hen the pandemic hit in 2020, some people used the downtime to write their first novels, redo their houses, or stockpile sweatpants. Dave and Lois Cho started a winery.
Begun in 2020 and sending out its first shipments in May 2021, CHO Wines is an ode to Willamette Valley pinot noir in all its forms. As Oregon’s king grape, it’s usually produced as a straight red wine. But with CHO’s initial bottle release offering eight styles that run the gamut from standard pinot noir red to sparkling wines including a blanc de noirs and a pétillant-naturel, the husband-and-wife duo is showing that this Old World grape is capable of new tricks. “It’s interesting to get such character and different styles from the same grape,” says Lois.
The Chos’ winemaking story began when Dave was performing music at winery tasting rooms in Southern California; he then moved north to study enology and viticulture at Oregon State. During his studies, the couple fell in love with the Oregon wine scene.
Dave is particularly drawn to producing wine using grapes from high-elevation sites. Right now, CHO is sourcing its grapes from the 1,000-foot high Laurel Vineyard in the Laurelwood District American Viticultural Area, near Gaston.
“I’m focused on high elevation sites because it creates really focused wine with so much character,” he says. The Chos say the later harvest at that altitude allows for more flavor development and structure.
The Cho family is currently based in California, regularly traveling to Oregon for wine-related business. While Dave handles the winemaking, Lois runs pretty much all other aspects of the operation, from marketing to their growing social media accounts, where she documents what it’s like for the pair to run a small winery on top of raising a young family and juggling Lois’s career as a family nurse practitioner.
After concluding their 2021 harvest, the Chos announced in November that they’d purchased a 77-acre site on the western side of the Chehalem Mountains. With an elevation of 650 to 1,150 feet, plans are to plant pinot noir, chardonnay, Syrah, and Aligoté, and open a tasting room by 2023. The Chos plan to move back to Oregon this summer to be closer to the winery.
As Oregon’s first Korean American winemakers, the Chos are glad to bring Asian American representation and diversity to Oregon’s wine industry. But they also want their wines to be about bringing people together and finding common ground.
“Yes, I’m Korean American, but that has nothing to do with my winemaking,” Dave says.
While naming their winery CHO is in part due to their last name and heritage, the word also stands for something else: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, the basis of all life.
“We want to celebrate diversity but also celebrate our commonality,” says Lois. “At the end of the day, we’re all made up of the same elements.”