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nov2

Oops! Didn’t realize it has been so long since I last posted. I pretty much took some time off to do Mama things (cards, cookies, and cadeaux) and actually got them all done for once, with very minimal duress–a very interesting result from stepping a moment (or in this case, a month) away from the wine biz/start-up/swimming-against-the-current fray. Hmmm.

Anyway, while 2011 is still only yesterday, I’d like to leave you all with a month-by-month visual of the sights and colors of the The Grande Dalles and our Uncultivated Life (note the yellow boat serving as wade pool in front of our Campeau) out in the wilds of the wine world.

    

January: We released our wines at the rustically swank James John Cafe in North Portland. Chef Owners Suzanne Bozarth and Aaron Solley would accompany us to New York in March, to the James Beard House.

February: It’s a quiet time out on the hill, but still much for little vineyard gnomes to discover.

March: “Columbia Valley Terroir” unveils itself at the James Beard House in NYC: featuring our wines and sumptuous regional Northwest Solley and Bozart fare.

  

April: A slow start, but the land starts to warm and the greening of the hill begins.

May: Guerilla roadside Wine Stand at the Old Garage during Memorial Day Weekend in the Hood (Hood River). Best line of the weekend asked by someone who drove in, got out, and then quickly left after asking: “Is this legal?”

  

June: Wine in hand, an evening walk out on the land. Sam! Get out of Dave’s wheat!

July: Fire season. Thankfully this was not on our property, but still causing much damage to someone else’s across the way. Reminded us of the 2009 range fire that headed straight toward us, stopping three rows in our vineyard. As the story goes, the Old Coot was the only person who went in our vineyard to fight it. Still need to thank him.

  

August: Wasco County Fair! Aptly themed, “Barn in the USA.” For the second year we sponsored a Demolition Derby car. Yeah! Hot day out there in South County in that fairground valley. Whew!

September: Still warm out on the land. In this picture, because we didn’t quite make it to our Deschutes River swim spot, the little boat had to do.

  

October: Harvest. We made it. And we made it into Google Earth’s One World Many Stories campaign. The only wine story IN THE ENTIRE INDUSTRY to do so.

November: A seasonal quiet begins its descent, along with some early snow.

December: While the last hues of Fall in the Columbia Gorge peep through the mist, our wines are beginning to shine in New York City, and at some Michelin-starred restaurants to boot! Where exactly, you ask? Annisa on Barrow Street. Blue Hill NYC on Washington Place. Dovetail on West 77th Street. Henry’s on Broadway. Penn Wine and Spirits at Penn Station. First & Vine on First Ave. Yippy skippy!

As thankful as I am for our accomplishments in 2011, there are still many miles to go before we can sleep. Many miles. So, while I look forward to 2012 and all the exciting things we have planned, I wish you all a prosperous and healthy New Year and from time-t0-time, to step off the beaten path, for it is what often makes all the difference.

~ stephanie

 

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This year marks our fifth year anniversary since planting the vineyard. If you have been reading our Diary of a Start-Up Winemaker series on The Daily Meal, you will have come across this — I posted one year each day last week. If you have not, it’s all right here for your reading enjoyment. Hold on, here we go.

2011 marks the fifth anniversary of our little vineyard on the frontier. It’s been five l-o-n-g years since we took the plunge and transformed a steep and distinct hillside out in the middle of wild, windy Oregon wheat country into a vineyard going on its 4th vintage, to make wine like no other from only the grapes we grow. Can that be right? We planted in 2006; at the end of our third growing year in 2008 we had our first harvest; then 2009, 2010, and holding our breath for 2011, which is our 6th growing year. Yes. This will be, if all goes well, our 4th harvest.

We thought you might enjoy a tiny peek in on those five years, for what happened along the way—to us and to our land—is as much a part of the wine as the grapes we make it from.

2006 : The Planting, and the Big Freeze

After months of preparation that began pretty much the day after we stepped off the plane in October, 2005, from Scott’s 2-year work assignment in Ireland, we planted The Grande Dalles vineyard. We had already found water and dug the well in 2005, so that was off our to-do list. But early 2006 was busy, busy, busy, as we laid out the vineyard, walking that hillside and holding up markers, person unseen because the terrain was so curved in areas.

Scott put in weather stations, a deer fence went in, we had a surveyor out to help us set rows evenly, 3-phase electricity was brought in from miles away, and Scott placed numerous orders for the supplies we would need for the vineyard, the grapes not the least of it. The bigger things we collected were drip line, wire, end posts, and center posts, and between Scott’s squabbling with our vineyard manager over inches of ground (Scott’s a farmer at heart, and does not like to waste a bit of land) we decided on the vineyard’s boundaries. In April 2006 the end posts were set, Scott holding every single one of them as they were tamped 5 feet into the earth on a terribly cold and blustery day.

If you want to get a decent first growing year, you have to plant as early as you can, and every day you lose is every day less for the plants. The big pressure for us was getting water to the top of our hill before the plants arrived. We sort-of made that deadline, and the plants arrived. But to make absolute sure water could successfully reach our hilltop again and again meant we had to stage all 17,000 starts for a week or so, securing them behind chicken wire so local deer couldn’t feast. As soon as we knew we could depend on bringing water up a good 400 feet from the well down in the valley below, we were ready to plant, and plant we did, in early June, 2006.

It was a joyous time, for the most part, as we placed all our hopes and dreams into that hillside. But Stephanie was beginning her slip away, as relationships and characters, and all the weeding we did by hand, began to take their toll. And by December, all our jubilation was soon dashed when we got the news that our vineyard was most likely dead from that unexpected freeze in October. To add to that, our then vineyard manager, our one and only with no ulterior motives who believed in us, had emergency open-heart surgery. It was around Christmas, and we thought we had lost both of them, Leroy, and the vineyard. What would 2007 hold? Read the rest of this entry »

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Our latest installment on The Daily Meal. We (mainly me, Stephanie) write a bi-monthly piece called “Diary of a Start-Up Winemaker.” What we(well, I)’ve written to date are HERE.

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We’ve only been “in business” for just under a year, and are working on finding like-minded wine adventurers who appreciate wine like ours, as well as our endeavor. It’s a crowded, crazy market these days, as you all know, but we’re slowly reaching some of you individuals who dare to step off the well-worn route, or should I say, you’re discovering us, as true adventurers are apt to do.

Carl found us through Scott’s parents, out in Missouri. He was so interested in The Grande Dalles that he purchased six bottles of our inaugural wines: two ’09 Leroy’s Finest, our bone-dry Riesling; two ’08 Gampo, our sangiovese blend; and two ’08 Home Place, our tempranillo blend, just like that. Since his order, we’ve exchanged a few chit-chat messages, so imagine our surprise, when he told us he’d be out in the Pacific Northwest (a rare visit, he said) and wanted to meet! Our first fan from afar wanting to come and learn more! We were thrilled.

So off Sam and I went — Scott had to stay in Portland, holding down his day job that keeps this dream alive — to meet Carl.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Or, how we used Google Earth to unearth our dream in The Dalles.

I can’t remember how much we’ve told you all about how we found our place out in The Dalles. Here’s the letter I just sent off to Google, about how Google Earth played a major part:

Hello Google,

My name is Stephanie and I’d like to share a story with you:

While you were putting your Data Center in in 2006 in The Dalles, my husband and I were planting a vineyard just east of town, the property found using Google Earth while we were living in Ireland years earlier.

From a distance 1000s of miles away, my husband, a scientist by education and farm kid at heart, pored over the Oregon landscape, his dream of a vineyard having come alive in the dark, blustery Irish winter. There was absolutely NO WAY he could’ve researched the best location for our family farm without Google Earth; you might be able to trust someone else in finding a new house from a distance, but you can’t trust someone else with finding your dream!

He gathered data—degree growing days, temperature highs and lows, etc.—and then transposed it across the maps he had collected, from the locales he discovered using Google Earth. Like a modern-day e-explorer, he was looking for the undiscovered gem, a hillside that would grow the wines he had envisioned, developed from his decades-long love of wine. He soon had assembled a list of properties and then enlisted a realtor—still while we were living in Ireland—to go knocking on the land owners’ doors. On the very next day after we returned to The States, we met the one land owner willing to sell us some property. And what was once a pile of maps and data sourced through Google is now this:

found at

45°35’36.87″ N
121°02’25.74″ W
Since we’ve planted out in the “undiscovered” wilds of Wasco County’s wheat country, our wine has been celebrated at a dinner at The James Beard House in New York, praised by one of America’s most noted wine experts, Joel Butler, MW, and now others are following in our footsteps, possibly opening up a new wine-growing area outside The Dalles: we know of two individuals who, after having waited and watched to see if we might have success, have begun vineyard development in the vicinity, all thanks to Google Earth.

Most people use Google Earth simply to find restaurants, or peek in on their childhood home miles away, but not us. For us, using Google Earth has changed our lives, or at least our life’s direction, for we used it to find our dream.

We thought you should know.

Best,

stephanie

We’ll see if we hear back! Stay tuned!

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Watching an Ed Sullivan “Classic Performances” the other night on a public broadcasting station, we were struck by the authenticity of the performances. There was no big show, it was about the music, and each song and its performer/s showed true individuality. Petula Clark, The Mamas and the Papas, The Beatles, The Four Lovers….How could it not be so, when it was nothing but the performer on a bare stage—singing, not lip synching, or rarely, since Sullivan wanted the music to be live— and in black and white to boot? Such clarity of focus, of the song, of the artist. “That performance was just stunning,” said Scott of “Down Town.” No, Ed truly appreciated the unique. And through him gave a lot of people their first break.

We need an Ed Sullivan for the wine world. Someone not afraid to step out there and discover new, singular talent. Writing a piece for TheDailyMeal.com about the International Wine Style, it made me wonder, “If Ed were resurrected, and had wine producers on his show, who might he have these days?” Would he have given in to the masses and opt for a bunch of Britney Spears-like lip- synchers who simply go through the motion, mastering the art of dazzling through performance? Or would it be Petula Clark-esque, a sole singer on a stark stage where the song/wine is so much a part of the singer, that you can’t tell where one begins and the other ends and the whole performance belongs to that person alone, never able to be replicated? It’s really hard to know. We would hope Ed would appreciate us, and not for our singing!

 

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So, not having a tasting room, and Memorial Day weekend supposedly being one of the busiest for wine tasters out and about, and knowing our vineyard was TOO far off the beaten trail (not crazy far, but not on a prescribed “wine route,” so to speak), we were driving down a road in Hood River a couple of months ago, on the way to where we have our wine made, and I saw a very cool abandoned garage with great parking out front, conveniently located right off the highway on a great bluff overlooking the Columbia River Gorge, and fully on a “wine trail.” We found out who owned it, he laughingly agreed to let us use the spot–at no charge–we got all required permits with city of Hood River, and Oregon’s governing alcohol commission, and voila, a farm-stand was in motion. So we schlepped our stuff each day 70 minutes down the most scenic highway, to Hood River, and set up our blue canopy wine farm stand, at the Old Garage.

We had a ton of fun, and I believe, met some of the most adventurous of the wine adventurers that weekend. Making one’s mind up to pull off the well-traveled highway and discover what’s under that blue canopy is not for the faint-hearted, but it IS for the curious and courageous, and we are thankful for everyone who had it in them to dodge the potholes and come on in. And they really liked the wine. So one of my theories of our wine being really for the most adventurous was proven that day.

There was also a great showing of our Portland friends, as well as one of our The Dalles buddy’s, and my old boss from ages ago who now lives in “The Hood,” whose support of our endeavor really made us feel all warm in that chilly wind;  Scott was referred to as “the kid” setting up; some guy pulled in and asked if what we were doing was legal and then just left without tasting a thing; the scotch broom smelled divine(!); and an eagle soared out in front. It was truly a grand weekend.

“Will we do it again?” That is the question. People did stop, and we did sell wine, but was it enough to sustain the idea? Will we need to keep going back to keep the momentum going? Or was this weekend it? We’re still working it through. But we do know that from this we have happily run across another “farm stand” opportunity with a restaurant in Mosier, a neighboring town, as well as a very interested and supportive local journalist, and maybe a couple more ops with some of the area’s mover and shakers that can help get our wine out and about even more.

The big thing for us is that we need to get people to our hill; we’re not happy separating the land from our wine, we want people to experience the whole kit and kaboodle, and we know visitors will just be blown away by our site, they will.  So we hope to soon begin hosting “camper” tastings since now we’ve disinfected it from all the mice who conveniently took it over instead of going south to Phoenix for the winter…stay tuned! And if you’re interested in being one of the first “Camper tasters,” please do let us know!

Here’s a link to some photos I posted on Face Book (click on the underlined link, Mom).

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Our first installment is up on TheDailyMeal.Com, Diary of a Start-up Winemaker. Look for our bi-monthly stories, straight out of the wilds of the wine world delivered to the safety of your home/desk/wherever, so you can live the life without the stress and dirt!

Thank you MC, and The Daily Meal!

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With some days now between our return from the Empire State (my home state) and our James Beard Foundation “Columbia Valley Terroir” event, we’ve had a chance to actually think about how good it all was — the weather — not too cold, not too warm; our hotel, the Affinia Shelburne in Murray Hill fresh and comfortable; the Flower District and our hunt for table decorations a good jaunt and fun peek into the day-to-day of that busy city; Sarge’s Deli on 3rd Ave now Scott’s #2 for best sandwich ever (the first is a sandwich shop in Brooklyn, near Flatbush Ave, I believe) ; fresh bagels with whitefish spread for breakfast; an outing to Central Park and to the American Museum of Natural History to see the dinosaur bones recently discovered by Sam in a Curious George book; but most importantly, our James Beard Event. Up until we showed up that evening, we wondered, “How would people like our wines and their food pairings?” We found out: They LOVED them!
The two things that we heard the most, specifically about our wines were:

1.  “I never liked Riesling until now.”
We’ve heard this many times before. Seems like people we’ve run into have an aversion to the sweet sweet, because with no residual sugar, Leroy’s Finest is far from it. Still fruity, but bone dry.

2. “We can’t believe wine like this is already coming from a young vineyard.”
People were amazed at the how such interesting/complex wines (THEIR words) could come from a first harvest/vintage. Most memorable was when Scott spoke to one avid drinker/collector of First/Premier Growth Bordeaux/Burgundy at length, and after dinner he came up to us, looked Scott in the eye, and with some astonishment told him he couldn’t believe this wine was just our first vintage, adding that our future potential was tremendous. He said it two or three times.

All in all, a great evening, a refreshing weekend, even if it was mostly business.

I posted some pictures on facebook (don’t need to be member for this link) on The Grande Dalles page (need to be member for this link), if you’re interested –I didn’t get too many, since Scott and I were “working the room.”

Thank you everyone who attended — it was a great evening. We love New York!

 

 

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That’s what the local print shop guy, Dave, asked me, when I went in to drop off our James Beard Foundation event brochlets (not really a brochure, not really a pamphlet) we’re hauling with for our Thursday James Beard Foundation “Columbia Terroir” event with local chefs Aaron Solley and Suzanne Bozarth from the James John Cafe. I had to think. How was it? “Busy,” was all I could come up with. Here’s what I had been doing:

1. tweaking links and whatnot to connect our website to new e-comm site, hosted by Nexternal. all the nitty gritty. thank goodness for the Nexternal support. my gal Shauna is a dream. and thank goodness i love learning another language. it’s fun, but not when there’s a little 2.5 year-old tugging at you, or sitting on your lap with “wandering, happy keyboard fingers,” if you know what i mean.

2. tweaking design and layout of Columbia Valley Terroir brochure that I essentially wrote and designed. not being trained as a designer doesn’t help me catch the tiny things that are noticeable when printed (margins and stuff), thank goodness i have the software to fix it. but, oh, my shoulders from hunching over my laptop! but the big one was the cover image — we finally settled on something very pretty. you want a sneak peek, you say? well, ok – here you are:

This is the view from our vineyard, with a little photoshopy-shop going on for the grainy texture.

3. saving hummingbirds. ok, not saving them, but making sure my friend’s frozen feeder got replaced with non-frozen syrup, so her little hummers could eat while she was away.

4. getting fitted for an outfit my crazily talented designer friend Yvonne is making for me, specifically for the James Beard event. she and i had a project together some years ago that didn’t take off, and I asked her if she would be interested in starting it again by getting her designs in front of a NY crowd. not that i’m a runway model, and not that squeezing between tables at the snug James Beard foundation constitutes a runway, and not that, oh — well, anyway — there’s been some back and forth and i can’t wait to wear it.

5. going to our POD storage unit  we rented to declutter our little farm house with when trying to sell it (that’s been way over a year now) that we have not yet moved to our new house (a good 1/2 year already), to dig through and find an outfit just in case #4 (see above) fell through. i found some, but they don’t fit anymore. note to self: do something about that mama belly. enough is enough. it’s time.

6. prayed that #4 didn’t fall through since i didn’t have Plan B to fall back on (see #5 above), and had very little time, money or energy to go find an outfit, because clogs and jeans and wool sweaters, my standard portland togs, wouldn’t fare well at an NYC evening event in the West Village.

7. being a solo mama — scott was away on saturday, a drive to seattle to meet with a Masters of Wine residing there– and wasn’t I on pins and needles about THAT. would he like our wine? he LOVED our wine! and then scott was off again on Sunday to the farm, to meet up with a friendly farmer who has an absolute PERFECT smile (you do, Dave!), who was going to do some work for us. it gets too hard to coordinate farming with weather and scott’s full-time work — thankfully Dave has time and is willing to help. so while i’ve got all that going on in the back of my head, sam and i were out at the park, going to Yvonne’s fitting, helping hummingbirds, and taking a nap. ahh.

8. the standard laundry work. does it ever end?

yes, it was a busy weekend and somehow, very invigorating.

How was yours?

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At least that’s what we’d like to think it was, The Grande Dalles’ Inaugural Release Party at the James John Cafe. People came, people stayed, no-one tasted our wines and then nervously hustled out, and no-one was spitting, except Scott, who had been “tasting” all afternoon/eve.

First on our tasting list was Leroy’s Finest, our riesling; which many people first declined, imagining it to be sweet, until we told them it was bone-dry. And weren’t they pleasantly surprised by it! Many imagined how Leroy’s Finest would do with oysters and seafood (excellent, of course -just ask David Rosengarten!). Moving along to our reds, there were camps that preferred one over the other, but we expected that. Both have their own qualities and flavours, Home Place maybe more robust, Gampo not so much, but critic/journalist feedback reinforced the wines’ integrity: structured, well-made, fine wines. And with the food that evening: roasted pig and some good home fixins to go with it, everyone seemed to be rather happy.

A big THANK YOU goes out to Joe and Lana: Joe was our pourer, and Lana, his wife, got rounded up for the “Welcome” table. And of course a big THANK YOU to everyone else, for making the event a lively time, and for all the kind words and sales (!). Your support is absolutely priceless.

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