Trademarks & Hospitality

Martin Barrett loved entertaining. When he was growing up in Salem, his mother hosted big parties. “We had a big dining room, and that dining room was filled,” he said. “The bedrooms were filled. I grew up with that and loved it. I realized the power of hospitality.” The pickup parties Cuneo threw for people who bought cases of Cuneo Cellars wines were social events—people would come to get their wine and stay for hours. When the new winery in Carlton was being planned and built in the last years of the 1990s—with the added business advice and investment dollars of John Hall and Ken Knight—Barrett began to think about ways to include more hospitality and events in the winery experience.

It was more than a business decision for him. Just as winemaking was an expression of Cuneo’s Christian faith, good food and good cheer expressed Barrett’s. “If you’re really doing hospitality in the name of Jesus, which is how I describe it, it’s not mercenary,” he says. “We do it because we genuinely honor people, and we love people, and it’s not just about the money. We have the privilege of serving people, hopefully the way Jesus would serve people.”

The new winery opened in early September 2001, with production goals quadrupled to more than six thousand cases per year. While Cuneo managed the business and the tasting-room sales grew under Jody Christensen, Barrett made occasional trips south from his Washington home, to Carlton.

By the end of 2004, Cuneo Cellars had reached many of its goals. Production indeed hit or exceeded six thousand cases a year. Sales grew from less than $50,000 in the pre-Carlton years to nearly $1 million. This didn’t make the winery profitable—the partners were still recovering from the expense of moving into the new building, and the price of increasing production fourfold was enormous. The best news was that the winery had become a star on the wine-tasting circuit: Wine Press Northwest named Cuneo Cellars its 2005 Oregon Winery of the Year. New partners with even more capital and business savvy came on board.

Cuneo was producing up to ten different kinds of wine (depending on the quality and availability of the grapes each season), and he was becoming overwhelmed with the challenge of running what was on track to become a multimillion-dollar business. In January 2005, Cuneo announced in a memo to the staff and partners that there would be some restructuring in the operations of Cuneo Cellars: Barrett was named general manager. He planned to expand the retail operation while Cuneo concentrated on making wine.

Barrett had his own vision for Cuneo Cellars: he wanted to create a lively restaurant and party scene at the winery, with a full-service kitchen serving meals for events. Such a thing had rarely, if ever, been attempted in the Willamette Valley. The costs of running a restaurant were high, and nobody knew if the market—mostly Portlanders driving down for weekend wine tastings—would support both the winery and the food.