Evening Land with Moorman. He launched his own project last year, Phelan Farms.

Dominique Lafon
A fourth-generation winemaker in Burgundy, Lafon consulted for Evening Land Oregon, starting in 2007. He left Evening Land in 2014 to work with Larry Stone, consulting for Lingua Franca. In Burgundy, Lafon is responsible for Domaine des Comtes Lafon, Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, Dominique Lafon, and a custom-crush facility run out of Château de Bligny.

Isabelle Meunier
The first winemaker for Evening Land’s Oregon operations, starting in 2007, Meunier went on to launch Lavinea with co-owner, Greg Ralston, another Evening Land alumnus, in 2014.

Ken Pahlow
After working for St. Innocent for 14 years, Pahlow joined Evening Land Oregon in 2010 to manage sales. He now owns Walter Scott with his partner, Erica Landon.

Erica Landon
Landon met Tarlov in 2009 while working as the beverage director for Ten 01, then a restaurant in Portland. She went to work for Tarlov at Chapter 24 in 2012. She and her partner, Ken Pahlow, now own and run Walter Scott.

Louis-Michel Liger-Belair
The owner and winemaker at Domaine du Comte Liger-Belair in Burgundy, Liger-Belair began consulting for Chapter 24 and Maison L’Envoyé’s Oregon project, Two Messengers, in 2012, and then helped to launch Rose & Arrow and Alit Wines.

Mike Etzel, Jr.
Etzel made the wine at Chapter 24 and Maison L’Envoyé’s Two Messengers in 2012 and 2013 and at 00 from 2012-2014. In 2015, he returned to his family domaine, Beaux Frères (now majority owned by Maisons & Domaines Henriot). Additionally, he makes Sequitur and Coattails in partnership with his father and brothers.

Felipe Ramirez
Having worked for Liger-Belair in Burgundy, and alongside Mike Etzel in the 2013 vintage, Ramirez joined Chapter 24 and Maison L’Envoyé Two Messengers as winemaker in 2015. He helped to launch Rose & Arrow and Alit Wines in 2016.

Pedro Parra
An internationally respected terroir consultant, Parra began working with Chapter 24 in early 2016. He helped to launch Rose & Arrow and Alit Wines. In addition to his consulting, Parra produces wines under his own label, Pedro Parra y Familia.

Ian Lombard
Co-founder of Casparian Partners, a venture capital and private equity group formed to acquire and manage wine related assets, Lombard’s investment with Tarlov in 2016 launched Rose & Arrow and Alit Wines.

In 1995, Mark Tarlov touched down in San Francisco to begin production of Copycat, a psychological thriller starring Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver. Tarlov elected to stay at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel due to its proximity to the famous Rubicon restaurant.

LARRY STONE: I knew Mark because he was a regular at Montrachet in New York, and I was friends with Daniel Johnnes [who was their sommelier]. Every day that he was in San Francisco shooting Copycat, he came to dine with me at Rubicon. He always ordered Burgundy.

Eventually, I told my staff to stop selling him Burgundy unless he would agree to start with domestic wine at least twice a week. Prices for Burgundy hadn’t soared yet. He asked, “If I can drink Roumier Le Cras for $57, why would I drink domestic?”

I convinced him to try Cristom, then Hirsch, Flowers, Marcassin… Mark asked why I thought these were so good, and he was fascinated by how highly regarded they were. He said there was no comparison to what he could drink from Burgundy. I insisted that with the areas these wines were coming from, on the Sonoma Coast and especially Eola–Amity Hills in Willamette Valley, as well as Sta. Rita Hills near the ocean, there was potential. One day he asked me, “What if you could convince a really good Burgundian winemaker to come make wine here? Could I get Roumier to make wine here?”

When Tarlov left San Francisco, he kept in touch with Larry Stone.

LARRY STONE: After 9/11 Mark called and said it was time to get out of NYC and that he wanted to move forward with the idea of owning a vineyard. I suggested that the best place for him, since it was close to San Francisco and his work, and not so large that it would overwhelm him, was Occidental. In 2004, he bought Occidental Vineyard.

Because a former Rubicon sommelier, Sara Floyd, had been working with Sashi Moorman, I recommended him to Mark. Sashi then convinced him to go into the Santa Rita Hills as well. Six months after he bought Occidental he called and said, “I’m in Santa Rita Hills, and there’s a hundred acres. I think I’m going to lease it.”

In 2005, Moorman made Evening Land’s first vintage: White Label Occidental Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. Development on Tempest Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills began in 2006. Tarlov brought on investors to help with development costs.

In 2006, Mark Tarlov began speaking with well-known sommeliers to create Evening Land cuvées for their restaurant programs. Raj Parr, Michael Mina’s wine director, was one of the first to create a cuvée. Through this experiment, he formed a lasting relationship with Sashi Moorman and, four years later, barrels bought from this program allowed Parr to launch his label, Sandhi, in collaboration with Moorman. Parr recalls of Tarlov, “He loved wine and he loved connecting people.”

In early 2007, Evening Land signed a long-term lease for the 65-acre Seven Springs Vineyard in Willamette Valley to launch an Oregon arm.

DOMINIQUE LAFON: In 2006, I was connected to Mark through Daniel Johnnes—he does all the La Paulées in New York. The first thing we did was have a crazy meeting. Mark invited me and Christophe Roumier to lunch at Jean-Georges. He told us that he’d bought Occidental Vineyard and that he wanted a consultant for his California project. But I didn’t want to work in California. I like elegant wines, not too powerful.

Mark ordered a Marcassin at lunch. Christophe told him that it was undrinkable. Then he ordered de Vogüé and he asked us, “How do we do this here?” Christophe told him, “Change the area.”

I still wanted to explore. If it was exciting, I wanted to do it. So, in 2007, I went to see the Seven Springs Vineyard that Mark had leased in Oregon. I loved the place from the start.

That first year, they hired Isabelle Meunier to make the wine for Oregon. The vintage was early in Burgundy and late in Oregon. I was finishing in Burgundy, and I kept telling Isabelle, “Pick! Pick!” But the vineyard management company said we needed more hang time. Finally, I said, “Nobody cares about the chardonnay. Pick that!” The management company told her not to, but they didn’t care [about the chardonnay], so they did it. When I arrived, the chardonnay was beautiful; it had freshness and tension. The pinot was a bit too ripe, but Isabelle was very good at light extraction and retaining elegance. I told everyone that the best wine would be the most elegant, not the most powerful. It was hard to convince people. It was mostly a California mindset then.

By 2009, in addition to properties in California and Oregon, Evening Land had leased a facility in Burgundy called Château de Bligny, to launch a Burgundy arm. Venture capitalist Steve Webster became a major investor.

LARRY STONE: Webster started to put money in just before I began [as general manager]. He came on because a business associate of his from oil, who owned a Meursault domaine at the time, told him he thought the wines were good, and he had shares himself. 

JUDITH ROBERTS: Steve Webster was a huge supporter, and he really loved the project. Mark was trying to do something unique and original and serious. He wanted to understand how great wine comes about—what is the source of it. That’s an intellectual question, but it has everything to do with aesthetics and sensuality. It’s not purely intellectual.

In 2010, Mark Tarlov hired Larry Stone, then managing director of Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon Estate, as general manager and Ken Pahlow as sales manager at Evening Land.

LARRY STONE: Dominique and Mark kept telling me that we needed to make more chardonnay, and I said, “You have to sell it.” At the time there were preconceptions about Oregon chardonnay that was made in a California style—it didn’t work. There was unsold chardonnay in warehouses all over the state. People wanted pinot noir but not chardonnay.

I remember a launch in Georgia where I had to ask our distributor, “If I ship the chardonnay when we ship the pinot noir, I pour it at the launch, and I sell it to your buyers, will you buy it?” The entire allocation was sold at the launch; everyone was talking about the chardonnay, people were angry that they couldn’t get more. Before the end of it, they’d ordered two more pallets.

KEN PAHLOW: Erica [Pahlow’s wife] was working at Ten 01. Mark came in for dinner, and he invited their team out to see Seven Springs. I tagged along because I was curious.

I thought that I liked him immediately. He loved wine, and he had idea after idea.

In December 2009, I got a classic cryptic Tarlov email asking me to meet him at Ten 01. We sat at the bar, and he said, “What do we do to right this ship?” I told him that there was no entry wine, and he’d come out too high on pricing. I sent him an email of what I’d need if I was going to come be his sales manager.

The crew at Evening Land Vineyards in 2010 and 2011 was the best I’ve ever worked with. That’s all down to him.

Tempest Vineyard, AKA La Cote, where Tarlov and Sashi Moorman began work on Evening Land’s Sta. Rita Hills project in 2006. (Photo courtesy of Larry Stone)

In 2011, Evening Land split their Santa Rita Hills vineyard off as a separate entity. Parr, Moorman, and Evening Land investor, Steve Webster, purchased the vineyards and associated wines at the beginning of 2013 and launched the 2011 vintage of Domaine de la Côte.

JUDITH ROBERTS: Mark didn’t mind when everyone did their own thing. That actually pleased him.

In January 2012, Evening Land’s investors announced that Greg Ralston would replace Mark Tarlov as CEO. Occidental Vineyard was leased to Ceritas. Evening Land’s production became entirely Oregon sourced.

JUDITH ROBERTS: It was down to the investors. They were satisfied. The brand was getting traction. It was starting to be well known. The chardonnays were getting incredible reviews. That was the time that another person in Mark’s position would have said, “We’ve found the way to make these wines, and we can rest on it.” But Mark still wanted to make those wines better. Mark was not about resting.

Stone’s relationship with Evening Land also ended in January 2012. Ken Pahlow, who had been making his Walter Scott wines at Evening Land, left the next month, moving Walter Scott’s operations to Patricia Green, and then into its own facility.

LARRY STONE: The investors thought that he spent too much and wasn’t focused enough. But Mark was brilliant, he used to talk about Richard Feynman and how you could find the origin of the universe in a glass of wine. He charmed any journalist. He had so many brilliant ideas. But he did have abysmal returns on the California properties.

After leaving Evening Land, Mark Tarlov began looking at vineyards, gathering investors, and finding partners for his next project, which he launched under the name “Chapter 24,” after the last chapter of Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey.

JUDITH ROBERTSON: Mark believed that Oregon had the capacity for greatness, and he wasn’t going to stop until he had gotten the best out of it. He was interested in how we describe wines, what makes them alluring, what wine does to people’s brains, which yeasts give which flavors. There were so many questions that he had. And if he needed extra money, he would find it. When you make movies, that’s what you do. You have an idea, and you find the financing for it.

MIKE ETZEL, JR.: In 2012, I left my job as vineyard manager for Brick House to make 1,200 cases of wine under Tarlov and Louis-Michel Liger-Belair. Originally, the project was launched in partnership with Patty Green, but there were too many changes and that deal spun out.

Within the first year, Tarlov also decided to start 00. It was inspired by Lalou Bize-Leroy in Burgundy who had this magical snip project [pinot noir berries are hand-snipped off the rachis in order to enable whole-berry fermentation without damaging berries]. Louis-Michel didn’t like it, but we did it anyway. We had a contract with Northwest Wine Company where we were making Chapter 24 and Maison L’Envoyé’s Two Messengers [a project in partnership with Old Bridge Cellars]. 00 was made out of Grand Cru Estates, which is now Gran Moraine.

Mike Etzel, Jr. continued with Chapter 24, Maison L’Envoyé and 00 through the 2013 vintage. He was asked to leave Chapter 24 and Maison L’Envoyé after the 2013 vintage due to his complicated working relationship with Liger-Belair. Tarlov kept Etzel on as the winemaker for 00 through the 2014 vintage. 00’s first wines were launched in 2015 as a 50/50 partnership between Tarlov of Chapter 24 and Chris and Kathryn Hermann. In 2017, the Hermanns took full ownership of 00.

MIKE ETZEL, JR.: I decided to take what I’d learned and make the best wine I could for 00 in 2014. But I went from making what had become 12,000 cases to making 500 cases out of an insulated mobile shipping container.

KEN PAHLOW: The 00 shipping container was in Walter Scott’s parking lot. We didn’t even have asphalt at the facility yet. We immediately started calling it “the fleshy box.” Mikey would pick and then he and 25 guys would sit in front of the box and hand-snip fruit.

In 2015, Louis-Michel Liger-Belair called Felipe Ramirez, asking if he’d like to come make the wines for Chapter 24 and Maison L’Envoyé. Liger-Belair also arranged for Pedro Parra to consult for one of Chapter 24’s vineyard sources.

FELIPE RAMIREZ: I had just come for harvest in 2013. I loved Oregon. I couldn’t believe that I loved it as much as my home in Patagonia. But I was happy in Chile, I had a good job. It was like the NBA of wine was calling me, but I was good. I didn’t know if I wanted to complicate my life. Ultimately, it was another culture and language for my son that convinced me. It’s a gift to give this to someone; it opens your brain.

PEDRO PARRA: Louis-Michel wanted to hire me. For a year, he had been trying to convince Mark how important it was to understand terroir. My first trip to Oregon was for Mike Berchtold, who hired me to work on his vineyard in order to improve the wines for Chapter 24 [Berchtold owned a vineyard that sold fruit to Chapter 24 and later became an investor in Rose & Arrow].

I used that trip to work for Chapter 24 even though I hadn’t been hired. I knew what Louis-Michel wanted. He had asked me for something very clear and simple: “Find the best terroir you can.” But that’s like saying, “Pedro, I need to find a red Ferrari very quickly in this big valley.”

I went to a wine store in Newberg with Ryan Hannaford [Chapter 24’s viticulturist at that time], and we bought twenty of the best pinot noirs from the valley. I tasted all the wines, trying to find the place to start.

The best seven wines were from Eola–Amity. I already knew, in the first trip, that the best wines were there. That changed the focus of the whole project.

I talked to Louis-Michel the same day. I said, “We need to create a program for buying.” The way they were buying grapes wasn’t logical. They were buying by vineyard name. It wasn’t good, and it was very expensive. I needed to find the vineyards.

Then Chapter 24’s winemaker left to go back to Australia [Max Marriott served as winemaker for the 2014 and 2015 vintages]. They needed a new winemaker and, to work with Louis-Michel, they needed to speak French and understand the finesse of terroir and the concept for the project. Louis-Michel decided to bring Felipe [Ramirez knew Parra well]. He was perfect for the project. Then Felipe helped convince Mark to bring me on.

FELIPE RAMIREZ: Mark was very intellectual. If you weren’t in that profile, he wasn’t interested in you. He was very picky about people, and he had a misconception about what Pedro was doing. Pedro isn’t a geologist or a soil scientist. He’s a doctor of terroir—it’s very unusual. Every time Pedro came, Mark would be gone. We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to hire him.

So I said, “Pedro, put one of the Chapter 24 wines in your next terroir seminar and maybe Mark will come.”

Pedro had a seminar in San Francisco. He put Chapter 24 Fire in the tasting, and I told him to invite Mark. Then I told Mark that he really needed to go. He finally agreed.

When Mark came back he was like a baby with a new toy. He said, “Oh my god, Pedro is the most fantastic!” Pedro opened up a whole new perspective for him.

PEDRO PARRA: Felipe called me and said we had the green light.

The second trip, Ryan Hannaford already had six or seven vineyards to go look at in Eola–Amity. I knew Louis-Michel’s taste, and I knew what we needed. The second trip was to see if those vineyards were in or out of the future. They weren’t all good, but we ended up with three to four selections in that year, and the quality of those selections was too good for Chapter 24. That’s how Mark had the idea of Rose & Arrow. In two visits we were very lucky, we skipped 30 years of research.

Mark Tarlov at West Salem Winery in 2010. (Photo Courtesy of Larry Stone)

In 2016, Rose & Arrow and Alit Wines launched with new investors, the main one being Ian Lombard. His investment allowed the purchase of 135 acres across 6 sites. The partnership with Old Bridge Cellars remained intact for the production of Maison L’Envoyé and a small amount of Chapter 24.

IAN LOMBARD: By the time I met Mark, there was nobody in Willamette Valley who had a better understanding of the different vineyards. He’d made wine from 127 different vineyards from 2012 to 2016. If there wasn’t a percentage of Mark’s year that wasn’t spent working on a crazy project, his year wasn’t full. He left behind a legacy of creativity. But in 2016, the direction had settled into Chapter 24. So, I invested. But I wanted the name to change because, if you had 20 minutes you’d be enraptured, but if you only had 20 seconds it sounded like a type of bankruptcy.

FELIPE RAMIREZ: The whole motivation has been to create Rose & Arrow. When Chapter 24 started in 2012, they vinified 35 different vineyards every year. When Pedro came, we blind-tasted everything and scored them. Our favorites were from volcanic sites of fractured basalt. We selected our vineyards, and now we vinify 35 different polygons off of the vineyards we selected, to find the best. [The “polygons” are specific segments of a vineyard determined to have a difference in soil profile by Parra’s electroconductivity maps.]

After Tarlov’s death in 2021, the team remained intact, striving to uphold his legacy of creativity. His wife, Judith Roberts, remains involved.

IAN LOMBARD: I’d like to think that by the time he died he knew that his arduous journey in wine had found something so powerful and unique that it became a part of the fabric of Willamette Valley.

PEDRO PARRA: Mark was the best client I’ve had in my entire career. He was never easy. He was always challenging people intellectually. You were either in or out of his circle. You had to earn his trust. The first day we worked together, we sat in front of a fire for breakfast. He talked and talked and we talked for three hours. I got uncomfortable because people pay me by the day. I said we have to get to work. He said, “Relax, I’m working.” We spent the whole morning talking about philosophy.

What made Mark difficult, his creativity, is one of the things that made me happiest. He was always in creation mode. If you understand that Mark was a movie director then you understand everything, and you can work with him. Some people couldn’t handle his lack of focus. But our team had focus. Mark’s job was to dream. Felipe and I used to create a schedule. Then Mark would arrive and change everything. So we stopped with schedules. He was always testing you. Always looking for the next actor in his movie. Always asking if you were up to it.

KEN PAHLOW: Mark could never just settle for epic. His mind would not let him.

The vision that began with Evening Land and concluded with Rose & Arrow fundamentally changed the Willamette Valley. Directly or indirectly, Mark Tarlov launched and helped to launch a baffling number of projects.

LARRY STONE: Rose & Arrow was the most brilliant idea of all. He wanted to bring nuclear physicists, geologists and biologists together to study what makes terroir—that was his endgame.

He asked, “Can we understand and change winemaking in Oregon?” Before Mark most people thought you could take any old grapes and make wine.

DOMINIQUE LAFON: I learned a lot in Oregon. I learned types of density. I learned markets. I learned volcanic soils. You have to adapt. Mark’s idea from the start was never to make Burgundy out of Oregon; it was always to make the best wine Oregon could offer. A copy is never as interesting.

This story appears in the print issue of Spring 2023.
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