In October, scary stories are hard to resist. Oregon is known for haunted tales, including the famed Shanghai Tunnels and the Oregon Vortex (article here), but the spooky stories don’t stop there. Wineries are also a popular venue for the eerie. Ghost Hill Cellars, Argyle Winery, Owen Roe Winery and Nehalem Bay Winery all have legends that will bring goose bumps to your skin. Fortunately, their wines will soothe any nervous energy.

The Tale of the Dismembered Hand

Owen Roe Winery has a sinister tale indeed. The winery was named after a seventeenth century Irish Patriot, Owen Roe O’Neill, who is an ancestor of co-owner and winemaker David O’Reilly. The inspiration comes from an old family legend. During the seventeenth century, two revolutionary Irish families, the O’Neills and O’Reillys, formed a rowing competition to claim rights to some prized and disputed land. It was agreed that the first to touch the land would control it forever more. The O’Neill’s boat was falling behind so a member of the crew grabbed a sword, cut off his hand and threw it ashore, winning the land for the family. The wine itself is anything but scary—delicious and fun to drink it is modeled after a traditional Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend consisting of 70% grenache, 16% syrah, 9% mourvedre and 5% cinsault.

It is this Rhone-style blend, Sinister Hand, to which the label pays homage: a dismembered hand, dripping and bloody, floating in midair; the wine itself, blood red. The wine was given the name Sinister Hand as a way to honor hardworking and dedicated people everywhere, be they Irish ancestors or modern day winery staff. “Having such a story not only of the left hand but also of the poetry associated with the struggles and joys of being Irish in the old world—I think it’s so emblematic of the story of all hard-working individuals,” says O’Reilly.

The Tale of the Gentle Spirit

Most people know Argyle Winery for their selection of delicious wines, but a dark past hides behind the busy and well-appointed tasting room and winery in Dundee. Lena Elsie Imus, who died at the former Dundee City Hall in 1908 at age twenty-five, is said to inhabit the building—which is now home to the Argyle tasting room. Employees have noticed that lights sometimes go on and off without explanation and the sound of footsteps can be heard when no one is present. Because of this, and to honor what locals think is a gentle spirit, the folks at Argyle decided to name their Spirithouse Pinot noirs and chardonnays after her, or more appropriately, her home for the rest of eternity.

The Tale of the Robbery on the Hill

Another Willamette Valley winery haunting takes place at Ghost Hill Cellars where they make traditional Pinot noir, a Pinot noir rosé and a Pinot blanc that is as white as a ghost. In the early 1860s, Oregon was in the midst of a gold rush. As Ghost Hill legend has it, an old military road ran through what is now the Bayliss family farm (and home to Ghost Hill’s estate vineyard), stretching from southern Oregon to Portland. A gold miner was traveling to Portland with his hard-earned gold and decided to camp at the top of a hill. During the night, a scoundrel snuck into the camp as the man slept, took the life of both the miner and his horse and stole the fortune. To this day, the miner is said to roam the hill—now known as Ghost Hill—looking for his stolen gold. The Bayliss family has owned the 235-acre property since 1906 and came to know the ghostly tale from stories passed down through neighbors.

The Tale of the Coastal Creamery Fire

Perhaps one of the most haunted sites in Oregon wine comes from the Coast. At Nehalem Bay Winery, situated on the northern Oregon Coast, visitors have witnessed supernatural happenings. Two groups of ghost hunters have also spent a few investigatory nights on site. After each investigation it appeared that there was, indeed, some sort of supernatural presence in the winery. Visitors, ghost hunters, and employees alike have reported non-(living) human-related events such as doors flying open, loud crashes in vacant areas of the building, muffled voices (some have noted the sounds of a man and a woman arguing), mysterious shadows and phantom music.

The building itself was built in the early 1900s, and was a creamery and cheese factory from 1909-1969. It is thought that perhaps people perished during a fire that happened in the building during its creamery years, but their ghosts remain. “We do get visitors who come to visit because they are curious about the ghosts, and have lots of questions when they visit or ask to walk through the building to see if they have anything strange happen,” says winery manager Melissa Stetzel. “We let those folks go ahead and wander around. Some take pictures. A customer sent me a few photos they took here that had lights and ‘orbs’ in them. It made their visit here extra fun and exciting.”

Tasting Notes

2011 Ghost Hill Cellars Pinot Noir Blanc, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley ($25)

White cherry, red apple, white rose, orange blossom and honeysuckle characterize this refreshing, and expressive wine with a medium weight on the palate and bright, food friendly, acids.

Nehalem Bay Winery Pinot Gris, OR ($14)

Yellow apple and bosc pear with notes of white tea, chamomile flower, pie crust and almond slivers. Pleasant texture on the palate.

2009 Argyle Spirithouse Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley ($75)

Dried cherry, cranberry, rose petals, cocoa powder and black pepper aromas are met with a rich palate, and long finish with additional notes of cinnamon stick, red licorice and cola. 

2012 Owen Roe Sinister Hand Red Blend, Columbia Valley ($24)

Blackberry, blueberry, and black cherry fruits come together with hints of peppercorn, vanilla and dried herbs. Rich and smooth on the palate with a velvety texture.

Jennifer Cossey
Contributing Writer | + posts