Story by Jenny Wood, Photos by Samantha Starns
For over three decades Parker has spent countless hours mastering meat, and he wants to bring the finest flavors of beef, pork, and chicken to your table.
Summers in the Umpqua Valley wine growing region are gorgeous. As the wet spring weather warms to summer, the vineyards lining the backroads come alive. Twisted vines flash green leaves as you drive along the countryside, beckoning you into one of the many outstanding wineries in the Umpqua Valley. Each winery has a unique story to tell and the owners and the individuals that run them often have an unexpected skill set beyond winemaking.
Melrose Vineyards, just a short drive west of Roseburg, is just one of these wineries that offer so much more than world-class wine. As you turn down the gravel drive there are vines as far as the eyes can see. The upper level lot is home to a beautifully restored 100-year old barn, meticulously refurbished to be a cozy tasting room and gift shop. Next to the tasting room a picnic area overlooks the large grassy field on the lower level; shady trees lazily blow in the wind along Champagne Creek.
On certain special occasions the barbeque grill behind the tasting room barn might churn smoke into the sky. Wayne Parker is in his happy place, busy at work barbecuing racks of ribs, chicken breasts and thighs, and homemade pork bratwurst for hungry guests. A strong, sturdy man, Parker maintains a wrestler’s physique from his younger days, with broad shoulders and a square jaw. His weathered hands show the hard work he has put in after years of tending vines, welding, butchering, and grilling. In front of him on a four-foot long custom welded grill is a mosaic of decadent delicious meat; to the side a pan of barbeque sauce waits to adorn the ribs with their sweet finishing touch.
Parker is more than just a barbeque artist, he is the owner of Melrose Vineyards. Not your typical oenophile, Parker came a long way before settling into the winery world with more than three decades of experience butchering, cutting, cooking and serving meats of all kinds.
Early on, as a high school student in the small coastal farming town of Watsonville, California, Parker took on a laborious job cutting chickens from whole to retail portions at his hometown butcher shop Alpha Beta Meats. As his abilities quickly improved he became apprentice meat cutter and developed the foundational knowledge of the different muscle groups and the skill to cut them down into steaks, chops, and ribs.
Away at college on a wrestling scholarship, Parker found another meat-centric job, but instead of butchering he was cooking it, with a Portuguese gentleman name Philbert Vierra.
Despite several years of experience in the meat cutting world, Parker’s culinary exposure to meat was limited. He was used to steak extra well-done. “At home we always ate fully cooked tough meat,” Parker laughs, “like a steak you could patch a tire with.”
Vierra prepared for Parker a rack of beef ribs that forever impacted him. “After eating meat cooked medium rare, spiced to perfection,” Parker reminisces, “I realized what I was missing out on, after understanding the way meat could taste when it was cooked properly, I was a changed man.”
Vierra introduced Parker to a wide variety of grill-cooking techniques and the two began to sell street corner barbeque. Their hottest seller: tri-tip. “No other vendors were really doing it like we were. [Vierra and I] rubbed the meat with Santa Maria seasoning and started off selling the cooked meat at farmers markets, eventually we set up our barbeque stand on a street corner in Grover City, California, before we knew it we were selling out every day.”
From Vierra Parker built upon his foundation of knowledge; he learned a lot more about meat, and began to develop a cooking style that was heavily influenced by the prominent Portuguese, Armenian, and Mexican cultures that lived on the central California Coast. Though his time with Vierra was short it formed a lifelong friendship and the experience cooking made a lasting impression.
The death of Parker’s father brought him home from college and back to retail meat cutting at Alpha Beta. Back home in Watsonville Parker, just 19, met and married his late wife Deedy, a grocery store checker working towards her real estate licensure.
Both partners were driven to succeed: Parker continued retail meat cutting and began his own mobile custom slaughtering business, working the two jobs simultaneously. Deedy completed her certification to sell real estate and entered into the fruitful realty world. After an especially lucrative year- Deedy sold over 200 homes in a new development- the two counted their blessings and cashed in on a 100-acre raisin grape farm to start a family and for a simpler, more relaxed lifestyle.
You might guess that didn’t last long. With Parker’s drive he could only sit and watch the grapes dry up for so long.
Slowly, casually Parker started to fabricate grills as a hobby apart from farming. Small tailgate grills or 24-foot long smokers, roasting spits, and giant versions of the classic UFO-shaped style barbeques and Parker learned to make it all. His hobby soon turned into an accomplished craft and Parker was making custom grills and selling them to an array of buyers.
Using his experience and knowledge from grilling meats in Grover City with Vierra, Parker began to experiment with barbecuing on his grills. Slow-roasting whole pigs on his custom-made spits, he offered the barbeque goods to family and friends at first. There was soon demand for not only the grills, but the barbecued meats as well. Soon enough, Parker found himself preparing not just meat, but whole meals for local engagements. A business was born.
“I knew that I had something special to offer. With Deedy’s encouragement, I started my first real catering business, Bar-B-Que Time. We catered to backyard parties, picnics, and tailgates. The company quickly grew to meet demand- we were catering up to eight daily events in Fresno,” Parker says.
Bar-B-Que time was successful and with Parker’s entrepreneurial spirit, he was driven to form a niche catering company that was finer and more refined. He expanded to a sister operation, a “white glove catering” company called Great Compliments Catering. With Great Compliments Parker developed a sense and a style for catering not only food, but atmosphere. He was able to offer full service packages complete with dinnerware, decorations, flowers, and more.
With two catering companies, a large farm to tend, and a family to care for days became long once more. Parker, ever a hard worker, needed respite. Fresno had been good to Parker and his family, but it was time to move on. A search for a new place to raise grapes turned up a large property in the budding wine region of Douglas County Oregon. In 1996 the Parker family sold their farm in Fresno and headed north to the 82-acres that Melrose Vineyards now sits on. The vineyard would be an opportunity for Parker to foster his love of farming with the hope that he could incorporate his talent and passion for creating delicious meals in a warm and enjoyable environment.
Trials and tribulations met Parker in his first years of attempting to grow wine grapes and by 2001 the first bottles were ready for drinking.
For the next ten years the grapes were grown at Melrose Vineyards and sent off to various winemakers for pressing, blending, and bottling. Every dollar made went back into the vineyard to create the kind of gathering place that Parker envisioned. The winery grew little-by-little; it started with the impressively inviting barn turned tasting room in 2001, in 2008 a full event center was erected with a commercial kitchen and the ability to accommodate a group a of up to 400. Parker was able to apply many of his cooking and catering skills that he acquired from the time he met Vierra to the years of running his own catering companies.
Tragedy struck in 2011. Deedy developed a brain tumor, an aggressive cancer that she wasn’t able to fight. Parker’s wife and partner of over 39 years passed away. Within three days Parker’s long-time friend and mentor Vierra also passed. Parker recalls that difficult week with tears in his eyes. “I lost my two best friends in the world within three days of each other. There are no words that describes that feeling of loss.”
The family pushed through the difficult time together; in 2012 Parker’s son Cody became more involved at the vineyard taking the role as lead winemaker. Melrose Vineyards transitioned to wine that is made on-site and with Cody on board the flavor, complexity and quality of the wine completely changed. “He has the book smarts,” Parker smiles, “and I have the practical experience, so of course we butt heads.” Whatever the personality combination, the new house-produced varietals have been a success since.
Parker met his current wife Kerry, “the first time I saw her smile, I knew she was going to be important in my life. I wanted a deep connection with somebody and I find that with Kerry.” Since the two wed in 2012 Kerry has not only been an important part of Parker’s life, she has also been an integral part of the business at Melrose Vineyards. “For any important times or dates, you better tell Kerry,” Parker laughs “she’s the brains of this operation.”
There are, in fact, many brains of the operation. Parker’s team at Melrose Vineyards operates like a family. Chris Haro, Parker’s right-hand man, is responsible for many of the grilling, kitchen, and food aspects. Pamela Kantola, a true Jill-of-all-trades, notes she loves her job because everyday is different. Kantola might be pouring wine, cleaning the kitchen, or doing taxes. Different days bring different events, whether private at the event center or public.
Parker and his team have made Melrose Vineyards a true gathering place with a variety of year-round social events that include delicious food and wine.
Summer brings public events like the Memorial Day Barbecue, All-You-Can-Eat Crab Feed and Music in the Vines. The Music series is a weekly public event where local musicians play outstanding music, and a melt-in-your-mouth catered dinner is provided to guests for a small entry fee. In the fall is the ever-popular Grape Stomp and Thanksgiving open house.
Late winter through spring Parker has been sharing his zeal for cooking by teaching others. A variety of meat classes are available where activities might involve deboning a pork shoulder, then dicing, spicing, and casing bratwurst; or watching a demonstration on hand-slicing, specially seasoning and sun-curing jerky. Some classes provide refreshed methods of cooking chicken and fish. The crown jewel of the courses is an exploration into barbeque cooking allowing students to learn about the different popular cuts of meat and participating in the grilling process.
Through these classes Parker gets to spread his lifetime of knowledge, as he engages with and learns from the students. Most importantly, Parker loves to get the community together, and offer a unique opportunity for interacting with one another and learning a new skill.
Wayne Parker has come a long way from his days cutting chickens at Alpha Beta Meats. After years of hard work and dedication involving every aspect of barbeque grilling, cooking and catering have allowed him to incorporate his passions to form a unique winery with fun community events.
Parker sums his idea of success up best: “I want to bring happiness and joy to people's lives. I want to impact the community positively, because it is all about the community. If I am able to share a skill or just make someone’s day with a fine glass of wine, well then that is truly what it is all about.”
King of the Grill
Wayne Parker shares his favorite recipes for your summertime grill session.
Food is as important for the body as it is for the soul. Perhaps that is why barbeque, the original “soul food” is a culinary staple in the United States. Barbeque has proliferated its popularity and regions across the country have developed their own styles, combining cultures, and creating trademark recipes to sink one’s teeth into.
Barbeque is also the epitome of summer dining. Outside is the place to cook on hot day, it makes it easy to disconnect from media and share an experience outdoors with family and friends. Creating layered flavors of smokiness, spice, and juicy succulent meat is so satisfying and delicious- and simpler than you could believe. Be the king (or queen!) of your grill at home. Wayne Parker and Melrose Vineyards have graciously provided some of their favorite recipes for you to have your own amazing barbeque at home.
Wayne Parker’s Quick and Easy Homestyle BBQ Sauce
It’s the simplest recipes that taste the best. Use this sauce to baste ribs, add to beans, toss with pulled chicken, or just drink it straight! (Just kidding, sort of…)
1/2 Cup favorite ketchup (Parker prefers Heinz brand)
2 Tbsp of each: Liquid Smoke, Dk Chili Powder, Onion Powder, Dk Brown Sugar & Worcestershire Sauce.
1 Tbsp of each: White Wine Vinegar and Molasses.
1 tsp of each: Crushed Red Pepper Flakes, Garlic Powder, and SeasonAll
Combine all ingredients in a pot over medium heat, let simmer 30 minutes. Sauce flavors develop over time, make this a day ahead for the most robust taste.
Armenian-style Shish Kabobs
Parker was inspired by the large Armenian population of Fresno, California. This recipe calls for beef; feel free to use lamb for a more traditional kabob.
Baco Noir is a great full bodied meat wine. Its acidity balances with the fat of the meat for a perfect pairing.
Mix olive oil, lemon juice, white wine, garlic, oregano, rosemary, and bay leaf in a large freezer bag. Add the cubed steak and seal bag. Distribute marinade evenly among steak cubes and let marinade for two hours to 24 hours.
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp white wine
1 Tbsp garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp rosemary
1 bay leaf
2 pounds New York strip steak, cubed
2 large onions, wedged
2 large green peppers, wedged
12 white mushrooms, stems removed
2 tomatoes, wedged
Great Grilled Vegetables
Vegetables go great on the barbeque! Parker likes to keep vegetables simple to reveal their naturally delicious grilled flavor.
Combine oil, vinegar and herbs in a liquid measuring cup. Using a large bowl, toss vegetables in marinade, coating well. Grill over medium heat until al dente. Finish with a sprinkle of sea salt.
4 cups favorite vegetables: try asparagus, eggplant, bell pepper, onion, tomato, zucchini, summer squash and mushroom- cut to preference
¼ cup olive oil
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp favorite seasoning blend (Italian herb blend, chili powder, etc)
2 tsp sea salt
Stovetop BBQ Beans
No barbeque is complete without sweet and savory, smoky beans. For a vegetarian version, omit the bacon and use 2 Tbsp vegetable oil instead.
In a saucepan over medium heat cook diced bacon until crisp. Remove bacon pieces reserving rendered fat. Add diced onion to pan, stir, then add minced garlic cloves. Saute for about 3 minutes. Add cooked beans, BBQ sauce, brown sugar & beer. Simmer down until at desired consistency. Season to taste.
1 lb. dried beans (pinto or great northern work well) soaked and cooked (this equals about 3 16-oz cans prepared beans)
1 lb. bacon, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup homestyle barbecue sauce
2 Tbsp brown sugar
12 oz beer
Salt and pepper to taste
Barbequed Sicilian Chicken
Mild Italian flavors in this grilled chicken make for a deliciously light dinner, perfect with a side of vegetables and salad.
Pair this delicious Italian-style barbecue chicken with a fruity pinot noir, a wine that compliments the seasonings of this dish and does not overpower the chicken.
Combine marinade ingredients in a shallow dish. Add chicken and marinate pieces 2-24 hours. Remove chicken from marinade and pat dry with a paper towel. Grill over low heat for about 20 minutes, flipping once halfway. Chicken is done when internal temperature registers 165 degrees.
This chicken is especially phenomenal when paired with Caramelized Onion Sauce, sold at Melrose Vineyards’ gift shop.
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 Tbsp fresh garlic, chopped
2 cups Pinot Gris
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp SeasonAll
1 Tbsp ground black pepper
1 whole chicken, cut into 6 pieces