Nak Won Restaurant. Photo by Doug Frierott
Helvetia Winery

Ask a Local: John Platt


McMenamins Grand Lodge in Forest Grove, Oregon

John Platt’s Call to Oregon

When we talk about “deep roots” in the Tualatin Valley, we are not just referring to vineyard vines. In the case of winery owner and winemaker John Platt, the term also refers to his time invested in the area since 1980.

John Platt of Helvetia Winery

John came from the water, literally, leaving his houseboat on the Willamette River in order to buy a 40-acre farm in the Tualatin Valley community of Helvetia. On that land, John now lives in a farmhouse built in 1905 by Jakob Yungen, a Swiss immigrant farmer who settled in Helvetia with his family in 1889. Walking around his property at Helvetia Winery, this deep sense of continuing tradition and appreciation of the land is felt everywhere you turn.

Simultaneous to his call to Oregon, John had the call to politics. In fact, “I first got the Oregon bug while working in Senator Mark Hatfield’s office while attending Georgetown University between 1967 and 1969. Having seen the pictures on the Senator’s wall of Mt. Hood, the Gorge and other beautiful Oregon locations, I decided to move to the Pacific Northwest in 1970.” His first Oregon endeavors included law school at Lewis & Clark, directing the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, and working in the Office of City Commissioner Mildred Schwab in Portland.

Then came the busy, busy year of 1979. This is when John took a position at the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission—a position he held until 2011 and helped to inspire and inform the salmon and wine pairings at his tasting room. 1979 also marked the year that John and his then-wife, Elizabeth Furse purchased the Helvetia farm and planted wine grapes. Elizabeth was in the throes of politics, as well, serving three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives while John embarked upon the development of Helvetia Winery. Today, you may see one or both of them when you visit the winery. John says, “Though Elizabeth and I are no longer married, she leases the vineyard to the winery and remains a neighbor and close friend.”

John has seasoned through many changes and experiences during his 30-plus years as a Tualatin Valley resident, farm owner and winemaker. When asked about his favorite aspect of running Helvetia Winery, John mused that it really is the cyclical nature of it all. In John’s own words:

“The progression of the seasons related to the cycle of producing a vintage wine. Our year starts with pruning in early spring and our first event of the new year, a Valentine’s dinner. As we move into the summer, the tending of the grapes becomes more intense as does the procession of visitors and customers who live nearby and work in high-tech Hillsboro and who are looking for a little rest and relaxation in the great outdoors that surround the Tualatin Valley. We then move to the busy, sometimes frantic, time of harvest followed by the release of the previous year’s vintage and the solace of the holidays and year-end. As best expressed in the Allison Krause song, ‘Get me through December, so I can start again.’”

As a local, John is well-versed in not only wine but also all things Tualatin Valley. We asked John to share of few of his favorite experiences in the area:

Northern Willamette Valley Wineries

First and foremost, visit our wineries. The Tualatin Valley, which is the northernmost part of the Willamette Valley, has a variety of fine wines and fine wineries that offer diverse experiences and flavors. Visit everyone and note the various scales of operation as well as the diversity of terroir in the valley that—when coupled with various winemaking styles—provide a broad array of experiences and sensory delights.

Ethnic Cuisine

Second, our restaurants in the Tualatin Valley mirror the diverse cultural makeup of the workforce. Japanese, Mexican, Italian, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Indian . . . this valley offers wonderful tastes from around the world. Two favorites include Beaverton’s high-end decarli restaurant and North Plains’ casual King Torta.

Lodging with Access to Everything

Third, our hotels and their locations. Just one hour separates visitors from the Oregon beaches, the Columbia River Gorge, or the Cascade Range. I can’t think of any place in the world that offers so many experiences for the senses as our Tualatin Valley.

With his love for Tualatin Valley wine, food and history, we trust John’s recommendations wholeheartedly.