Moving Along

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Where has the time gone? Seems like only yesterday we found that little owl tucked beneath the vines on our hill. Since then, the wheat harvest all around us has come and gone, and so has summer, for the most part. Now the bird netting is up as we await the ripening of our very fruitful (!) crop.

We might have almost 2X the yield this year, this even after cluster thinning, and as this glorious weather continues, unless a cloud of locust descends, or Mt. Hood erupts, or a range fire sweeps across the dried out landscape, or an iceberg suddenly scrapes its way to our hill, or a major weather shift freezes the place–I’m not ruling ANYTHING out!–we might have a really great harvest. Notice my hesitation to commit to even the expectation of “should” as in “we should have a really great harvest.” Farming is fraught with the unknown. And for us, that can get real dicey because we don’t doctor our wines in the winery to make the season pretend to be what it may not have been. Nope, the year along with the cooperation of our meticulously picked out hillside HAS to deliver, and so far, so good.

Let’s see, what else. Well, we’re very excited to say…we now have a Seattle wine distributor, Cru Selections! And one in Boston, Genuine Wine Selections! And our very first guy who believed in NYC, Ice Bucket Selections, still believes! Woohoo! You know, since we happened to do everything essentially ass backwards in this industry, meaning, we put all our moolah into our vineyard and then waited for it to grow vs. the low-cost, low-risk approach of phone farming (aka purchasing grapes) and throwing something together in the short term while an acre or two gets or doesn’t get planted here and there; and then with our gently tended grapes made very focused, non coca-cola, divisive wines (read, highly singular), it’s been a long haul trying to find people who understood the wines and our endeavor. We’ve had to go through DOZENS of inquiries and a shocking amount of effort for what turns out to be deflating follow up (why people don’t tell you upfront is beyond me). Thankfully the persistence has paid  off a bit, for now we have three distributors who represent very wine-forward markets on both sides of the country. So THANK YOU Ice Bucket Selections, Cru Selections and Genuine Wine Selections  for believing. It’s a start. We hope SOON to find more. Universe, hear me now!

Finally, we’re getting ready for a trade trip to NYC. I KNOW! So close to harvest, right? What were they thinking? Well, in all honesty, this straight shot of sunshine we’ve been enjoying for some time could not have been predicted, and when duty calls, in the end, we still have to sell the stuff we grow. Looking forward to a weekend BACK to NY (we just returned from upstate visiting my parents only last week), but this time in NYC. Sam looks forward to the doughnuts and yellow taxis.

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It’s no surprise, I am a stay-at-home Mama who, in between lunches and snacks and during naps and when Scott comes home, attempts to get stuff done for this business. Things I do include posts to this blog; photographing the land and whatnot; posting those pics; writing and researching newsletter content; laying out the newsletter and programming it for online viewing; FaceBook and twitter chitchat; setting up our e-store; resetting up our e-store; working on ideas that continue to get our story and wine out there; fulfilling requests (send me your labels, we need pictures of you, some wine pictures, please, a shelf-talker would be nice etc.); keeping up on blogs and responding if I have something to say; designing imagery for use in newsletters/shelf-talkers/etc.; and probably much more that I can’t recall, or have conveniently forgotten for varying reasons.

It’s the same with Scott, who, with a full-time job has to organize  and coordinate a plethora of vineyard and marketing and sales stuff in his “smoking breaks” or before he leaves for work, of if there’s still time when he comes home, to do it then. It can be crazily overwhelming at times. But we do it as best we can.

So I thought I’d invite you into my last project — a bottle image photo shoot, complete with my little helper, Sam — to give you an upclose look at being out there and trying to “live the life”:

 

Excuse us, Piggy Pig, While We Set Up the Shoot

Now We're Getting Fancy

My Helper, Busy At Work

The End Product -- We'll Take It!

Even if we had the resources, I suppose I wouldn’t want it any other way; we’re like Pearl Jam, in the early years, doing it all ourselves and keeping it from the heart, and real. That’s how we like to do it.

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Somewhere between jumping head first into the wilds of the wine world when we planted a vineyard in 2006, and sucking up our resolve to make wine from the grapes we farm and figuring out how to reach beyond the throngs of average to sell a wine like ours (still working on this), I’ve had the feeling as if lifted in a great wave, with legs still running as I try to find my footing before it crashes me on the shore. Instead of surrendering, and just riding that wave to the sandy beach that is right within reach, I remain doubtful, and work to stay upright in an almost panic mode, getting miserably tired doing so.

Having made it on shore, a sea turtle rests.

Watching sea turtles last week on what I hope will remain our annual South Pacific splurge (until Sam gets old enough for us to weather a 14-hour flight to Europe, finances permitting!), I got a whole different perspective AGAIN (I wrote about my first encounter with Sea Turtles in 2010). Bounced and pummeled about in the great oceans they call home, these turtles just go with it. Sure, they’ll steady themselves in the surf with their flippers, but it’s the simple confidence evident in their movement — be it coming on shore, resting in the ocean, or chomping sea grass while someone snorkels near by — that is striking. There doesn’t even seem to be a surrender on their part, to the shifting of the currents, to the pull of the tides, or the curiosity of large, obscenely white, two-legged fish floating over head, but a sureness that on their journey, THIS is exactly what they need to be doing, it’s all part of it.

I don’t know if what we’re doing on our end is exactly what we need to be doing — we need to sell wine and time is running out; we’re not doing it fast enough. I’d like to think it’s not because we’re trying to swim upstream while everyone swims down, but the fact is, that’s exactly it. That is the nature of our journey. We’re fighting a current; to surrender would push us along the same path as everyone else, and that is not who we are. Yet we need to land somewhere. We need sureness, like that small sea turtle who knows she can cross great expanses and be OK. Maybe it’s just a shift in how I think — instead of having my legs rotor through the lift of a wave, I tuck in, and just go with it? Maybe.

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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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Here’s something different for a change: Our story through numbers.

0    the # of wines and wine regions we strive to emulate

1    the # of vineyards whose grapes go into our wine, and that one happens to be one we farm and own, planted from bare ground, no trees harmed in the process

2    the # of people with firm (enough) resolve, to make a wine unlike any other out there

3    the # of inaugural release wines, because the birds flew off with the 4th one

4    the # of actual wines, once the birds are under control

5    the # of years since planting out in the sunny wilds of Wasco County, Oregon

6    the # of years since we set back down on US ground with feet running to purchase land, drill a well—we mean, drill a well, THEN purchase land (we made a $20K gamble before we bought a thing)—order the vines, and ready the ground for a 2006 planting

7    the # of varietals planted on our south slope: cabernet sauvignon, tempranillo, sangiovese (Brunello clone), riesling, syrah, petit verdot, cabernet franc

8+7*    the # of producing acres on the south slope, 35 total planted on both south and north sides on our 160 acres, but they’re not on the wire due to funding

9    the # of locales as of today in Oregon and New York City, where you’ll find our wines. In Oregon: The Bay House (Lincoln City), Wildwood (Portland), White Buffalo Wines (Hood River). In NYC: Blue Hill, Henry’s, Anissa, Dovetail, First & Vine, Penn Wine. And it’s always available on our website…(just a gentle holiday plug)

10×90**    the # of square footage of a tiny farmhouse that a man, woman, cat, dog, and small child lived in for some years so we could fund the dream

*I had to get creative on some numbers…

**Another instance of this creativity…

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Behind every good wine endeavor is a good cat, right? We only talk about Jack Dawg, our Ireland rescue pup, for he’s the one who runs excitedly to the back seat when we leave for the vineyard, and waits in anticipation for those first bends in the road after we get off the highway, his nose up and pulling in the scents now so familiar to him out in the wilds of Wasco County. Then like some banshee he runs those hills, almost until his legs give out, and we have a very quiet dog come evening.

Who I don’t talk about is Georgina, our cat, mainly because she views cars with detest (she knows where’s she’s going when she gets in one), and although she might do just fine out there on the land competing with the hawks for nature’s mouse bounty, I wouldn’t want her to be inadvertently picked up  by a large bird of prey, or some wayward coyote. So she stays home, alone, “Where she’s probably very happy because we’re all gone” says Scott.

That doesn’t mean she hasn’t been a contributor of sorts to this whole endeavor. Right after planting the vineyard, while we waited for those vines to grow and I had the time to freelance and bring in some moolah as a brand writer, Georgina would sit with me, like my own Pangur Ban, her silliness when we’d bat at each other across my laptop screen would free my mind when I was stuck, just as that old monk wrote about in his poem.

And she was hauled all the way to Ireland, where our story began, where Scott finally read all those techy wine books I had given him, her wailing from under the seat as we took off into the great blue unknown on our return trip to the USA documented in our saga I posted under Going Our Own Way. She has been a part of all this, and deserves to have it documented.

So when I ordered pavers the other day, personalized for all the individuals who have so generously supported our endeavor, their names, home places, and relevant date to be forever a part of our hill and our adventure, I added one for Georgina.

A rescue cat, found at LaTourelle Falls  in the Columbia Gorge one autumn day in 2011 with my sisters when they were visiting from NY, and dumped off hours earlier, according to a road-crew worker, Georgina’s been with me through the thick and thin of it. She made it all the way to Ireland and back, and always seems glad to see us when we return from the farm (or is that just for the crunchies I give her? hmmm). For all that, kitty cat, there’s a paver with your name on it. Thank you, thank you, little fuzzy face.

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Once again, I’ve been absent. Just not in me to write a thing about our endeavor. Why? I think the wind got knocked out of me after I detached a bit and read through The Grande Dalles’ five-year vineyard anniversary post. Holy crap. We experienced all that in five years?! Then I found out the universe was under hold of Mercury Retrograde, so that put it all in perspective, my lack of interest,  AND I started reading William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, and am now consumed in my free time to swallow up the next sentence of the fictitious Logan Mountstuart.  I’ve also been putting off Summer’s newsletter; I have a few more weeks until Summer is no longer here, so I should make it. And there you have it.

Instead, I’ve been cultivating my little garden, enjoying my time with Scott and Sam, especially our weekend overnights to the vineyard and trips to the Deschutes River; I’ve been contemplating childcare other than myself for Sam again (it’s time!); what else….we went to the Wasco County Fair mid August, which was a great time, not really sure how our sponsored Demo-derby car did; had some family guests (Scott’s parents), and for the most part, I am enjoying what Summer we are having.

And oh, yes. On a lark and a feeling that someone just ought to know, (about how we used Google Earth to locate our ground) I wrote to Google about our endeavor – I told you all about this. Well, we entranced and inspired the right people, and now things are rolling; we’ve been contacted by Google’s PR firm, Cutline Communications, in San Fran and have just been interviewed by a local newspaper, and we found out we will be featured in a Google Earth marketing campaign, a story they’re highlighting to celebrate Google Earth’s history, set to launch September 28th! Not bad, with Mercury Retrograde and all that.

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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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