Lelo and Bob Kerivan first started shaking up the Oregon wine industry in 1986, when they converted a 75-acre field in Southern Oregon’s Illinois Valley to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Pinot Gris grapes. “You’re crazy!” exclaimed experienced growers, for Lelo and Bob planted dense rows of vines only six feet apart, instead of the usual 12 that prevails in the United States. “You can’t fit a tractor through the rows,” the naysayers continued. The Kerivans not only ignored the criticism, but ventured further from typical American grape-growing practices, pruning each vine to allow just 20 buds, instead of the usual 60 to 80. To outsiders, the couple looked like rebels without a cause.
But in fact, the “rebellious” Kerivans were acting on carefully researched plans that were deeply rooted in European tradition. Lelo had grown up in Germany, where dense planting of vineyards is a centuries-old practice. When she and Bob, a Miami air freight executive, decided to retire in the Illinois Valley in 1979 (“the fishing was excellent”), Lelo recognized the region’s potential for growing European varietals. “Every German dreams of having a vineyard,” laughs Lelo. Her hobby soon outgrew the two-acre yard, and the Kerivans purchased the adjacent field to create Bridgeview Vineyard and Winery. Lelo’s son René arrived from Germany in 1980 to play a hands-on role in the family business.
The rebels’ approach turned out to be right. Almost overnight, Bridgeview sprang to prominence in the Oregon wine world. Today, the winery has a storage capacity of 300,000+ gallons and a production capacity of 100,000+ cases, which makes Bridgeview one of the largest wineries in Oregon. The winery is still very much a family-run operation, with Lelo and Bob at the helm and René serving as both winemaker and Vice President. Success hasn’t changed the Kerivan’s original focus on having fun while making wine. Says Lelo, “If I saw this as work, I wouldn’t do it!” To this day, Bridgeview has continued to shake up the wine world.