The Vineyards and Winery
Helvetia Vineyards and Winery is on the northern rim of the Tualatin Valley on the southwest face of the West Hills of Portland (Tualatin Mountain) in the community of Helvetia. It is the closest winery to the city of Portland (only 25 minutes away).
The vineyards and winery are located four miles north of highway 26, the main artery connecting Portland with Oregon’s north coast, so it's a great place to stop on the way to the beach.
Swiss and German immigrants settled the rolling hills of Helvetia in the late 1800s. Prior to prohibition, the community was also known as Grape Hill because of the area's cottage wine industry. Jakob Yungen (whose 100-year-old house became the winery visitors' center), wrote home to his relatives of his new home in Oregon. Of the grapes he said, "The North wind howls here every time it frosts. However, the grapes often ripen full and wonderful."
Jakob Yungen's original winemaking equipment is still on exhibit at our visitors' center. We believe he continued his winemaking during Prohibition -- for medicinal purposes, of course -- underground in the current wine cellar. Historic photographs at our visitor center show members of the Swiss community hoisting glasses of Helvetia-made wine outside the Swiss Club which was once located across Bishop Road. We also have photos of fiddlers in 1906 at the winery, inspiring our current holiday fiddling series.
In these hills John Platt farms what has become 70 acres of forest, vineyards, and Christmas trees. John and Elizabeth Furse moved to their farm in 1980 and began planting wine grapes on the southern slopes in 1982. The slopes range from 500 to 750 feet in elevation. The soils are Cascade, a sedimentary clay loam and Saum or Jory, an iron-rich soil called Red Shot by local farmers because of its resemblance to shotgun pellets.
In 1987 they made their first wine, and in 1989 they started selling grapes to home winemakers. From 1992 to 1995 they custom-crushed their grapes at Laurel Ridge Winery under the Helvetia Vineyards label and opened their own winery in October 1996.
The Yungen House
In 2001, Platt purchased the adjoining Jakob Yungen property with its 100-year-old house to use the grounds as a visitors' center for wine tastings and other events as well as Christmas tree sales. The farm also has two rustic barns.
Weddings, business off-sites, and monthly winemaker dinners take place at the farmhouse. The casual country atmosphere provides a perfect setting for a family-friendly rural outing amidst the vineyards, Christmas trees and a beautiful Oregon upland valley.
In addition to their commitment to the farm, Elizabeth and John continue their wider involvement in the community.
John Platt is a lawyer and consults for the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission. He has worked with Columbia River treaty fishing tribes and salmon recovery for over thirty years. He served as president of the association of Wineries of Washington County between 1999 and 2003. He graduated from Georgetown University and his law degree is from Lewis and Clark Law School.
Elizabeth Furse represented Oregon's first district from 1993 to 1999 as congresswoman in the United States House of Representatives. Currently she is a board member for Kah-Nee-Ta Resort and the Tamastslikt Cultural Center as well as the Washington County Historical Museum.