Owen Roe Winery's David O'Reilly
"Owen Roe's Winemaker Dream, Living the Life of O'Reilly"
First published November 2001, Update May 2012 by Christina Kelly, Avalon Editor/Writer
If there is such a thing as the luck of the Irish, winemaker Owen Roe Winery's David O'Reilly has found a pot of gold underneath his Willamette Valley, Oregon rainbow.
O'Reilly is a dapper man- meticulous in appearance and in his work. When he smiles, there is mischief in his eyes and smile crinkles-a sign that smiling is a frequent behavior.
Everything about Owen Roe that O'Reilly touches has to be the best. It is almost an obsession with him. From huge, gorgeous wines to hand-numbered bottles and objects of art gracing his labels, O'Reilly spends the money for a total package.
"Every thing we do is meticulous," said O'Reilly, 37, one of 12 children born in Belfast, Ireland. "What we do is totally uncompromised. It is a lifestyle that includes hard work, but the product is thoroughly rewarding."
Everything O'Reilly does is also thoroughly Irish. The wineries associated with O'Reilly- Owen Roe, O'Reilly's - have ties to his former homeland. Owen Roe was named for Owen Roe O'Neil, a great Irish patriot. O'Reilly's, features a drawing of a huge Irish wolfhound on the label.
"I like to tell people that I got involved in the business to follow an Irishman's dreams," said O'Reilly with a wink and an Irish brogue that comes and goes. "Imagine making a living by drinking!"
He jokes of course, because O'Reilly is dead serious about wine making. Although he enjoys the high ratings bestowed on his wines, O'Reilly says he is more satisfied with great taste.
From Harsh Life to Lush Life
The combination of his Irish heritage and obsession about being the best says a lot about the affable winemaker. His luck and his taste for the good life wasn't always granted.
As a young child in Belfast, the O'Reilly family-all 14-was of modest means. Life was harsh, and often violent as the family witnessed a depressing catalogue of death and injury due to sectarian violence.
Between 1966 and 1999, a total of 3,636 people were killed and 36,000 injured as the conflict spread beyond Northern Ireland's borders onto the British mainland and elsewhere, according to reports. Many of the victims were innocent civilians.
O'Reilly said two of his uncles were murdered, a sister suffered a traumatic injury, and one never knew when and where a homemade bomb would explode.His family scraped up enough money to move to British Columbia, Canada just before his teen years, and O'Reilly never looked back.
"I'm sure the past did have some impact on why I want the best from what I produce," O'Reilly said, thoughtfully. "I'm not like Frank McCourt in Angela's Ashes-I choose not to look back and dwell on the past."
On to Oregon
Instead, O'Reilly looked to the future, majoring in philosophy at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA, where he met his future wife, Angelica. It was there that he discovered a love of land and soil. He worked at a small winery in Southern California performing all the tasks necessary to get the wine out the door.
"If you want to study truth and reality, it's grounded in nature," O'Reilly said. "The wine business is drawn intrinsically to nature and soil. You don't get into this business to make a fortune-I was drawn to it."
For more than six years, O'Reilly worked for Elk Cove performing marketing tasks. However, he was leaning more and more about winemaking. The urge to make his own wine was singing inside his head. It was at this time that he met Peter Rosback, an amateur winemaker who helped the winery during crush.
Rosback was also bitten by the urge to produce wine. With Irish heritage and love of good wine in common, they struck a partnership and created Sineann.
"David has a great palate and is one of the best marketing people in the state," Rosback said. "We're a good team. Each of us brings talents to the table to produce the best wine we can. Of course, it starts with great fruit, and that also has to be the best we can get."
In addition to Sineann, Rosback also makes wines for Medici, where the owners allow Sineann to be produced. He also consults with O'Reilly on Owen Roe and O'Reilly's.
"Peter brings an irrepressible passion to everything he does," O'Reilly said. "I think that's why we are such good partners."
O'Reilly and Rosback left Elk Cove in 1998 to produce wines in relatively small quantities. While Sineann is produced at Medici, O'Reilly has a new winery to produce Owen Roe and O'Reilly's. He spends a great deal of time on the road, from spot to spot, overseeing vineyards. He and Rosback purchase grapesfrom the Willamette Valley to Hood River to Walla Walla and Columbia valleys in Washington state.
The good news comes in the form of a converted barn, his own facility for Owen Roe and O'Reilly's. Sineann will continue production at Medici for the time being.
"I will be happy to have one location to produce my wines," he added.
Owen Roe O'Neill
Poem on the back of the "Sinister Hand" Bottle
race kinsfolk for it,
need to touch land first,
not going to make it,
grab my sword,
touched land first."
About the author:
For more than 20 years, Christina Kelly worked as a newspaper reporter on the West Coast, covering education, public safety, government, business, environmental issues, entertainment and minority affairs.
During the same time, the Washington native began her lifelong interest in wine. After two decades in the news reporting business, Christina decided it was time to concentrate on her passion - the wine industry. She is our indispensable staff writer and columnist.
This intelligent, charming powerhouse graces the Northwest wine industry with her insights, tastings and conversations with those in an industry that has exploded in the past few years.