BUENA VISTA -- Steve Dunn thought it might be a relaxing way to spend his retirement following almost 40 years in construction -- growing wine grapes on his small, picturesque 6 acres south of Independence.
A friend assured him it would be easy enough, "just plant and spray once in a while," Dunn recalled.
"It was a very rosy picture," he added with a laugh. "The truth is, you're spraying once a week, buying equipment, arranging hedging, picking and planting ... it's a lot of work."
It's also a passion.
Dunn, 63, began growing and selling grapes in 2006 and eventually ventured into wine making. In May, he opened Redgate Vineyard, one of the newest additions to Polk County's perpetually increasing list of wineries.
The boutique operation entails 2,400 vines of pinot gris and pinot noir and a just-finished 850-square-foot tasting room.
Dunn, a homebuilder and later union carpenter, came to wine and the industry late in life. He bought his farm 14 years ago and leased it to a neighbor for grazing cattle.
When that individual passed away in 2006, Dunn started mulling other uses, and chose grapes. He wasn't a wine enthusiast before then.
"I was in construction," he said. "And a lot of construction workers are typically beer drinkers."
The vineyard started as a side business. He then increased the number of vines on his property, enrolled in a viticulture program and jumped in full bore.
One of his classmates was Steve Baron, now his vineyard manager and winemaker. Baron was a sourcing and commodity manager for Hewlett-Packard for 30 years until he was the victim of downsizing in 2009.
"This has been a lot more fun by far," Baron said. "One thing I've enjoyed is the cooperation we've experienced between vineyards ... in a different business, if we went to a company and asked how to do something, they probably wouldn't help because they're competitors.
"Everybody so far has been willing to help."
Baron said Redgate harvested almost 4 tons of grapes in 2011.
"It was a great year," he said. "We lost maybe seven clusters overall to disease out of 4 acres."
Besides its own fruit, Redgate is also purchasing grapes to produce its pinot gris and pinot noir, merlot and syrah.
Dunn said he was a late convert to wine.
"And now I'm trying to convert all my friends, too."
Check It Out
* Redgate Vineyard, 8175 Buena Vista Road, is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Live music will be featured in the Redgate tasting room every Saturday through July from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information: 503-838-9883 or visit www.redgatevineyard.com.