Graduation Year: 
1959

BS Mechanical Engineering ’58
MS Mechanical Engineering ’59
President, Henry Estate Winery | Umpqua, Ore.

 

In 1972, Scott Henry began to grow grapes on 300 acres of bottomland where the Henry family had once grown orchards, row crops, and livestock feed. Today, the softly rolling foothills of the Umpqua River Valley cradle the rich farmland that is now home to Henry Estate Winery.

Some might think it’s a stretch for a trained aerospace engineer to transfer his skills and knowledge to the vineyard and the crush, but Henry disagrees. “There are a lot of engineering challenges in winemaking, as in any agricultural product,” Henry says. “You need to be an engineering type to make wine — it’s the pure challenge of it.”

Henry grew up on the farm and learned his basics in a one-room schoolhouse that sits across the road from today’s winery. He excelled in math at Roseburg High School, but had no real college plans. A good friend was heading to Oregon State and encouraged Henry to come, too.

“When I got to orientation, I didn’t know if I was going to gravitate toward agriculture or engineering,” Henry recalls. “The deans stood up before the freshman class to describe their curriculum. Dean Gleeson from engineering — a crusty old guy — threw out the gauntlet. He had 20 students stand up, representing how many would begin in engineering. He then had 18 sit down and the two remaining, he said, were going to graduate in engineering. That was a heck of a challenge for me.”

Henry went on to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering with an aeronautical emphasis. He worked for 14 years for Aerojet, an aerospace company that develops missile and space propulsion technology for defense markets. It was there that a co-worker introduced him to wine through his Italian family’s wine business. “Up until then, I was strictly a beer and whisky guy,” chuckles Henry.

With advice and consultation on that Umpqua Valley bottomland, Henry came home to Oregon and his family planted 12 acres of varietal grapes. In 1978, he opened the winery. Today, Henry Estate Winery has 50 acres in grapes (with 200 available to plant) and produces 30,000 cases of wine annually. Henry is considered an Oregon pioneer in the field, and his operation is joined by 30 additional wineries comprising the Umpqua Valley’s burgeoning wine industry.

Along the way, Henry put his engineering degree to good use. His rich bottomland is a little too fertile for a vineyard — the vines grow wild with a verdant canopy, whereas good wines come from plants that have struggled a bit. Through sound engineering and experimentation, Henry developed a unique trellis system for his plants that opens the canopy to sun and air and forces vines down to contain their growth. The system — officially called the Scott Henry Trellis System — is known and used throughout the world in coolclimate viticulture.