An eyesore on an Oregon vineyard’s hillside morphs into a magical water garden; the story behind Pfeiffer Winery’s special outdoorscape
Five years ago visitors gathering at the Pfeiffer Winery, some six miles west of Junction City, Oregon, were greeted by the sight of a soggy, scruffy hillside depression surrounded by one of finest vineyards in Willamette Valley.
Grapes thrived in the steep, south-facing location, but winery owners Robin and Danuta Pfeiffer didn’t find the thick brush patch fronting their acres of pinot-on-the-vine quite as appealing.
So they contracted with Trever Stroda from nearby Conser Quarry to clear out the 10-foot high blackberries and dense overgrowth, dig a small pond for the spring to feed into and in the process create a nice outside area for their wine-tasting guests to enjoy.
But what started as a simple three-day project ended up being far more complex and wonderful than the winery owners first envisioned.
Well into the second day of the excavation project, a budding landscape designer by the name of Chauncey Freeman stopped by the Pfeiffer Winery for a visit.
“I was out wine tasting one day and they were in the middle of digging the pond,” recalls Freeman, who is now owner of Fifth Season Landscape Design in Junction City. “So I asked about their landscape plans. They really didn’t have one. The Pfeiffers just said they were trying to create an outdoor space that would allow people to come out of the tasting room and have a nice relaxing spot to enjoy their wine.”
As luck would have it, Freeman was finishing up his final year at the University of Oregon, where he was majoring in landscape architecture. So he made his pitch on how this big grassy slope and pond could be made into something special.
His primary selling points: 1) Design a space that reflected Pfeiffer Vineyards’ uniqueness; 2) create four-season enjoyment from the plants; 3) use local materials; 4) implement conservation practices; 5) keep the space low maintenance; and 6) use unique plant palettes for color, size and texture.
The Pfeiffers liked what they heard and hired Freeman to be their landscape design consultant – his first paying client.
Freeman envisioned what the finished landscape would be like a decade later. “Whenever you are choosing plants for projects such as this, it’s really important to think about the different textures and colors, and how those things mature. Give the plants ample space to grow,” he says, “and think about how the people will actually be using the space in five to 30 years, because that’s really where the value of landscaping comes into play.”
Those thoughts guided the young landscape architect as he and the Pfeiffers talked over ideas, watching each new piece of ground moved and formed.
“My husband and I designed the landscape by the seat of our pants while the ponds were being dug out,” says Danuta. “But Chauncey [Freeman] and Trever [Stroda] refined and defined those ideas into the magical water garden we have now.”
“What started out as your basic three-day job turned into a monthlong project,” says Stroda, whose family owns Conser Quarry. He served as the equipment operator tasked initially with the clearing and excavation work and eventually with all of the land sculpting and trenching, as well as the building of water features.
“I brought in more than 100 tons of black basalt from our quarry,” says Stroda. “Black basalt is the primary stone here in the area. There are at least 30 truck/trailer loads of that rock here in the garden, from the crushed stone on the paths to that huge boulder sitting in the middle of the second pond. This was a big job.”
Five years after the Kobelco’s bucket teeth pierced the earth, the Pfeiffer water garden has started to mature nicely and is a natural magnet for the vineyard’s visitors.
As Freeman says, “It has matured to reflect both my goals and the Pfeiffer’s. The space was large enough that we were able to use a broad pallet of large trees. And the extension of the rock terrace fingers reaching back toward the tasting room really draws visitors into the garden.”
Walking Pfieffer’s landscape creation, wine glass in hand, is hard to resist. The garden’s wrought-iron tables, arched bridges, burbling brook and the winding stone paths are candy for the soul, much like the Pfeiffers’ world-class Pinot Noir is for the tongue.
Everyone involved is proud of the end result. “It was truly a serendipitous endeavor,” says Danuta, remembering how a chance encounter while digging a dirt pond turned into the focal point of Pfeiffer Winery.