The Nuts and Bolts of It

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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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Just a fast follow up to our How We Do It post I wrote some months ago. Sorry for the silence these last few months (and thanks, Matt, for noticing!), but there’s been such a slowing in our endeavor. Sigh. I’ve (we, really) got to dig deep into my/our reserves, as if  hiking Mt. Hood, having tramped up all night with that 40# pack plus rope, and just breathe in the latest turndowns and letdowns as nothing more than the acrid fumarole stink you pass by that burns your nostrils and makes you sickish, only until the wind blows it away, and you forget about it as you look to the summit and rope up for the final, upward slog.

Now back to that photo-shoot thing — well, the photo was never used, but WHO CARES! Because our tempranillo wine received some of the most glowing words ever (you FaceBook and Twitter users might already know of this) from the prestigious Quarterly Review of Wine. And it gave us hope. Sort of. Until we saw that it did not generate one blip of interest! Or one sale. LOL! What the what does it take? I don’t know. Look to the summit, LaMonica, LOOK TO THE SUMMIT! And don’t forget the ones out there who do appreciate their discovery of The Grande Dalles (Thank you, thank you!). And don’t forget to rope up.


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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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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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Let’s just say, last night’s frost was not little. Scott spent the night at the camper, up checking temperatures throughout the late night and early morning, with a helicopter on stand-by if the freeze would be that severe. It was not good–not the 15 degree junk our little vineyard endured the first year we planted it, more at the 25-27 degree mark –but what was not better was that by all indications, there was no warmer air to push into the vineyard, the temps at the top of the hill below freezing, too. And pushing freezing air around was not the solution we were after. So the helicopter was called off, and the damage done.

How much? We don’t know. The question now is, is the vine still working if all leaves were not destroyed? We were planning on harvesting the cabernet sauvignon this weekend anyway — how much might the fruit degrade if the plant is no longer active? And what does it mean for the sangiovese, all those vines so laden with lovely fruit, but still a ways off from being what we need? Scott’s trying to figure all this out, on his way to his day-job that keeps the bills paid and at least THAT worry taken care of.

Scott just said, rather simply,”It’s a fecked* up year that continues to be fecked up, to the end.” I tried reminding him that the riesling and tempranillo we just brought in last weekend turned out just fine, that is, the sugars and acids were in balance and so we can breathe a little there. But then he reminded ME that we were only looking at 3.5 tons of fruit there, mostly because of the season’s earlier cold temps, and we still have 8-10 tons hanging. What could I say to that?

So we’ll see. Fingers crossed, aGAIN.

*I changed this to the more polite term, for us American English speakers. Irish readers might still feel the full pain.

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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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If you haven’t already figured out in my posts, our wine life does not reflect the care-free days and ways people imagine a wine-life to be. We are a small, start-up, practically self-funded, and do much, if not most of the work ourselves. I am in charge of this blog and all writing, and the website. Scott takes care of the vineyard and wine side.

So I spent Friday morning before Sam woke up fretting over The Grande Dalles website. I was reading my daily dose of Wine Business  and came across The Winery Website Report’s Why Winery Websites Stink, part Deux. So I’m there shaking my head “Oh, yes” thinking of all the misinformation (people using the word “estate” wrongly and misleadingly, for example) and similar gobbledygook (where it’s hard to tell one site from the other),  I’ve encountered, and thinking how I hope ours might be refreshingly to the point (like our wine! ha!) and honest. Oh, how smug I was in my thinking, and I should’ve stopped there, but I kept clicking the links, the one that brought me to Part I of Why Winery Websites Stink, and here’s what I read, a quote attributed to Sean P. Sullivan and the Washington Wine Report:

90-95% of winery websites stink because they say little about the winery and even less about the wines. They provide largely generic information rather than specific information about who you are andwhat differentiates your winery.

Now, I don’t know which websites this guy was looking at, because the ones I visit and peek in on go on and on at times, almost rote like; I can’t read the stuff, but that’s just me. I do not classify myself as a “wine geek.” And, I should tell Sean P. Sullivan that just the landing page of a winery should speak LOADS about who the people are, what their wine is like, and so on and so on; such is the power of a well-thought out brand, not a me-too experiment. But then I went to our site, and wondered (worried, really), “Do we say enough?” I believe we’ve captured the essence of the grit and the grande, of who we are (Scott, “Eternal dreamer,” Stephanie, “Recovering pessimist,” for example), and through our minimalist approach we speak volumes. We do know who we are, and we show it. I won’t worry about that.

More fretting, though, ensued when I started reading more about SEO (search engine optimization) and that’s where I need to spend more time. For example, if you were to type “Tempranillo Oregon” would you find us? Got to page #10 on a Google Search and nada. And same with Brunello or Sangiovese. Yet we are there for “’08 Gampo,” and “’08 Home Place,” but that doesn’t help us when people don’t know what our proprietary wines are composed of. Sigh. Something more to put on my to-do list: optimize search engine tags and what not. It really does feel like a game of Tag to me, everyone out there searching for the best hit, and us, trying to get caught.


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Our latest installment on The Daily Meal

Some time ago, it filtered down to us — a wisecrack at our expense, from someone who we refer to as Old Wise All — about how we did our farming in a Subaru.

Back in the day, when we were getting ourselves up and running on the farming end of it, turning bare wheat ground into vineyard, Old Wise All, an established neighboring farmer, went by the farming book when it came to vehicles out in that neck of the woods. He had a 4×4 farming truck, a “going to town” shiny truck, a “stepping out” car, and numerous other farm vehicles: a couple of tractors and trailers, and an enormous combine that he painted himself. So no wonder the snide comment, “And he’s out there farmin’ in a subaru!” Because that’s all we had. A “town and country” dusty, dirty, old Subaru that we used for everything — even farming.

See, when you have a dream and don’t have a family farm or deep pockets (or friends with deep pockets), you do what you can. So we farmed in a Subaru, among other things, to make this dream happen. And don’t we laugh about it now. READ MORE

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Water has returned to the hill. Sam and I went and picked up old pump out in the green and firework stands of Vancouver, WA where we thought we might buy our new one, and then travelled southward down I-5 with all those tractor trailers to pick up new, smaller pump we ended up purchasing. Didn’t I feel like quite the farm wife that day, talking the ag-pump talk, driving the dusty pickup with my co-worker Sam, and Curious George, of course.

Old Pump, New Pump

And best news, the pump works! Yes, yes, a new pump ought to work, so why this excitement? The last pump was nightmarish. It caused so much headache and heartache because we could not depend on it. You should know, when you’re working on an endeavor like this and have bootstrapped the adventure yourself, along with a very kind bank (always grateful, Brad!), and don’t live out there to get right on it, everything that doesn’t go right is magnified because of the time and energy and moolah to fix it. So off Scott goes, he with his full time other job that pays the bills, because we’ve learned our lesson when counting on others. That’s why I’m so pumped up. THE PUMP WORKS! Scott’s only hesitantly pumped up. But not me! WOOHOOOOO!

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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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