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When it gets to a certain point, you know one day when the phone rings it will be to tell you. But just because you expect it, doesn’t make it any easier when the call arrives. We got that call yesterday: Leroy had passed away.

Leroy Rasmussen, 82 years old. The first person who ever really believed in our endeavor with a clear conscience. A man whose entire life had been in the vineyard, until his health took him from it. Leroy Rasmussen, whose own Red Hill Douglas County AVA riesling cuttings are the reason for our Leroy’s Finest wine. Leroy Rasmussen, our straight-shooting, salt-of-the-earth cowboy vineyard consultant is no more.

Some time ago we had lost track of Leroy–his health deteriorating so that he was moved very quickly from the area, back to more his home place of Nebraska. After some e-sleuthing, I did locate him and we corresponded with his wife last holiday season. I had high hopes that Leroy might recover, but he did not.

Until I can get more of my thoughts in line, where my emotions are not getting the best of me as I write, I’ll leave you with this story of Leroy, one I wrote last year.


Leroy Rasmussen, The Grande Dalles Cowboy Vineyard Manager


 We often think Leroy’s life is the stuff made for Hollywood: upon his return from the Korean War, a young man from the dusty ranges of Nebraska sets out on his own, taking his family to California. The initial plan falls through, and he gets into the grape business. It’s the 1950s. And in his lifetime, he not only teaches a young Marvin Shanken—pre-Wine Spectator—the word malolactic fermentation, he plants 1000s of acres in Sonoma, and then, years later, establishes a single-vineyard AVA—Red Hill, Douglas County—in Oregon. Leroy was a true salt-of-the-earth man, and out-of-the-box thinker. And he was our “cowboy” vineyard consultant.

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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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How golden the sun on December’s last day,
Not rainy like last year’s —now faraway.
A brisk winter’s afternoon light fills the sky
And the colored bulbs wait for the moment when night
Descends all around us, a new year’s fresh start
As we all celebrate in the bright of this dark.

Happy New Year, One and All – Stephanie, Scott, Samuel, and Jack


2010 Top Ten Highlights (in no particular order)

  1. Sold some wine!
  2. The Grande Dalles’ wine and story are getting out.
  3. David Rosengarten told us he found Leroy’s Finest the best American Riesling he’s ever tasted.
  4. Proper sleeping arrangements are now in order.
  5. Sea turtles.
  6. We got an up close look inside The Machine.
  7. Thankfully, our grapes ripened just right.
  8. Our third harvest, and Sam turned two!
  9. Samuel started asking for his own glass of wine at dinner.
  10. Little House on the Hill Project takes a shape.

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Still contemplating how the “pedigreed sommelier” so matter of factly believes that riesling must be made with some residual sugar (RS). Like it came down to Moses along with the Ten Commandments or something. Leaving RS has been historically practiced and appreciated since riesling is naturally high in acidity and has its agricultural beginnings in the cooler spots of central/eastern Europe (like Germany). These cooler areas generally could not ripen riesling enough to get the acid levels down to a palatable level so they did the smart thing and left RS to achieve a pleasing, sweet-acid balance.

We grow riesling for Leroy’s Finest just east of The Dalles, Oregon, and albeit we have a whopping two vintages under our belt (2009/10), we have ripened riesling to the point where the acidity is in the range of what you’d want for a dry white wine, with sugar concentrations such to yield reasonable alcohol levels. Plus, contrary to what “pedigreed sommelier” said about a dry riesling being less flexible with food pairing, I want to make a riesling to drink with seafood, not Thai or Chinese.

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Hat? Check.

Coffee? Check.

Wool socks? Note to self, get some.

Laptop? Check.

Cell phone? Where IS that? Ok – check.

Lots of books to catch up on? Double check.

Toilet paper for public bathroom? Triple check.

Ladies and Gents, I’m back in the Car Office again.

After a fairly short break in real life but like an eternity in web life, I’m right back here at Columbia Park, in north Portland, Oregon, in the car. “Where have you and your Car Office been?” you ask? Well, why don’t I just tell you?


The bird netting is being taken off as we speak! Yoohoooooo! That’s right everyone. We’re gearing up for harvest this week. Boy those grapes are taking their sweet time this year! Have had some recent frost scares, some rain scares, but looking at the forecast for the rest of the week

we’re good to go. Scott says the sangiovese still needs some time, but the riesling, cabernet sauvignon, and tempranillo will be snipped by Friday. I’ll try to wing Sam and myself out there for some live, on the spot reporting…

Now on to me. Ha! Seriously. I’ve enjoyed this time away from writing/blogging and here’s why: When we first planted our vineyard, all our freetime went there. All of it, and boy, did it piss me off when I no longer had the vineyard fever like Scott did. We were down to one car, my old Subaru, my autobahn and mountain baby I had with me when I lived in Germany and week-ended in Switzerland, and then my solace when I returned to the States as solo gal, that old suby my trusty trusty on all my Pacific Northwest adventures. Nope, it had been relegated to the farm car, and we had a vineyard to plant, dammit! Anyway, I didn’t want to feel pulled in two directions again, especially now with Sam in our lives.

Some months’ ago, Sam’s daycare ended, thankfully, not that he had a bad time there, but I didn’t like how the gal tweeted about green sale sweaters and a lot more when she was supposed to be engaging with the kids. Geez, louise! That experience solidified how precious our boy was, and somehow I felt guilty to have put him in that gal’s care. I also finally “heard” the lyrics, when Bert sings to Mr. Banks in Mary Poppins, “…childhood slips like sand through a sieve,” and boy didn’t that tug at my heart. Having just moved into a new house last month (yes, there are loan gods!), I essentially have just been hanging out with our very sweet boy in our new digs, and boy am I happy for it.

But now I’m ready to return to this (it’s time!), and thankfully have found a VERY COOL nanny who comes to our home twice a week, and then I escape. Back in the car office again. Look for more coming soon.

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We were out at our vineyard last weekend, curious to see how much the vineyard may have caught up with all the good weather we’ve had. Scott doesn’t tell me he’s worried, or anxious or anything, but I know I’m on pins and needles for the success of this year’s harvest; we’re already at a turning point, more-or-less, with trying to sell the 2008 Gampo and Home Place, and ’09 Leroy’s Finest; it is a make-or-break situation we’re in, having funded this whole venture ourselves and with the help of a local bank (thank you, Brad!), we do have to sell our wine to keep the funds coming; this whole “gotta spend money to make money” thing is slowly catching up to us.

Of course, speed is of the essence here. Every day that goes by gives opportunity to unfortunate incidents: poor weather—an unanticipated frost, or unwanted rain—or perhaps a flock of scissor-beaked birds snip their way methodically through the netting to gorge themselves on grapes, or a mythical herd of mammoth roaming the ranges of Wasco County decide they’re going to bust through the fencing and tear up the place, or, like those banditos out in the wilds of Washington State, thieves break in and steal it all, or worse.

But let’s not get me carried away. I’ll try and just focus on what’s here – harvest 2010, whenever that might be. What we saw last weekend gives us great hope. The Riesling and tempranillo have really moved. While out hunchy-ing around under the bird net canopy, Scott collected samples, and found them each at 19 brix. Hooray! Only four more to go.

Scott and Sam Crushing Grapes to Measure Brix

With the weather forecast as it is, harvest for these two varietals seems to be just around the corner, we hope. And as good as the cabernet sauvignon and sangiovese look, we’ll see what they do with the coming warmth. These past days for sure must have moved them significantly; with day-time temperatures in the 80s and nights in the 50s, that’s a whole bunch of good fortune for that treasure growing on the hillside.

As I sit here and think about the year, even though it’s not yet finished, I feel we’ve been fortunate (enough) that this year has not shown us “constant sorrow” in the form of one trouble after another we had to get ourselves out of; at least there was no fire (so far), and we did get the birds under control, the weeds, well, they are their own monsters and Scott tells me “next year” is the year of Weedus-Good-Bye-us. We’ll see. The well had its share of hiccups that experts can’t seem to get their heads around, but all-in-all, so far, a manageable year—maybe Scott would say otherwise; I have a feeling there is a ton of things he keeps to himself as he tries to gallantly shield me from the “truth.”

So now we’re waiting for harvest, waiting to see how the grapes will turn out, and hoping beyond all measure, we don’t find ourselves in a tight spot.

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Last week we tasted our very first bottled wine we made from our vineyard. What follows are some particulars regarding it.

The goal for our Riesling is to make it bone dry. No residual sugar. We planted Riesling because that is Scott’s favorite white wine. We have 4 rows’ worth on the south side, and around 3 acres on the north, for around 3.5 acres in total. Since our budget has only allowed us to trellis the south side, it is from here, some of the steepest ground on our site, where we take our harvest to date.

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[We tasted some of our wine last week. A Riesling. What we thought of it is in the next post.]

There it was. A bottle of wine from our vineyard on our kitchen table. Our wine. That we made. At long last. I couldn’t believe it.

You ever look at a “long-term project,” could be something or someone—like finally doing that remodel, the long-awaited high-school graduation of your more “difficult” child, that friend who simply never learns, making peace with an in-law or own parent…—and in a moment of realization, no matter how brief or lasting, you are simply thrilled by what’s there? “Ahh, look,” you might think, “all the WORK and TIME and EFFORT and SACRIFICE worked out. For all of us.” You pat yourself on the back, thankful that you never stopped believing. Or, if you did stop believing somewhere along the journey, it could go the other way, and you think, “[Expletive!] All that and for what? This?!”

I must confess: I was pretty excited by the fact that there was a bottle of our wine—OUR VERY FIRST BOTTLE!— sitting on our table, and secretly hoped I would be in my former category of long-term project reactions. But I am torn in this endeavor. I am. At times glowingly on board, I am a great believer, at others, I wish for my own quiet mountaintop to simply get away. But I am on no mountaintop, and there was our wine. Read the rest of this entry »

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