ND Founders Profile #141: These FouNDers Are Building a Vineyard, a Brand and a Legacy

Author: Melanie Lux

Warford Fb Web


Company Founded: BelliVadum Vineyards Year Graduated: 2001


Co-Founder + Proprietor Degree: BBA, Finance, Theology (minor)
Location: Newberg, OR Residence Hall: Fisher, Keough


Company Founded: BelliVadum Vineyards Year Graduated: 2002
Title: Co-Founder + Proprietor Degree: BA, Government, Computer Applications
Location: Newberg, OR Residence Hall: Pasquerilla East

Growing up in North Dakota can be tough. Spending 12 hours a day on a tractor, tending 250 cow-calf pairs of cattle and battling the weather, well, it kind of soured Luke Warford on working on his family’s ranch. Especially as a teenager who’d rather be playing tennis.

At 17, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Luke was just two days away from signing a letter of intent to play tennis for the University of Iowa when another offer was presented. The University of Notre Dame approached him with a partial tennis scholarship. The thought of leaving the ranch—and the Hawkeyes—to join the Fighting Irish and his brother in South Bend was all it took for Luke to launch a new tractor-free life.

Little did he know that one day he would long to be on a farm again, growing crops and creating a new family legacy.

But we’re getting a little ahead of the story. By going to Notre Dame, Luke also decided against dentistry and instead majored in finance with an eye on Wall Street. Something else caught his eye during his sophomore year, a freshman named Lindsay Holland from Oregon.

How they met is open for discussion. He says they met through friends. She says they met on a night out. Regardless, laughs Lindsay, “It was love at first sight—for him.”

The two became good friends but didn’t start dating until Luke’s senior year. When he accepted a job with an investment management firm in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, they continued dating. Upon her graduation from Notre Dame, Lindsay accepted a job in Milwaukee and not too long after, the couple became engaged. Marriage and a move to New York City followed in 2004.

The Warfords settled into their married and professional lives, with Luke in finance and Lindsay in advertising. With no kids yet, they focused on growing their respective careers, mastering foundational business skills and adding responsibilities to their roles. Life was good. They talked about building their future, but no specific plans had been made. Then something fortuitous happened. Lindsay made a trip home to Oregon to visit family.

“My dad said, ‘The vineyards in Newberg are actually pretty good. Would you like to go to some tastings?’ I’d never been before so I said sure,” she says.

What she discovered at the Willamette Valley vineyards blew Lindsay away. “I’d been to Napa Valley several times and to Stellenbosch in South Africa, both were incredible areas for wine. But I was so impressed with the Oregon vineyards. The area was beautiful, the people were super nice, and the wine was amazing. It just felt like home.”

During the father-daughter outing, Lindsay saw a property for sale among the well-known vineyards. Curious, they stopped the car and took a look. Then she called Luke, who was back at home in New York.

“I flew out to take a look,” Luke says. "The location was great, but the property, an old filbert orchard, was in disrepair,” he recounts. “The trees were dead, there were dilapidated barns and broken-down farm implements. But the more Lindsay and I talked about it, the more we could see building a successful vineyard on the land. It took a big leap of faith, but we bought the property. We had no plan, but we did have a strong vision and a desire to build a business together. We thought that this would be a good project for us.”

Truth be told, as an adult working on Wall Street, Luke had begun to miss ranch life massively. “The hard work and uncertainty, although extremely rewarding, was in my blood. What was missing in my life was actually making something with my hands.”

And so the return to the land and the beginning of a new family-owned, Oregon vineyard began. Luke describes it as destiny, a marriage of past and present, one inspired by his great grandfather, Lester Warford, a Princeton educated minister. In the early 1900s, he left the East Coast to bring the Bible to Native American tribes living on the rugged plains of North Dakota.

“My great grandfather came west on a whim and a prayer. That bit of family history spoke to Lindsay and me so when it came time to choose a name for our vineyard, Lester’s nickname from college, BelliVadum, which is Warford in Latin, was fitting. He had taken a huge risk, which was what we were doing with the vineyard. But he also made a new life for the Warford family, and that is the genesis of what we are doing for our children,” Luke explains.

While the Warfords didn’t start with a plan for their vineyard, they knew one thing: they wanted to win. And the path they chose was slow and methodical with the end goal of creating an enduring family legacy.

Legacies, like Rome, are not built in a day. The immediate challenge was cleaning up the 33 acres they had purchased. That meant ripping out dead trees, tearing down old farm buildings and removing decades of trash and antiquated equipment. Once that task was done, the Warfords had to build a new family home—while maintaining their home in Connecticut. They also returned to school.

“One thing we had going for us,” admits Luke, “is that we knew what we didn’t know. We both went to Washington State University to earn certificates in enology, and Lindsay also earned one in viticulture. We weren’t looking to necessarily be experts, but we needed to know the vernacular.”

Lindsay says they also leaned into a lesson learned during their days at Notre Dame. “Always surround yourself with people smarter than you in whatever you’re doing. Owning a vineyard and making wine is a very community-oriented business. Each of us may have our own brand, but we’re unified in our desire to craft the best wines that will represent our region. The winemaking community works together every step of the way. Luke and I regularly benefit from that collective knowledge as we continue to build BelliVadum.”

One of Luke’s enduring memories of his family’s ranch is how different each year was. “Everything was up to God,” he says. While he was referring to ranching, the same held true for his and Lindsay’s life. In 2014, the Warfords welcomed twin sons, Luke and Aidan. In 2016, they planted their first grape vines after prepping the soil for optimum organic growing conditions and precisely laying out the vineyard. Three years later, daughter Josephine arrived. The BelliVadum Vineyard and family roots were taking hold.

Initially, five acres were planted with two varietals of Pinot Noir grapes. The two blocks are named for the boys, Luke and Aidan. When the next blocks are planted, the first will be named for Josephine. The remaining blocks will be named in honor of other family members.

Like a lot of the neighboring vineyards, the Warfords decided to be “dry farmers,” relying on rain rather than irrigation to keep the vineyard watered. The decision was calculated. Without irrigation, the vines would have to put down deeper roots to reach water, ultimately making them stronger. During the first few years, BelliVadum didn’t get much rain, forcing the Warfords to hand water five acres of vines. It was a tough lesson. They are now in the process of putting in an irrigation system.

Another key personal milestone was creating the vineyard’s branding. The Warfords wanted a family crest as their logo. This proved a difficult task until a friend recommended a top graphic artist. The winning design, which is now found on the vineyard’s signage, website and most importantly, bottles of wine, includes symbols representing the couple’s three children. Luke is represented by the sun, Aidan by the flame, and Josephine by the dove.

One of the most important hires the Warfords have made is their winemaker, an expert vintner with 30 years of experience. The couple and their winemaker have forged a close, collaborative relationship. He makes and barrels the wine, and prior to blending, sends samples to the Warfords so they can craft the blend to their personal taste.

“The first year, we were in the kitchen using measuring cups to blend different proportions of the two different Pinot Noirs. We tasted each to see what we preferred the most. It wasn’t scientific but it worked,” Luke says. With their direction, the winemaker finalized the wine to the Warfords’ specifications.

The just released 2021 vintage of Pinot Noir is BelliVadum’s inaugural offering. Luke is thrilled with the wine. “When it hit my lips, I said WOW! We did it.”

Accolades have poured in from their winemaker, other vineyards, family, and friends. Luke’s response? “It’s pretty dang special.”

The first bottling yielded 150 cases of wine. The vineyard produced an excess of grapes, which were promptly purchased by the Warfords’ winemaker for use in his own wines. BelliVadum wines can be purchased directly from the vineyard’s website, as well as through special pop-up tastings in Oregon, Connecticut and New York. BelliVadum Vineyards is also included as part of the Notre Dame Family Wines and can be found amongst the other Notre Dame vintners on the University’s website. By 2024, the Warfords plan to host tastings in their barn at BelliVadum in keeping with the traditions of other local vineyards.

Starting companies, including vineyards, is never easy, particularly fundraising. The Warfords chose to self-fund BelliVadum. “We have not accepted an outside penny and we did that by design. We’ve built BelliVadum slowly and methodically over the last 15 years,” Luke says. “Agriculture is naturally a slow building business. This has allowed us to make strategic investments into the company without outside funding. By bootstrapping, we are holding ourselves accountable for each decision while caring for our land and our team. Every single dollar put into BelliVadum is ours and what we’ve earned in our careers.”

He adds, “We’re so grateful for our on-the-ground team that has deep expertise in the region and is very focused on supporting BelliVadum’s growth. Our working arrangement allows Lindsay and I to champion the Willamette Valley and build our brand here on the East Coast.”

Although the vineyard is still in its early days, there have been numerous wins. Says Lindsay, “Holding that first bottle in my hands with the label and seeing our logo with the elements of our kids was big for me. I was so happy to see everything finally come together. We still have that bottle.”

Luke has another highpoint that never gets old. “I love to have family and friends drink our wine and see the smiles it puts on their faces.”

The other win is observing how the legacy they are building for their family is impacting their children. “They love running through the vineyard playing hide and seek. They love tasting the grapes even though they’re not ripe. They love riding on the tractor,” Lindsay smiles. “There’s something about being on the vineyard and having no one else around that allows the kids to decompress. At the vineyard, we do more things as a family.”

Ask what advice they would give others thinking about starting a company or perhaps another vineyard, the couple each offered these pointers.

Says Lindsay, “Arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can going in. Be patient; nothing will happen all at once. You have to play the long game, one step at a time.”

Adds Luke, “At the end of the day, have a strong vision of what you want, follow your passion, and be dedicated to doing everything you can to make it a reality.”