Not long after the last of the grapes in Oregon's Willamette Valley have been harvested, the first snow of the year begins to fly in the bordering Cascade Mountains. In the Willamette, "America's Burgundy," thoughts turn from Pinot Noir to piles of powder. At last, it's time for the winemakers to escape the darkness and dankness of the cellar and get some air—on snowboards.
Recently, when a Pacific storm dumped a load of snow on Mount Hood, Danielle Andrus Montalieu and her husband, Laurent Montalieu of Soléna Cellars, organized a day on the slopes for their winemaker friends, followed by a hearty dinner in an alpine hut. "I've got my father's crazy gene," says Danielle, a woman obsessed with wine and snow. Her father, Gary Andrus, was a downhill racer on the United States Ski Team before becoming winemaker at Napa's Pine Ridge and, later, the Willamette's Archery Summit. Danielle learned to ski soon after she learned to walk; she started working in the family wine business at the age of 10, doing everything from topping barrels to cleaning tanks.
When Danielle met Laurent on a trip to the Cascades in 1996, he was winemaker at Oregon's WillaKenzie Estate, where he established its reputation as a producer of some of the state's best Pinots. "I was a pretty good skier," Laurent says, "but Danielle brought me over to the snowboarding side." He'd learned how to surf in Guadeloupe, where he spent much of his childhood, so making the transition from skiing to snowboarding wasn't difficult for him.