But much as people love the food, Nick's has always been about more than what's on the plate. "This place was the mother of all grapevines," says Dick Erath, who started out here in 1967. The remark garners nods all around the table. Before Nick's, these winemakers didn't really have a place to sell their wines. Then, suddenly, there was a place that not only was more than happy to buy them but that had an owner who might call you at home to say that somebody had just tried one of your bottles and would really like to meet you. (In the early days, at least, the winemakers would scoot on down.) And before Nick's, adds Diana Lett, there wasn't a restaurant to take visiting wine buyers to: "We all would be cooking at home. After Nick's, I didn't do that anymore."
It was also a place where these neophyte winemakers, most of whom had left careers as urban professionals, could gather and talk about non-wine-related topics, like politics and literature. They'd gotten into the business, remembers Nancy Ponzi, whose winery is now in its second generation, out of "a desire to do something good, of value". Asked how they ended up being the first people to plant grapes here, she responds rhetorically, "Do you remember the '60s?"
It's not difficult to find winemakers in the Willamette Valley eager to talk about Peirano's contribution to the industry. (Indeed, the idea for McMinnville's world-renowned annual International Pinot Noir Celebration was hatched at Nick's in 1985.) But the industry has also shaped his restaurant, whose low-key interior, with its counter seating and red-brick walls, is as welcoming to pickers straight from the fields as it is to first-time visitors from out of town.