Columbia Valley Terroir

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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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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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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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