Mt. Hood

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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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Can’t believe it’s been two years since I started writing this blog, when I had a heck of a lot more time because Sam went to bed at 5:30 and STILL NAPPED! And I had a very reliable gal who came over 2x a week besides. Now my posts are a little hurried, I know — kid is growing and changing every day, and my last gal was too Portlandia, causing me to lose faith in good help for now. So there you go.

There are a lot of little gems from the days back, and I’d like to dig up a few, because they’re still relevant, and they give me some breathing room while Sam and I start “crafting” things for the holidays.

The following was posted December 22, 2009


The Dalles Bridge: A Western Bridge for a Western Town (sorry it’s fuzzy)

Hooray! The Dalles has been named a “True Western Town” in True West Magazine’s top 10 list of, you guessed it, “True Western Towns” for 2010.

I’ve always had the feeling, from the first time we showed up and actually spent some time in The Dalles looking for vineyard ground—instead of simply rumbling by on 84 as I imagine most do, because honestly, from a car window, The Dalles kind of shows its ass to the world and who would want to stop? The auto repair and RV spots, the strip malls and former old rundown Aluminum factory site now razed to a bunch of bare earth…and that’s probably enough said*—that it was, at its soul, a quiet, Western town.

And it is: at its center you’ll find restored, 19th century Victorians; one-way down-town streets lined with high-windowed brick buildings; farm rigs and big hats going by; cowboy boots and western wear; plus all what the article in True West speaks of. And all against the backdrop of enormous, grassy hills that echo Connemara to me—or pictures I’ve seen of New Zealand—on the Washington side, and heights of basalt outcroppings with scrub oak and sage on the Oregon side; the Western character is hard to miss.

Once our vineyard was planted, it felt like—and still does—a little vineyard on the frontier, all alone under the watchful eye of Mt. Hood in that striking expanse of rolling hills of wheat, the Klickitats just across the river, the hawks and kestrels soaring against the blue, blue sky. The occasional truck or car zipping down Emerson Loop Road can’t even wake me from this reverie, so few are there.

From people I’ve talked with, not many know about The Dalles, few know even less about the geographic Big West that’s just past the bend in the Columbia River heading eastward out of “The Hood,” or Hood River (I call it The Hood—don’t know if others do). How dramatically the landscape changes; away from the rain influence of the Cascade Range where the average precipitation reaches 75 inches—The Hood approximately 32—the verdure of the densely forested, canyon-walled-passage drive from Portland is replaced by a set out of a Leone western, with open, golden—sensuous even—rolling steppes, rim-rock rises and scrub-oak gullies where I imagine a young, poncho-ed Clint resting, or, more likely, on the run (ah, Clint); for every mile you drive east from The Hood you lose an inch of precipitation, and in this area, in the rain shadow of Mt.Hood, a scant 14 inches of precipitation is the yearly norm. Lewis Mumford, an early 20th century philosopher of the urban landscape (among other areas) eloquently describes the Columbia Gorge’s scenic transition in 1939 as “[unrolling] itself like some great kakemono of classic Chinese landscape art.”

I don’t subscribe to True West, but the categories of “Renegade Roads,” “Classic Gunfights,” and “Frontier Fare” from its website pique my interest in becoming a regular reader. I hope what might be more inviting to you, my dear Reader, if you haven’t been, or if you don’t know, is The Dalles and surrounding area itself. It quietly sits like an undiscovered gem, only seen by the more discerning eye who relishes the new, for the individual who is not afraid to step off the beaten path and find their own island of quiet, while the rest of the world rushes loudly past. A true Western town with a true Western sense of place.

*update: Google’s shiny power station and the area’s funkelnagelneu grain elevator stand out like beacons near that old aluminium factory site, hopefully heralding in more bright things to come.

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I posted  a few images on our The Grande Dalles FaceBook page,  from our latest weekend at the vineyard, and from a brief exchange with a “Fan,” the word “reverence” came on the screen. I had written it. A big word, I know, but that’s the only one I can come up with when I am out on our land.

It’s funny, because as I get closer to The Dalles on the cruise through The Gorge, I look for the classic rock station, the one our very interesting helper Richard listens to: ZZ Top, old U2, Pink Floyd…an eclectic mix of nostalgia (for me), and down the highway, and even up into the windy, hilly road to our vineyard, it feels right. Once I get to the gate, the deer-gate entrance with the sign “Please Close Gate Behind You” I let the music drift out of the car door as I pull into the turnout, put us in neutral so I can open the gate, and then again so I can close it behind us. Back in the car I do turn the music down; the windows now are up because of the dust–they may have been up for some time if we needed air conditioning on the drive–but the reverence has begun; I need some quiet as I survey the vine rows along our vineyard road. Scott’s usually waiting for us at the top of the hill, for his boy, and the quieted party in our car comes to an end.

In the evening we will have drinks, as civilized people in the wilds will do, and sometimes the music will again return to the landscape, me sitting in the car with the doors open as music cascades down the hill and outward in the fading sunlight.

But for almost the whole time we are there, there is no music, no man-made sounds other than that from the ritual tractor ride of father and son, the occasional car zipping down the road far below, or the lone plane droning above the wide, glorious land. It is the three of us (avec chien) alone under the sky, fully present in what the land gives us. And in those moments of stillness, like when I step outside in the middle of the night and surprise a hunting owl as it alights from its perch on the camper and flies silently overhead, its shape in stark contrast to the bright of the moon; or when I smell the sweet of the earth or hear the rustle of the growing wheat or that precious meadow lark song; when we all watch the kestrel hunt in the early morn before the heat reaches us, or as I smile at our vines who wave at me in the wind, Mt. Hood forever stoic out in front, the only music in my ears is that of reverence. Pure, unadulterated reverence.


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Looking eastward on north fence line/photo location: Hay Ranches, on shared easement

When we bought our property, we put in an 8-foot deer fence to encircle our parcel of 160 acres; done as a joint project with our neighbor, this same fence contains his adjoining 160, making what’s supposed to be a quiet deer-free “preserve” of 320 acres. Sometimes this has not been so, as we’ve had deer in a few times. The first time was when we first put the fence up, a small band became enclosed, so diverse and large was the area, they simply got stuck in. Then there have been some “how did they get in here?” moments, when we’ve found an errant deer wandering around. Thankfully, at every time, we’ve been able to get them out unharmed, still unsure of how they got in, although we have our suspicions (gate left opened overnight, for example). But to make sure the fence was not compromised in a more remote locale that gave them opportunity for entry, I went out walking it with Jack the dog this past weekend.

Mt. Hood behind the wheat / photo location: Hay Ranches, from shared easement

We did the North parcel on Saturday, the south parcel on Sunday. And weren’t both days glorious. Not too hot, not too windy. Mt. Hood pretty much in full view.  A lot of stop-and-scan, stop-and-scan action, keeping an eye out for any bounding creature rustled up out of the high wheat, or ears pricked in our direction. With the wind blowing our scent away, and quieting our crunching footsteps, we did manage to get a good 8-10 feet from a doe grazing OUTSIDE the fence. Best doe-y eyed glance I’d ever seen so close, when she was finally on to us, and then she bounced away.

Not the deer we snuck up on, but one we startled

Turns out the fence is just fine, and other than a number of dig-throughs/unders from fox or coyotes or badgers or whatever else might be coming on in, there were not places an unprovoked deer might. Jack had one tick on him rendered harmless by his tick treatment; I thought I might get some, walking through the tall grasses, arms raised in a tick-like surrender, but nothing, whew! I have to do that walk around more often. It’s quite a workout, and the scenery is crazy beautiful.

Here’s a link to more of the weekend’s pictures I popped onto Facebook.


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A list of 10 things a person should have at their disposal when venturing out into the Wilds of Wine.

5. Sense of humor. Back to the Hogsback. It’s 6 AM, hiking from 10 PM, and we’re almost to the summit of Mt. Hood. We’ve just found out our comrade is afraid of heights. And if that doesn’t turn one’s stomach, the altitude, Mt. Hood’s up-top sulphuric fumarole stink, lack of sleep, fatigue setting in, and all those carbs we’ve been downing will. You have to, umm, “go.” So there you are, out on the Hogsback, exposed, literally and figuratively, and you gotta dig your little hole, and pretend you can’t see your team up the way, and THEN, well, get out that little blue bag because a key maxim for hiking is “Pack it in, pack it out.” And all you can do at that point is to find the humor in it all, or else feel rather miserable.

Having a vineyard is no different.

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A list of 10 things a person should have at their disposal when venturing out into the Wilds of Wine.

One of the great things about where we live in the Pacific Northwest is all the hiking that surrounds us. The Cascade Mountains are essentially at our doorstep, Mt. Hood the closest to us in Portland, as well as the vineyard (30 miles or so, as the crow flies), Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams near by to the north, and then all the peaks in central Oregon: Mt. Jefferson, Three Sisters, Broken Top…. Not to mention all the opportunities in the Columbia Gorge – Dog Mountain, Table Mountain, Ruckle Ridge, Mt. Defiance, to name a few. Before the vineyard and wine, when times seemed much simpler, and we had the time and car and energy to head out into nature, I was a rather avid hiker, even enrolling in and completing the Mazama’s Basic Climbing Education Program (BCEP) in Scott’s and my salad dating days. The Mazamas are the second oldest climbing group in the West, founded on the pinnacle of Mt. Hood in 1894, and their BCEP a primer for physical conditioning and basic climbing—rock and snow/ice—techniques to get you to the top of some peaks—along with a seasoned Mazama climb leader, of course—at the end of the course.

One of the key things that gets hammered into you in the Mazamas Basic Climbing Education Program is what’s called the 10 Essentials. They are what every climber should carry with them, no matter what the duration of your hike, day or overnight, car-camping or wilderness rambling, to help you in a pinch, and keep you prepared for outdoor’s unexpected twists and turns. They are:

  1. Map of where you are hiking
  2. Compass (I carried one, but still really don’t know how to use one, no fault of the Mazamas, I would even skip lukio in Finland whenever we had our Orienteering gym class. I don’t know why I have such an aversion to the compass. Odd.)
  3. Whistle
  4. Waterproof matches and a fire-starter
  5. Knife
  6. Extra food/water
  7. Extra clothing
  8. Sun protection (extra glasses, lip and skin balm/cream, and hat)
  9. Flashlight with working and extra batteries
  10. First-aid kit

Based on this, I’ve assembled my own list of 10 Essentials that everyone should have at their disposal when starting a vineyard, for going whole hog into the wine business, for even, like in hiking, as much as you think you know where you’re going, there are a ton of unknown variables that can cause you to alter course, or terminate the mission altogether. Here they are, in no real order:

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When I filmed this on Monday, there was indeed a red flag fire warning for our vineyard area. Today, Thursday, there is none. This does not eliminate the actuality of fire occurring, just lessens the chances, for NOW. And I have no idea why I blink like a fish. I guess I’m tired. Blame it on the heat. For sure it’s not because of anything else in my life, since it IS so leisurely…

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Scott’s off to Yakima, WA today [note: which really was Saturday], a good 2-hour trip NNE of The Dalles. He’s returning some bird netting; it’s good to get some money BACK for once. Ever since our first harvest in 2008, birds have been, how shall we say, an issue once the grapes ripen. Never thought they would be, since there are no roosting trees around, it’s just those little darned wings that take them places we forgot about.

That first harvest year we tried a couple things: the intermittent cannon blasts (lasted until the neighbors asked us to turn it off, so we did—it wasn’t working, anyway), and the bird distress call, a microchip of birds in distress, plus the predatory birds causing it. Also had a crazy little rendezvous around Mt. Hood to pick up the chip we needed—for it to work you have to have distress calls of the birds that have taken over your vineyard, like starlings and robins. Somehow we had coastal bird noises on the chips we had borrowed from a neighboring cherry orchardist, and it was soon very obvious that starlings don’t give a rat’s ass about one of their feathered brethren like a seagull calling out in distress: “Too bad for you, brother, there are grapes to eat.” So after identifying which birds in particular had invaded our vineyard, we set off to pick up the chip in the little mountain-like community of ZigZag, just at the base of Mt. Hood, the bird chip people meeting us half-way between their Sisters, Oregon location.

We already knew it might be too late for us, since birds had already found the treasure in our vineyard. The trick is that you must put these calls out BEFORE any of these ravenous monsters find your crop. But we were desperate; there were too many birds, and too small a harvest, getting smaller by the day. Samuel was only 2-months old, and if being new parents wasn’t enough, we were new harvest people, and had this bird issue.

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Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens. I was 11 at the time, so no, I don’t remember where I was when it blew. But I have heard accounts since moving here to Oregon in 1991–the hot, tarry ash that ruined umbrellas people here in Portland used for the fallout, as well as any other thing the heated material landed on; the ominous, dark cloud people saw and then wondering, “Is this the end?”–and I remember all the “authentic Mt. St. Helens ash” blown glass holiday ornaments that were still being sold years after the 1980 eruption, I myself buying one in the late ’80s for my then step-mother at a little gift shop on Lark Street in Albany, New York, where I attended University.

I’ve been up and around Mt. St. Helens mountain biking, and the landscape is surreal, even today. Lunar, lunar, lunar. One day I’ll make it to the the top of the old gal, but for now I think about the tremendous energy hovering still in our back yard, not just in Mt. St. Helens, but in Mt. Hood, too.

Mt. Hood stands only 30-some miles as the crow flies to the WSW of our vineyard, and I have to admit, I worry. There are fumaroles pumping sulfuric gases out towards the summit of Mt. Hood, nauseating the hiker on the way to the top; not a lovely experience when you’ve been hiking all night, and then in the early dawn you get that up your nose. So Mt. Hood is another one that can go. It’s not the pyroclastic flows I’m worried about, it’s the ash and fallout — with the right wind, our vineyard, and 1000s of acres around it could become, well, toast. Or at least ruined. Which is still toast to me.

So for now, we’ll just enjoy that view from our hilltop, and hope for no wind that day. Right.

Peep my next video post for a peek at Mt. Hood in relation to our vineyard site, if you want.

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