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As It Was: Peter Britt Becomes Early Oregon Winemaker

One of the first wine makers in Oregon, Peter Britt, began growing table grapes on a slope where Britt Music Festival audiences now picnic.  He created his first wine in 1858 from a vineyard northeast of town.  According to the Jacksonville Review, he sold as many as 3,000 gallons a year for 50 cents a gallon, the equivalent present-day purchasing power of about $14 a gallon.  In 1873, the IRS issued him a bill for back taxes.

Britt paid the taxes, got a business license, and sold wine under the Valley View label until his death in 1905.  By that time there were more than a dozen winemakers in the area. 

The Oregon Enforcement Act closed the wine industry in 1916, four years before Prohibition was enacted nationwide.  Vineyards gave way to fruit orchards, and winemaking was not revived until the 1960s thanks to an experimental vineyard in Central Point and viticulture classes at Rogue Valley Community College in Medford.

One of the earliest modern vineyards, still operating today, began in Ruch and was called Valley View in honor of Peter Britt.

Sources: Daspit, M J. "In the Beginning There Was Peter Britt." Jacksonville Review, jacksonville review.com/in-the-beginning-there-was-Peter-Britt-by m-j-daspit/. Accessed 20 Sept. 2019; Pinney, Thomas. A History of Wine in America: From the Beginning to Prohibition. University of California Press, 2007.   

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.