Fate conspired to bring two women to Oregon in the late 90s, several years before their lives intertwined at Airlie Winery.
Mary Olsen had been transferred to Oregon from the Midwest as an executive for Northwestern Bell. During her two-year stint in Oregon, she “fell in love with the state and the wine industry.”
“I'd go out on weekends to the wineries, and this was in the early nineties so all the wineries were kind of like my winery is today, small,” recalls Olsen. “You'd meet the owner or the winemaker. Everybody was just smiling from ear to ear. You had no idea if they were making any money, but they were happy.” After the company sent her elsewhere, she joked that in her next life, “I was going to buy a winery and move back to Oregon.” Prediction fulfilled: Olsen bought Airlie in 1997.
Winemaker Elizabeth Clark says “it was complete luck” that she ended up in Oregon. She caught a ride to Oregon with a McMinnville caterer from a California wedding in 1999 and ended up working for the caterer for six months. Intrigued by Oregon wine, “she talked her way into learning how to make wine under Myron Redford at Amity,” explains Mary.
When Olsen suddenly lost her first winemaker in 2005, Clark came to help out, and soon took over as winemaker.
Today, Airlie revels in its identity as a female-run destination winery, well off the beaten track. Visitors appreciate the laidback atmosphere, where dogs are welcome to splash in the pond and children run around chasing frogs while their parents enjoy prizewinning wines in the wooded shadow of the Coast Range.