Since the day Lois and Dave Cho met, creative sparks have flown. Both musicians, they first crossed paths while singing together. Although it would be years before they’d establish a winery, performing together paved the way for future creative collaboration. Two decades, three kids, and one vineyard later, their flinty synergy continues to drive them forward. Now, the couple is finding new rhythm in the Willamette Valley, not only as rising-star vintners, but as dauntless community leaders.
With the founding of CHO Wines in 2021, Lois and Dave established the first recorded Korean-American-owned winery in Oregon. A year later, they invested in a home for the winery, a 77-acre property on the western side of the Chehalem Mountains. As word of their endeavor spread, they leveraged their success to uplift peers by creating the Oregon AAPI Food and Wine Fest.
Set at Stoller Family Estate in May 2023, the inaugural festival was a smash hit, selling out 1,000 tickets. Five Oregon wineries—including CHO Wines, Et Filles, Evening Land, Hundred Suns, and Shiba Wichern—and 10 area chefs cooperated to offer pairings like fried chicken bites with adobo honey glaze and jalapeño served with Chardonnay, or jajang rice cake noodles served with Pinot Noir.
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Such carefully curated food selections offered a type of recognition that, according to Lois, made the festival distinctive. “When we incorporate different cultural backgrounds and flavors, we may open up a cellar door to others,” she says.
Jessica Mozeico, the owner and winemaker of Et Fille Winery, agrees. “When I look at what Lois and Dave have done since starting their business just three years ago, I’m hopeful of the energy, creativity, and collaborative spirit that the next generation brings to the Willamette Valley.”
Not only have the Chos made an impact, they’ve done so in a remarkably short amount of time. “In just two months, we founded the non-profit, coordinated 10 chefs and five wineries, rallied sponsors, and sold out 1000 tickets,” says Lois
Yet the real accomplishment, she says, was in having “multiple people walk up to me with tears in their eyes, brimming with pride, [knowing] that a welcoming space in wine country was made for their culture and their food.”
Early in his career, Dave—a native of Seoul who was a boy when his family immigrated to Canada—shied away from being identified as a Korean winemaker. “I wanted people to know that I paid my dues in the wine industry, [so that they] would take me seriously as a winemaker. My heritage wasn’t all there is to do with my winemaking.”
Yet these days, he is becoming more grounded in his Korean roots. “I realize now that the type of wine I make may be influenced by my heritage. My palate is a culmination of those flavor memories I had as a child and into adulthood.”
The Chos are keenly aware of how land ownership factors into their journey. With their new vineyard property, they are eager to offer their children privileges they did not enjoy as the offspring of immigrants. “Land ownership is new to our family’s history,” says Lois. “We have a unique opportunity now to create a legacy.”
Understanding the progress that the Cho family story represents requires acknowledging the historically hostile treatment of Asian Americans in Oregon (and elsewhere): After the first Cantonese-Chinese settlers entered the state as miners in the 1850s, lawmakers began strictly limiting the rights of immigrants. As in other states (including Washington and California), Oregon adopted “alien land laws” that banned Japanese and Chinese nationals from buying and leasing property. These laws remained in effect until the mid-20th century. Even in the present day, then, vineyard land owned by Asian American families is a rarity.
With their winery and vineyard, Lois and Dave Cho are ready to write a new history—and their dauntless spirit shows they are bound to succeed.
“Our families immigrated to North America from South Korea between the 1970s to 1990s,” says Lois. “They were able to travel across the globe without any financial backing or knowledge of the language or culture. If they could do what they did, we knew that we could [pursue our dream of owning a winery].”
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Amy Bess Cook is the founder of Woman-Owned Wineries, a site intended to identify and elevate female-identifying wine entrepreneurs. Her efforts to spur positive change in the drinks business have been featured in Forbes and Imbibe, and she has published her work in a range of beverage and literary publications. Follow her here.