A Backpack For Mobile Workers: Interview With Winemaker Jesse Lange

Knack is a bicoastal company with teams in both Rhode Island and Portland, Oregon, and we love to share the stories about the awesome local businesses that surround us. 

One of these businesses is Willamette Valley's Lange Estate, an award-winning winery and "one of America's great Pinot Noir producers". This week we had the pleasure of speaking with Jesse Lange, an avid Knackpacker who serves as the head winemaker at his family's vineyards and winery, and who also oversees national and international distribution of these incredible wines. 

For those who may not know, Lange Estate Winery and Vineyards has an impressive track record of producing wines rated 90 points or more over the past 35 years. For anyone not versed in wine lingo, this means that Lange's vintages are consistently outstanding (and, if you'd like to try out any of Jesse's fantastic wines, make sure you read to the end of this post for a generous coupon). 

Needless to say, Jesse - like so many Knackpackers - wears a lot of hats. We were excited to learn how he balances all of the different facets of his unconventional but rewarding career. 

And by the way, Jesse takes his Knack Pack with him on work days, so we’re delighted that Knack Pack [indirectly] plays a role in producing one of our favorite beverages.

(photo courtesy of Lange Estate)

What got you into the wine business?

"My folks started our company in 1987- in the basement of their house here in the Dundee Hills. The Oregon wine scene was just budding out and had yet to be realized and recognized, so it was an incredible risk they took to make all this possible."

What does a day in the life of head wine maker look like for you?

"Winemaking is one of my responsibilities and, quite often, my favorite one. Most days begin with banging out emails to fellow grape-growers, distributors across the country, packaging suppliers, and all the usual business that seems to consume an inordinate amount of each day. 

I usually spend a couple hours game-planning for cellar and farming operations, both daily and longer term concepts that need to be executed, prioritized, etc. A couple days a week I’ll check in with actual wines and work on blending wines - by far the most artistic and creative endeavor."

Tell us about Lange Estate Winery and Vineyard? What kind of grapes do you grow? What are the unique qualities of Lange wine?

"Our founding vineyards and winery lie smack-dab in the middle of Oregon Wine Country- in the Dundee Hills. We farm 60 acres here on three separate parcels, but we just purchased a new, 65-acre vineyard forty miles south of here, called Lucky River Vineyard. Very exciting. 

The majority of what we sustainably farm through the L.I.V.E. Certification is Pinot Noir, but we have Chardonnay and Pinot Gris planted as well. 

We are committed to making wines that are farmed responsibly - and we aspire to craft world-class examples of regional and varietally correct wines, that is, wines with a “sense of character and place”.

lange vineyards

How do you find the time to balance growing and running a business? Do you have any tips for staying organized?

"Yah. Time is the most precious of all resources and it's always a challenge finding enough to constantly allocate appropriately. I have two young children as well, so that is another aspect of life that wasn’t quite a thing years back. 

I don’t have any tips per-se, but I’m up at 5am (that’s the farmer in me) and usually in bed just after 10pm. I find the time in the morning is quiet and can be focused on emails and projects for work- without major distractions. I use email as my primary method of communication - as I’m able to store and file them in an organized manner for reference later. Probably because my wife says I don’t listen well and can’t remember anything. :)"

What’s your personal favorite wine and why?

"Well, properly farmed and crafted, there isn’t much that can approach Pinot Noir as a red varietal. Its singular ability to be infinitely complex and compelling, along with transmitting region and site, is unparalleled. And for food compatibility, its range is appreciated by winemakers as well as chefs. Restaurants are my natural habitat, so I keep my chefs close."

Where can people try and buy your wine?

"We are in 38 states in this wonderful Union of ours, and exported into half a dozen countries too. We are heavily weighted towards restaurants, but we are in fine-retailers across the country too. We also have a gorgeous and hospitable tasting room here in the Dundee Hills, so we sell a significant amount of wine direct-to-consumer through our website, our Wineclub, and in person when folks visit."

If you weren’t a head winemaker, what would you be doing?

"Playing point-guard for the Blazers. Sorry, Dame. :)"

What advice do you have for someone who wants to go into a slightly unconventional career?

"Be passionate and willing to put in the work. Fine wine is an incredible part of our culture, but The Grind of making it all happen is real and challenging."

Any other stories or advice that you want to share?

"We’ll need to open a bottle of Pinot Noir to go down that road. :)"

For any Knackpacker who now wants to try an award-winning bottle from Jesse's vineyard, Lange Estate has generously provided a 20% off, limited-time coupon. So head to langewinery.com to choose your favorite, and enter Knack20 at checkout. 

Let us know if you’d like to share your passion with us!


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