Interview with Traute Moore, Co-Owner of South Stage Cellars
By Chris Cook, Capiche, capiche.us and capiche.wine President and CEO of Capiche & Capiche Wine, Chris Cook is a leadership coach focused on happiness, culture, living your brand, and winery marketing & PR. She brings decades of experience in marketing and a love of entrepreneurship.
Interview conducted by Melissa L. Michaels, Capiche Contributor/Strategic Partner, Michaels & Michaels Creative, LLC
In 1939, seven-year-old Traute Moore fled to St. Louis from her hometown of Vienna, Austria, with her mother following the Anschluss. Before her father was able to join them, Hitler banned travel by boat. Five years later, they were reunited, and Traute’s life was to become marked by a series of happy coincidences that would lead to her and her husband, retired physician Don Moore, embarking on a viticultural adventure at Quail Run Vineyards. Their son, Michael Moore, would assume management of the vineyard, which evolved to become the largest wine-growing operation in Southern Oregon. In 2008, they launched their own brand, South Stage Cellars, which now boasts a bevy of award-winning wines and a charming tasting room in historic Jacksonville, Oregon. In 2017, Capiche conducted a wine club survey and produced a report with extensive recommendations that, once implemented, not only boosted membership numbers and loyalty but also broadened the demographics from primarily Baby Boomers to Millennials, predicted to outpace Gen Xers in wine consumption by 2026.
Q: Traute is such a unique name, and the pronunciation—Troutee—is even more unusual. Tell me about your name and the history behind it.
A: My name is Austrian. Traute is just a shortening of a very-difficult-to-pronounce name. I was born in Vienna. My mother and I came to St. Louis when I was 7 years old, around 1939. We got out of Austria because of Hitler. My father was supposed to join us later, but by the time he was ready to leave, Hitler had closed all the boats. We were reunited with him when I was 12 years old.
Q: The story of how you and your husband, retired physician Don Moore, made a discovery that would change the course of your lives is a delightful example of crisis blossoming into opportunity. Please tell us how Quail Run Vineyards wound up becoming the next chapter of your lives together.
A: We had sold our partnership in a California orange grove and had taken a vacation. While rafting on the Klamath River, our car window was broken and our clothes stolen. We came to Ashland for repairs and saw we were in a farming area. A realtor kept telling us there was a little grape vineyard for sale, and after the fourth time, we said, “Okay, let’s look at it.” We both fell in love with the view and said, “We can learn to farm grapes.”
Q: In another happy accident, you went huckleberry-picking with Corrine and Porter Lombard, a couple you were to later find shared a passion for viticulture. How did Porter influence Quail Run’s growing endeavors?
A: Don always loved plants, and he and Porter became good friends and advised a number of people planting new vineyards in the region. We also took trips together, and, in Australia, we realized how highly Porter was regarded as a viticulturist when a whole department at the University of Adelaide came to honor him.
Q: Joe Dobbes was another key collaborator. What role has he played over the years, and how did his efforts help bolster Quail Run’s burgeoning reputation?
A: Joe Dobbes was winemaker at Willamette Valley Vineyards, and we were selling grapes to them for what became their second label, Griffin Creek. We became very close to Joe and eventually decided to have our own label. We asked Joe—who at that point had his own winery, Wine by Joe—if he would make the wines, and South Stage Cellars was born in 2008. We eventually worked with several other winemakers in addition.
Q: You guys were the quite the trailblazers, becoming the first in Oregon to grow the Rhone varietals Syrah, Viognier, and Grenache, which turned out to be a perfect fit for the Rogue Valley. How does it feel playing such a pivotal role in nurturing Southern Oregon into the flourishing wine industry it is today?
A: Don, an internist, was always a scientist and liked experimenting. The first grape we introduced was Syrah from a Hermitage clone cutting from Joseph Phelps. We were leasing farmland with different altitudes and aspects and began experimenting with other varieties such as Dolcetto, Pinotage, and Carménère, sometimes moving a grape to a different area where we thought it would do better. Soon, other vineyards began planting some of these varieties, and now Southern Oregon has become quite famous for them.
Q: Today, you are growing 350 acres of 28 grape varieties under the leadership of your son, General Manager Michael Moore, formerly a filmmaker (not that Michael Moore 😉 ). How did Quail Run become the largest wine-growing operation in Southern Oregon? Can you give some examples of major labels that rely on your phenomenal grapes?
A: We sell to about 40 wineries now, and some are small and others large, such as A to Z, Jackson Family, Willamette Valley Vineyards, and King Estate. Growing grapes is an art, just as winemaking is, and we treat each variety a bit differently and work closely with our winemakers. Determining when and how to control leaf removal and—especially—when to harvest are not done by just numbers but by taste and observation.
Q: Michael has embraced this role with relish, instituting some significant agricultural innovations that have changed the way Quail Run operates. Can you describe some of these modifications and why they matter?
A: Michael has continued to experiment, especially with irrigation times and canopy control. He is a dedicated farmer, speaks fluent Spanish, and works closely with the crews and asks for their opinions and observations. He takes great care with the spray program and operates as closely to an organic farm as possible. We have been LIVE-certified for years.
Q: As you mentioned earlier, you launched your own brand in 2008. South Stage Cellars now boasts more than 20 labels. What was it like going from a primarily viticultural supplier operation to marketing your own brand?
A: We had two separate teams. Michael became responsible for the vineyards and winery relations, and I was in charge of developing the tasting room, working with our servers, attracting visitors, and establishing a wine club. It was gratifying to see that people appreciated our wines and the variety we had to offer.
Q: How would you describe South Stage Cellars wines, and what are some of the awards you’re most proud of?
A: We have wine varieties from all regions of the world: France, Spain, South America, Africa, and Australia. We had an educational event called “Wines Around the World” that gave historical information along with wine and food tasting for the various regions. Our Malbec received a Double Gold in the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Our Carménère won Best Red at the Oregon Wine Experience, and our Romeo and Juliet won Best of Show at the Oregon Wine Experience and Best of Show and Best White at the McMinnville Oregon Wine Competition in 2020. We have won numerous Gold medals and other awards for nearly every wine we make.
Q: Over time, your wines have evolved, just as your winemaking has. Describe the journey from your first wine production in 2008 to your current process.
A: We made standalone wines and/or blends with every grape variety we grew. It was not the best business method because we have an awful lot of wine in storage, but it makes it interesting for our customers to try so many different wines. Our wines were previously made up north, and it was difficult to be involved in the winemaking and tasting process. Currently, all our wine is made locally by Weisinger and Barrel 42, which allows us to make smaller quantities and be involved in the acid balance and flavors prior to bottling.
Q: In 2008, you established a tasting room in historic downtown Jacksonville. Built in 1865, this striking brick building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and creates a quaint, welcoming atmosphere for guests, especially when paired with your wine garden. What sets your tasting room apart from others in the Rogue Valley?
A: We strive to make our customers comfortable and relaxed. Both in the building and garden, we have intimate, private spaces where friends can sit. We have music and areas for people to dance. The wine garden is especially beautifully landscaped, and we have a rotating painting exhibit on the walls inside the building. And our customers enjoy the great wine variety we have to offer. We offer live music three nights a week and dinner on Wednesdays, plus small bites at all times.
Q: In 2017, Capiche conducted a wine club survey, which unearthed some surprising data that would help you transform your wine club into the success it is today. What were the most interesting findings, and how have you put Capiche’s recommendations into action?
A: Chris made a number of important suggestions that we have followed. We are increasing our advertising on Facebook and Twitter. We have a revised website. We offered educational events with talks by winemakers and special wine tastings, and we are involved with other community organizations that have programs at our facility. We are very careful to have well-trained and friendly staff who make sure each guest receives the proper attention. We are members of the Wine Cruise event with six other wineries in the Jacksonville area. We have found it very valuable to have our servers do secret shopping so they can see what is useful and not in other situations. And we are playing more jazzy music at our evening events.
Q: Given that your wine members were primarily older, how did Capiche recommend broadening the appeal for a younger audience, particularly Millennials, the largest living generation and predicted to overtake Gen Xers in wine consumption by 2026?
A: Our servers happen to be young men and women, and when I go to the tasting room, I notice we have people of all ages now. A lot of young people are enjoying wine and music. Connie Thomas, our tasting room manager, has been doing a wonderful job of training the staff and is present on the floor at all major events during the week. Our servers don’t just stand behind the bar but circulate among the guests to take orders and suggest food or drinks.
Q: What did you discover about people’s music preferences, and are you catering to those desires in your current live music offerings?
A: Learning about musical preferences was interesting—our members prefer jazz overall. Because of that, we expanded our musical offerings to include several jazz groups and focus on music that has a lively rhythm and invites dancing. We have a variety of performers, including solo singers, guitar players, duos, trios, and entire bands. It is wonderful to have so many really good musicians to choose from.
Q: What strengths did Chris Cook bring to her wine survey, research, and consultation services for South Stage Cellars?
A: The survey of our operations was very useful in understanding the composition of our wine club and the pros and cons our customers pointed out. It has shown us both our strengths and weaknesses. We learned that we need to communicate more frequently with our members by email and Internet to make them aware of our events. To grow our wine club, we need to enhance loyalty by making our members feel special through programs and rewards directed to them. And, finally, we need to have adequate staffing and make sure all our customers are treated with courtesy. Most helpful was Capiche’s list of suggestions. Chris has done a very professional and thorough job that helps us see ourselves as others see us.
Chris has also brought the members of Southern Oregon’s wine industry together in her monthly programs. This ability to meet face to face and exchange information on our various wine club and tasting room operations has been extremely helpful to each of us.
Q: In 2018, tragedy struck when you lost your tasting room manager, Porscha Schiller, to cancer. Can you talk about Porscha’s legacy as well as what your new manager, Connie Thomas, brings to the tasting room experience?
A: Porscha was my manager for many years as well as a dear personal friend. She set the tone for South Stage with her exciting personality and her wonderful ideas, especially the Rising Stars Program, which really started the music that we now have, and her enthusiasm for whatever we were offering to our customers. She made the tasting room fun and exciting.
Connie, our current manager, has an extraordinary palate and deep knowledge of wine. She brings a dedicated business sense to South Stage and treats it as her own. She has very high standards for keeping things at their best, making sure the staff is properly trained and the place looks beautiful as well as serving the best wine and food to our customers. She does an impeccable job of scheduling staff, events, and musicians and managing all the details of running things smoothly. Her quiet, calm friendliness relaxes both staff and customers, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have her as a friend and manager.
Q: Still sharp as ever, you’re approaching 90 and showing no signs of slowing down. What do you foresee for the next decade of your life?
A: Slowing down and fading out. But South Stage brings me joy, and I plan to stay involved as long as I can with the tasting room, my family, and the vineyards. I am not able physically to walk the vineyards now, but I can be Michael’s sounding board, especially at a year when water and obtaining workers is so critical with climate change and nothing will be the same as before in the vineyards.