Descendant adds wine selling to family's pioneer legacy.
Friday, May 30, 2014 | By Karl Klooster, News-Register
Until Thursday, Mac's central district had never before been graced by an independent wine shop. Now it is, thanks to Jeff Woodard, proprietor of Retour Wines.
The business has been a dream of Woodard's for years, and he's delighted to have secured a high-profile space - the former Shutterbug building behind the U.S. Bank Plaza.
"It's a great spot for tourists and locals," he said. "They'll get a huge breath of Oregon in one stop."
Once potential customers step through the door, they won't be able to resist being drawn in by the proprietor's infectious enthusiasm. "I've personally selected every wine here," he said. "I know them all and can guide a customer to precisely what he or she is looking for."
Woodard approaches his work with a level of energy and vitality that can be attributed to inherited genes. Far from denying that possibility, he celebrates it. Justifiably proud of his family heritage, he will readily relate that his great-great-great-grandfather, Jacob Conser, came to Oregon in 1847. That makes Woodard a sixth-generation Oregonian.
Conser soon took up a claim along the Santiam River east of Salem. His enterprising efforts made the single greatest impact on the area during its settlement period. He first founded Santiam City. Unfortunately, it lay in a flood plain and eventually suffered the consequences. He went on to found Jefferson, under its original name of Conser's Ferry, in 1851. In addition to a ferry service, Conser developed a flour mill a grist mill and a lumber mill. He also established an education center and opened a hotel bearing his name. He became a member of the first Oregon Legislature in 1859, and went on the serve many years as a Marion County Judge.
Woodard's McMinnville connections go back three generations in themselves, thanks to a business his grandfather launched on Third Street. Members of the two succeeding generations also operated successful businesses on Third Street at one time or another. His grandfather owned Les' Appliance Service, his grandmother Ginny's Hobby Shop and his mother Leigh Woodard, a popular confectionary called the Candy Basket.
It's no exaggeration for Woodard to say he tastes everything he puts on the shelves. "How else can you wholeheartedly recommend something?" he asked. Though only 33. his cumulative knowledge stretches back more than 15 years. "Don't tell anyone," he quips, "but I started tasting wine and fell in love with it, when I was in my mid-teens. I helped work the 1999 and 2000 vintage at Ponzi when I was 18 and 19 years old."
Blame the underage introduction on his older sister, Lindsay. She was already immersed in wine while Jeff was still attending Linfield. And she encouraged him to work at Ponzi and volunteer at IPNC.
She founded her own winery, Retour, in 2005 - two years after her brother's graduation. By then, the Yamhill Valley wine industry was already making big waves on the world scene and Jeff was already knee deep in it, having just spent a year with Jim Bernau at Willamette Valley Vineyards.
His address book bulged with names, numbers and email addresses of prominent Oregon wine people. And his next job, as Northwest sales manager for Inertia, expanded the reach of that book to the entire region. He went on to work the sales side for Zena’s and Archery Summit, then became Wine Director at The Carlton Winemakers Studio. During five years spent simultaneously serving the needs of 12 winemakers, he built immeasurably on his already solid foundation of knowledge and experience. That gave him the confidence to go out on his own.
Woodard said so many people gave of their time, knowledge and advice, it’s difficult to name them all. But he couldn’t help but point to Jimi Brooks and Michael Stevenson. He said Steve Doerner and Eric Hamacher were also major influences.
He said there are many more, and they know who they are. He said he sends his heartfelt thanks as well.
Though he’s only been open for a week now, Woodard is already convinced he made the right descision. Merely going down the list of suppliers and resources that gain him access to rare and unique wines verifies that.
Woodard Wines not only boasts an inventory of limited production releases from small Oregon wineries, it also features hand-selected wines from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Hungary. And this isn’t just an accumulation of brands you could readily find elsewhere. These wines come from portfolios of importers who scour the European continent, seeking little-known finds and securing exclusives for their export.
With his knowledge of and passion for wine, supported by dozens of wine people from Oregon and elsewhere, Woodard is well positioned to succeed in making his dream of entrepreneurial success a reality. He does have one regret. With the time commitment he has made to get the business off the ground, at least for awhile he’s going to have to give up his favorite pastime – fishing.
Woodard Wines is open 11a.m. - 6:p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. For special orders and consultation, Woodard can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 971-237-2502.