Work & Business
All In The Family: Fullerton Wines Making A Name For ItselfSeptember 27, 2018
What started as a longstanding appreciation for wine has turned into a successful business for the Fullerton family.
“We have always been interested in wine,” said patriarch Eric Fullerton, who was introduced to winemaking in the 1960s when he was a teen.
Now he and his family with Scandinavian roots are making a name for themselves through the small winery, Fullerton Wines, they started in Corvallis, Ore., in 2012. The winery, which has a tasting room in Portland at 1966 NW Pettygrove St., will produce 10,000 cases of wine this year.
Fullerton Wines has been collecting awards for its products since it opened.
In 2015, for example, Fullerton Lux Chardonnay received a 94 rating and was named Editor’s Choice by Wine Enthusiast magazine. This June, the website VinePair ranked the winery’s Three Otters Rosé one of the best 25 rosé wines in the world.
Forbes magazine singled out winemaker and son, Alex Fullerton, as a winemaker to watch in Oregon in 2016.
“Alex will turn 30, and he has over 30 wines with 90-plus ratings, which is humbling and incredibly wonderful,” said his mom, Susanne Fullerton, who hails from the small village of Gillhov, Sweden.
The fact that Alex is a winemaker makes perfect sense to his mom.
“Alex has an extremely delicate palette,” she said. “He’s interested in tasting and blending. This is what he loves to do, and we are super proud of him.”
Born in Denmark, Alex moved with his family to Oregon when he was 9 years old. He caught the wine bug on his high school graduation trip when he and his dad toured the Burgundy and Champagne regions of France. Alex was impressed with the hospitality and welcoming aspect of one of the winemaking families they visited.
“I was interested in beer brewing in college,” said Alex, who has degrees in economics/business and viticulture, the cultivation and harvesting of grapes. “After I was 21, I was tasting wines with my dad at a few wineries in Willamette Valley, Oregon.”
He began his career working for a winery in Oregon before moving to New Zealand to work during harvest and returned to the States to work for Bergström Wines and Penner-Ash Wine Cellars.
“I learned the business from working in wineries and asking a million questions,” he says, adding that he joined Fullerton in 2012 when it opened.
Family dinners played into his love of winemaking as well.
“Food was always the highlight of the day, and very often a bottle of wine was part of that,” Alex said. “I had always seen wine as a part of the meal and a part of celebrating. When I got into the industry, I realized everyone in the industry is like that. We all celebrate food and life. That’s what guides our wine. It’s meant to be set on the dinner table.”
Everyone in the Fullerton family touches the business. Daughter Caroline designs all the labels for the wine.
“She is not part of the day-to-day activities,” Susanne said. “Our youngest son, Filip, just graduated from high school, and he helps Alex in the vineyard. We all do it out of love. It’s fun.”
The family owns about an acre of chardonnay grapes but works with about 30 acres of vines, much of which they lease.
“We don’t just show up with a truck and pick up the grapes when it’s harvest time,” Susanne said. “We are very involved during the growing season.”
As winemaker, Alex is involved in decisions with the growers.
“The fruit is the most important part,” he said. “One of the biggest things we have done is find vineyards with good fruit.”
The winery produces 12 different labels that include Three Otters, which come in a Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Rosé and honors the family crest, and Five Faces, an acronym for the first names of the five family members – Filip, Alex, Caroline, Eric and Susanne. The winery also produces many single vineyard wines. At Fullerton, everything “has to do with the family name,” according to Alex.
Its wines are distributed in 21 states that span from the west to the east coast.
“We are also in Singapore and Denmark,” Alex said. “We will soon be in Sweden. For being a young winery, we are fairly well distributed.”
The family has found it challenging at times to build the channels a winery needs for distribution.
“It is a really polarized industry,” said Eric, who is of Danish descent. “There is camaraderie when you are growing the grapes and making the wine. Everyone is friendly.”
Once the wine is in the bottles, the industry changes, according to Alex.
“You might take a wine to a distributor, and he or she will taste it and spit it out,” he said. “It becomes competitive. You are on your own. Camaraderie doesn’t exist on the go-to-market side. You have to be energetic, forceful and working hard to find people that want to sell this product.”
Everyone in the family is proud of their Scandinavian heritage.
“We honor that,” Susanne said. “We do a lot of Scandinavian cooking for events where we cook a lot of Swedish and Danish traditional foods. We try to share our food, culture and hospitality with people when they come to Fullerton. We want them to experience Scandinavian culture.”
In Sweden, when someone comes to your home, you don’t let them leave without offering them something, Susanne added.
“In my family if you are having dinner, you put another place setting at the table and say ‘Join us.’ That’s the culture in which our family was raised.”
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