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Well, more like their scent. And thankfully not everywhere I look/smell around because that would just be wrong. Lilacs in February? I found this little lovely in in Pier Park, right next to where we live, one of two small bushes nestled under the towering firs that have decided: it’s time. You can’t blame them — it’s been unseasonably warm. In reality, though, they are more an early May/Mother’s Day bloom out this way, and if all the bushes happened to be flowering, that would be trouble: too warm.

We want, no, make that NEED, our vineyard to slumber for another few months, so that a late season frost doesn’t cause harm if it awakens too early. Although what can you do? Even though our land is 90 miles away in a cooler, drier climate, 90 miles really isn’t that far; it’s almost 60 degrees F here in Portland today, and in the low 50s right now in The Dalles. As long as the nights stay cool, though, we’re good, and Weather Underground is showing some rather chilly nights during this period of warmth. If we were making maple syrup (which we can’t out here since sugar maples are not to be found — dang it!) we’d love this weather. But it puts me a little on edge vineyard-wise. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it, how something so lovely and scented as a lilac can make one worry?

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Yesterday I held a flicker in my hand, feeling its chest heave and its little heart beat, right there on my skin. Speaking to it only increased its agitation, so I stopped, and waited for Scott to return with Sam–who was having a tearful day, scared by all the grasshoppers and wanting to go home as soon as we had arrived–and something to help extricate the poor bird from the netting it was caught in.

When I saw Scott kneeling on the hillside, at the end of a net-ensconsed row, I figured he was working on a drip tube, a leak or something. Then I saw it was something under the net, and he called me to come down, asking, “Do you have any cutting thing in your bag? A knife or something?”  I didn’t.  “What’s caught?” I was fearful of hearing it was a hawk, or worse, our resident kestrel. “It’s one of those long-beaked birds you like.” “A flicker?” “Yeah, a flicker.” Just as bad, I thought. A flicker.

Scared beyond all get out of what I might see when I got there, there it soon was, wild-eyed in Scott’s grip, as he tried unsuccessfully to release it. He showed me where the one wing had netting stuck tight to it, and our plan was to cut it out.

I’m alone on that steep hillside with the bird now, the sun peeking past the billowy white clouds, the air warm and gently scented with sagebrush and dried grasses, the start of Fall. The ground feels soft under my knees as I try  to gently, yet firmly, hold this fearful feathered creature. I use my fingers and create a stronger vise-like position near its neck area, so the bird’s head becomes a cork and the rest of the body can’t get through, and am more careful with the wings and body, not knowing what damage might be there–its right wing greatly entangled in the green webbing. I look into its dark red eyes and hope and hope and hope that all will be well.

Not knowing how long it has been tangled, it is still feisty, and strangely calm. While I wait for Scott, I undo its big, leathery clawed left foot. Mistake! For as soon as I get that free, the wiggle becomes more determined. And it is soon caught up again. I decide to just wait.

I hear voices, and look up the hill. Soon they appear at the top, and down the hillside Scott comes, carrying Sam so the grasshoppers don’t get him, I suppose. They get to us, and Scott tells me, the only thing he found to cut with was clippers, no knife. We’ll make it work. “Hi little birdie.” Sam, now three, speaks to the flicker. We tell him matter of factly how this little guy got caught in the netting, and now we’re doing our best to get him out.

I have to hold the bird now in one hand, so Scott can get to that leg that had become re-entangled. Done. Now all that’s left is the right wing, and now with the bird almost out, the netting comes easily away. The flicker is free.

Please excuse me while tears come to my eyes now as I write; in the moment there was no time to be emotional, it was simply holding that bird and wondering what would it be able to do once it was released?

I jump up because the flicker obviously senses its recent detanglement, its fight now stronger than ever to leave my hands. “Don’t toss it,” Scott tells me, as he watches me lift the bird while I steady myself on the hill. “I’m not,” I tell him. “I’m taking it away from the netting.”

I walk the few steps across that 30+ grade, to what we call the north side, and set the bird down. And just as soon as my hands move away, it departs. Shaky, but flying, wings broad and nothing visibly damaged, it jumps right into the air, and disappears over the contour of our hill. Why it decides to turn back toward the vineyard, we will never know. “Oh, please, please, please, do not land or drop down there,” I think. I share my concern with Scott, who simply says, “We did what we could to help it, there’s nothing more we can do.”

As we walk back up the hill, I realize there is something more I can do: somewhere, somehow, get a tougher skin.


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There’s silence over the vineyard. Last weekend this wasn’t so. Starlings and Brewer’s Blackbirds had gathered, maybe a good 100 or so, in anticipation of our changing grapes, chippering and chirping in excitement of their imminent gorging of the grapes–or so they thought. They’d rise up as Jack ran the rows, looking like little winged muffins being tossed into the sky, so sudden was their lift. Then those plump little beasties would lazily land only a few rows away, where they remained until Jack or one of us sent them springing upward again. But now, nothing.

We started at the west end, where the sangiovese and tempranillo were undergoing veraison. A few days later, the entire vineyard was under netting.

The vineyard is now ensconced in bird netting, and a new green hue covers the land.

We saw one of our kestrel friends, a male, out watching the activity (literally) unfold. I ducked behind a vine, in hopes I’d see him in action, for that was why we even put in those kestrel houses, so these little falcons would swoop and maybe even swallow down some song birds, as message to others to “Stay out.” Well, he wasn’t that interested, even when it looked like those birds landed right under his roost. Geez!

Hey Guy! Get to Work!


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Came around the bend outside of The Dalles on Saturday and this is what I saw:

A range fire in someone’s wheat field, just outside town. Wheat harvest was under way, and Scott had called me on the drive, to tell me of the fire that flared up, and how Dave, the gentleman who farms the rest of our property left with his crew to help fight it. He asked Scott to stay behind, in the event there could be a flare up on our land; I guess hot machinery can get a flame going.

In town, where Sam and I stop to pick up sandwiches for lunch, we saw this:

On our way to the vineyard we had to pull over to let the Hood River Brush Engine go by, the neighboring town coming now to fight the blaze. Sam wanted to go see the fire, but I told him there’s no need for Looky-Loos, and anyway, it’s not safe, and best to be out of the way so the men and women fighting the fire can do their work.

Once at the vineyard, the smoke had greatly subsided; Scott told me he had seen the flames dancing in the distance, some few miles away, and when Dave and crew came back, he told us the fire was 20 ft. high, and had done a good 100 acres of damage before being contained.

In the morning, I snapped this picture from our camper window, where you can see the burn area:

That same morning we also were privy to “our” kestrels hunting, and caught a few images (click on them to make them bigger — sorry if they take longer to load):

And Dave’s John Deere combine. When we saw that thing sitting on our land, it was like a lunar space machine had landed, so foreign is that to us, out there, but not foreign at all to the history of the area.  This shot is of Dave, with Scott and Sam, heading off for an evening run; Dave was kind enough to offer Sam a ride, and after we came back from our Deschutes River outing, and had our pizza dinner, he was still at work. It was a beautiful evening.

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It’s been warm here in Portland these last few days, and it’s projected to continue. So that means it’ll be just what we need out east in the vineyard, helping those little vines catch up to the slow start they, and most others out here in the West, have endured. And while they do, and while the heat leaves us looking for cool and sweating out whether or not our grapes will ripen in time, may I suggest a drink I have concocted: Basil-Strawberry Rum-Ade.

We made it up after I had had enough of the sickly sweet of diet coke in the Cuba Libres Scott had been pouring for us pre-dinner (we drink wine at dinner; nothing fancy, we are on a budget, after all). So I used what we had on hand, as any desperate-for-a-good-drink housewife might–lemons, basil from our “terracotta” garden pot, and strawberries saved from the slugs in the earthen garden–and put this refresher together. Maybe one like it already exists in the mixology-sphere, I dunno; I’ve never seen it on menus or run across it online. So here’s what I made, and it’s rather flavorful, the basil a lovely herbal counter-balance to the sweet of the strawberries and triple-sec:

Basil-Strawberry Rum-Ade
2-3 small strawberries — I used the very small and incredibly flavor-saturated ones grown in our garden
1 fresh large basil leaf
1/4 lemon, juiced
ice cubes
1 good splash of triple-sec — I used approx. 1 TBLSP

Here’s how it goes:

Muddle the strawberries and basil leaf in the lemon juice.

Add the triple sec, then fill up the glass with ice.

Top off with rum, as much as you’d like.


And there you have it. I’m looking forward to trying it with a little seltzer splash, for some bubble. And I can’t wait for the day I can offer it to friends at our home on our hill, overlooking Mt. Hood,

listening to the coyotes gather in the distance, our vineyard (and maybe winery, do I dare to dream so grandly?) in view; of course I’d also serve my favorite flavor of pork rinds (plain), because nothing beats a good rind and  good drink with good friends in the glorious wilds of the West.

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Or, how we used Google Earth to unearth our dream in The Dalles.

I can’t remember how much we’ve told you all about how we found our place out in The Dalles. Here’s the letter I just sent off to Google, about how Google Earth played a major part:

Hello Google,

My name is Stephanie and I’d like to share a story with you:

While you were putting your Data Center in in 2006 in The Dalles, my husband and I were planting a vineyard just east of town, the property found using Google Earth while we were living in Ireland years earlier.

From a distance 1000s of miles away, my husband, a scientist by education and farm kid at heart, pored over the Oregon landscape, his dream of a vineyard having come alive in the dark, blustery Irish winter. There was absolutely NO WAY he could’ve researched the best location for our family farm without Google Earth; you might be able to trust someone else in finding a new house from a distance, but you can’t trust someone else with finding your dream!

He gathered data—degree growing days, temperature highs and lows, etc.—and then transposed it across the maps he had collected, from the locales he discovered using Google Earth. Like a modern-day e-explorer, he was looking for the undiscovered gem, a hillside that would grow the wines he had envisioned, developed from his decades-long love of wine. He soon had assembled a list of properties and then enlisted a realtor—still while we were living in Ireland—to go knocking on the land owners’ doors. On the very next day after we returned to The States, we met the one land owner willing to sell us some property. And what was once a pile of maps and data sourced through Google is now this:

found at

45°35’36.87″ N
121°02’25.74″ W
Since we’ve planted out in the “undiscovered” wilds of Wasco County’s wheat country, our wine has been celebrated at a dinner at The James Beard House in New York, praised by one of America’s most noted wine experts, Joel Butler, MW, and now others are following in our footsteps, possibly opening up a new wine-growing area outside The Dalles: we know of two individuals who, after having waited and watched to see if we might have success, have begun vineyard development in the vicinity, all thanks to Google Earth.

Most people use Google Earth simply to find restaurants, or peek in on their childhood home miles away, but not us. For us, using Google Earth has changed our lives, or at least our life’s direction, for we used it to find our dream.

We thought you should know.



We’ll see if we hear back! Stay tuned!

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It’s starting again. Scott. Gone. Weekends. Only one day at-a-time for now. Longer visits on the way. It happens every year. The vineyard calls. And if we can keep her happy, she, we hope, will keep us all smiling, if you know what I mean.



“There’s no better time than a dark, blustery Irish winter to dream the dream of sunshine, grapes and wine.”

That was my opening line in our letter – or something like it – way back in 2005 when we were living in Ireland, courting our not-yet-on-board cowboy vineyard manager who we had met some weeks earlier while we were honeymooning in Roseburg, Oregon. How? What? Ireland? Yup, Ireland. The land where this whole wine adventure really took off.

Scott’s work brought us there for a 2-year assignment — mine was shortened because I had to prepare the cat for travel to a rabies’ free land. So in Ireland we were, and it was then when the wine dream that had been growing in Scott for decades really bit him in the behind. Alone on those winter nights, between late night pub phone calls (I got some pretty funny ones), he began to read the books I had given him over the years, and he was hooked. It also helped that we had just gotten back together only weeks before he was to depart for Eire, and that I agreed to join  him on his assignment — the tipping point was being reached, no turning back — we were committing to each other, see how that goes?

Scott Reading About Limestone, Prompting Our Honeymoon in Roseburg

So, it’s to Ireland I raise my glass today, not necessarily in celebration of that guy who supposedly set all those heathens straight, but to that little green penny of a country, that colorful, cheerful, rural land, the location that so inspired Scott’s dream, or at least reminded him that Irish winters are ridiculously grey and wet.

Besides the steer and sheep and the occasional pheasant, my favorite backyard Ireland view.

Slainte, Ireland!



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This is from last week, when we officially began to harvest our Rock Flour Hill vineyard. We had to leave the sangiovese, just not ready.

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A kind reader wrote in some time ago and asked,

“I’m really interested in the nuts, bolts and economics– how do you choose suitable land? How expensive is it to buy, plant and maintain? Do you use an agronomist and winemaker? etc., etc. Any information you’re willing to share would be greatly appreciated.”

As I sit here in my car office (!) while harvest takes place many miles away, Scott out there managing it all, hauling the grapes after he does the hand-picked on-site sorting, I think back over the years, and the decisions and the planning that has gone into this (ad)venture. The equation for its existence is simple enough:

man+dream= this

but the process has been at times overwhelming, probably not enough laughter, and feeling like an endurance event with constant sprints to really test one’s mettle and soul.

In the next couple weeks I’ll be assembling all this information (FINALLY – thanks for your patience, Joe), but for now I’ll leave you with this paragraph I had written for a Good Grape comment, on what to do if one was going to get into the wine business:

On 06/07, Stephanie L wrote:

this only applies if one might consider getting into the biz as a vineyard owner and wine-maker combo: we’re heading into the biz with our first vintage this year, so we’re really not in it yet, although our yearly tax returns since planting our vineyard some years ago would say otherwise. to me the most important thing to remember is to stay true to yourself. don’t follow the yahoos by trying to emulate, or become some score-hound. and ABSOLUTELY don’t buy your grapes. grow them—they are essentially the only proprietary thing you can have—everything else can be copied. and then rely on your decades (or hopefully years) of building up wine lust and knowledge, and the funds you scrimped and saved for years, and then go for it. find the best ground, don’t settle for mediocre, don’t settle for people saying “but this is how it’s done” if you have your own ideas, and don’t waste your energy on those afraid of you rocking the status quo. keep your head down and keep going. it goes without saying that one must focus on their core strength, but i’d fire that biz consultant if s/he tried to tell me that. for with the proliferation of labels and the quality of wine like it has never been, it’s equally important to focus on WHO you are, not simply what you can do. that’s called the brand, elwood, the brand! an ugly and misunderstood word to many, but that’s what you need to do.

I’ll leave you with that and get to work on the nuts and bolts.

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