By SCOTT CUNNINGHAM
Lange had his first taste of Pinot Noir and found himself hooked. “It was sort of like ‘Blowin' in the Wind’ on my car radio,” he says. Now he makes music AND wine.
Iowa, poetry, Folk music and Pinot Noir have probably never appeared together in a single sentence. But they perfectly explain the journey of Don Lange, Folk singer and owner of Lange Winery in Dundee, Oregon. Lange has been, and is, all of those. To understand his journey, we have to go back to a 1949 Ford truck.
Lange was driving his truck in his home state of Iowa in the early 1960s when Peter, Paul, and Mary's version of “Blowin' in the Wind” came on the radio. He had always been interested in writing and poetry, and had written a series of adventure stories in elementary school. “I was writing fiction and stories well before writing lyrics,” he recalls.
Like many in his generation, the music of Bob Dylan influenced him deeply. “’Blowin' in the Wind’ went beyond Sha Na Na. It was amazing,” he says. “It was an epiphany for me and I got interested in guitar and there was no looking back.”
For Lange, the songs of Dylan were so engaging, they stimulated an interest in poetry. Lange eventually graduated with a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Iowa. During his studies, he was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to support his increasing interest in songwriting.
Lange considers the 1960s the Golden Age of Folk music. “As a college student, I'd go into Folk rooms and they'd have these listening parties where they're playing folk music and everyone is quiet. When the music started, you sat and listened. To me, that was incredible.”
His performing eventually led him to Chicago, where he became involved with artists like Steve Goodman and John Prine. The Windy City is mostly known today for Blues but during the 1960s and early 1970s was an impressive hub for folk artists.
Still living in Iowa, Lange would commute to Chicago for gigs and to record his first album for the label Flying Fish Records, founded by Bruce Kaplan. Just as his musical career was gaining traction, the Folk music of the 1960s gave way to the Rock of the 1970s. “The whole folk music thing was evaporating as the 1970s came on. It became Rock ‘n’ Roll and spandex, and the fog machines, and decibels, walls of Marshall amps blowing your eardrums. Nobody wanted to sit and listen to the lyrics any more.”
As the Folk scene slowly faded, Lange decided to leave his roots in the Midwest. He considered moving to New England, where artists like Pete Seeger and The Band had made homes and kept the Folk tradition alive. New England, however, proved to be too cold for his tastes and in 1978 he headed west to California, following Goodman and Prine. After a brief stint in Los Angeles, he settled with his wife in Santa Barbara.
While there, Lange had his first taste of Pinot Noir and found himself hooked. “It was sort of like ‘Blowin' in the Wind’ on my car radio,” he says.
In short order, Lange and his wife committed themselves to making wine. “We were uniform in our decision that we wanted to make Pinot Noir, so the question became where do you do it in the New World? You can't just move into Burgundy (France) because you can't afford it, you don't speak French, and nothing is available…We were tasting everything we could get our hands on,” Lange says. “We were able to find two bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir in Santa Barbara and it was so clear to us that that was the place.”
Shortly after tasting the Oregon wines, the pair visited for a scouting trip, looking for a place to grow grapes and open a winery. They eventually settled on farmland just north of Dundee, planted their first vines, and opened for business in 1987.
Just like starting any new venture, or musical career, the early days in Oregon were lean. Lange played weekly gigs at the Bridgeport Brew Pub, then owned by friend and fellow wine-maker Dick Ponzi, to make ends meet.
“When we got here in '87, we didn't feel like we were pioneers because they were already here. But, it was the dark ages of the Oregon wine industry and it was dark for at least a decade after we were here. We turned a corner when we were out in the market and people were able to pronounce Oregon.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, or vines, Lange still works daily at the winery and records in his home studio filled with acoustic guitars that share space with his wine cellar.
“There's always a new vintage pushing you forward and I've got all these new songs to record. But I think I can be little more relaxed about it now,” he says.