The Word Spreads

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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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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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That’s where you’ll find us, on Google Earth’s new site, One World, Many Stories, in year 2005, 3 dots following the start of a program that has reached its one-billionith download (holy crow!). Click on this lively circle and you’ll read all about how we (Scott, really) used Google Earth to zoom in on a dream, to locate our vineyard, without ever having set foot on the ground.

In actuality, we discovered our land while Google Earth was still in its Beta version, in April 2005. But since the timeline really begins with the launch of Google Earth, we decided to use the October 2005 date as the day we finally set foot on the property itself.

We are honored to be that little dot, on that fantastic timeline, with all those others who set off and explored to make a difference, either in their own lives, or in others’. Thank you, thank you, Google Earth.

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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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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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The Grande Dalles made Bottle Notes’ Wine of the Week (see below), the news hitting the internet while we were in transit to New York and our James Beard event. So it’s been almost 2 weeks ago, but I’ve only just now had the chance to pop it in The Uncultivated Life.

While being chosen from all the wines I’m sure they receive was indeed quite an honor, even more so was what was written about us, like:

–Referring to The Grande Dalles as “That winemaker who goes the extra mile to defy convention and produce wines that are different from everything else in the immediate surroundings.”

–“For doing things just a little bit differently, The Grande Dalles is our Wine of the Week.”

“The Grande Dalles is…a contrarian in the massive Columbia Valley, producing unique, small-batch wines…”

“…Use The Grande Dalles as inspiration to seek out other wines that diverge from the regional norm.”


Thank you, THANK YOU Bottle Notes — for recognizing our wine and the spot-on words about our endeavor.


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At the James John Cafe, 8527 North Lombard Street Portland, OR 97203 – (503) 285-4930. If you’d like to swing by, please do — tell us at the door who you are and la voila. Or if you can’t make it, at least sign up for The Grande Dalles news and updates, so you’ll have more than a few hours’ heads up; we sent out this invite to that crowd weeks ago. Either way, tonight or another time, we’d love to see you.

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Ok, granted we’re not there yet, we have yet to get on the airplane and have our Columbia Valley Terroir event, but we are officially on their March 2011 lineup, and that’s pretty darn good. How did we do it, you ask? With only our  inaugural wines, and even more so as an unknown from a state that only really touts its pinot noir? BECAUSE WE’RE ON TO SOMETHING. And the James Beard Foundation recognized that when we visited them last Spring and invited us to pour at a dinner.

So, we went out and found suitable partners who share the same ideals–it’s not about the show, but what gets shown in the wines, or in their case, the food–and will create the dishes to highlight our wines, and our wines their dishes. It was rather serendipitous, I only asking if our neighborhood’s James John Cafe rented out their space, so captivated was I by its high, tin ceilings and quirky decor, out here where we live in what feels like the outpost of St. Johns in North Portland, Oregon. But after talking to them during our wine tasting, I stepped out and asked if they might be interested in joining us at The James Beard House. And there you go. Of course their training and expertise helped with selling them in to the James Beard House, these two gems of chefs, Suzanne Bozarth and Aaron Solley; each has worked directly with James Beard Foundation Award Winning Chefs.

I know it’s a slow process, getting The Grande Dalles’ wine out and about. And its difficulty becomes compounded by all the surprising number of people who don’t value the new and different, so god bless New York. If you, dear reader, happen to know of any individuals who don’t follow the herd, send them our way, please. Or at least to The James Beard House in New York on March 3.

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A spot-on article by Oregon Wine Press. Thank you, Stu Watson.  You’ll have to enlarge to read, hold down apple key and + key  for a mac, control key and + key for a PC.

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