Wasco County

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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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Behind every good wine endeavor is a good cat, right? We only talk about Jack Dawg, our Ireland rescue pup, for he’s the one who runs excitedly to the back seat when we leave for the vineyard, and waits in anticipation for those first bends in the road after we get off the highway, his nose up and pulling in the scents now so familiar to him out in the wilds of Wasco County. Then like some banshee he runs those hills, almost until his legs give out, and we have a very quiet dog come evening.

Who I don’t talk about is Georgina, our cat, mainly because she views cars with detest (she knows where’s she’s going when she gets in one), and although she might do just fine out there on the land competing with the hawks for nature’s mouse bounty, I wouldn’t want her to be inadvertently picked up  by a large bird of prey, or some wayward coyote. So she stays home, alone, “Where she’s probably very happy because we’re all gone” says Scott.

That doesn’t mean she hasn’t been a contributor of sorts to this whole endeavor. Right after planting the vineyard, while we waited for those vines to grow and I had the time to freelance and bring in some moolah as a brand writer, Georgina would sit with me, like my own Pangur Ban, her silliness when we’d bat at each other across my laptop screen would free my mind when I was stuck, just as that old monk wrote about in his poem.

And she was hauled all the way to Ireland, where our story began, where Scott finally read all those techy wine books I had given him, her wailing from under the seat as we took off into the great blue unknown on our return trip to the USA documented in our saga I posted under Going Our Own Way. She has been a part of all this, and deserves to have it documented.

So when I ordered pavers the other day, personalized for all the individuals who have so generously supported our endeavor, their names, home places, and relevant date to be forever a part of our hill and our adventure, I added one for Georgina.

A rescue cat, found at LaTourelle Falls  in the Columbia Gorge one autumn day in 2011 with my sisters when they were visiting from NY, and dumped off hours earlier, according to a road-crew worker, Georgina’s been with me through the thick and thin of it. She made it all the way to Ireland and back, and always seems glad to see us when we return from the farm (or is that just for the crunchies I give her? hmmm). For all that, kitty cat, there’s a paver with your name on it. Thank you, thank you, little fuzzy face.

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This is what I was thinking about Oregon Trail Pioneers right here at our usual Deschutes River swim spot, almost at the point of where it flows into the Columbia River —where we cool ourselves down when it’s hot out at the vineyard. After another harrowing river crossing* for these people here on the Deschutes, the long-awaited fertile land is now within a shortened reach, but with still a long way to go:

OMG, these people made it all the way here are to Oregon Territory, but it’s not the verdant valleys they see, it’s these basalt-y, dried out autumn golden grassy hills that are presently Wasco County, and on the other side of the river, in Washington State, Klickitat County. “We came here for THIS?” I know my thoughts would be along those lines, cursing the man who brought me here—feigning no free will, of course—and wondering, was it because we took a wrong turn and he didn’t want to ask for directions that we’re in this place? But inwardly I’d be enjoying my secret excitement of adventure and possibility, because that’s just how I am. Terrible, I know, I’ll work on it.

Maybe those settlers cooled themselves right here at the mouth of the Columbia, where the rushing waters and its temperature rise and fall with Mt. Hood’s snow-melt, the air scented with the sweetness of sage brush cooking in the heat. Yup, right here along the banks, I decide, where my small family and I now frolic, Sam dipping in and out of the pools with his long, yellow “noodle,” that long floaty tube you imagine geriatrics using for a pool work-out. It’s right here that those people washed their clothes or dipped their feet, set their fires, and wondered again: “We came here for this?”

“Oh, please, let me make it right with a good dinner,” the men may have thought, as I watch modern-day fishermen cast a line out into the waters, the Chinooks still running fast but not so plenty as days gone by. And in the morning, the settlers would continue on, wondering, wondering, are we almost there?

Along they’d go, another 15 mile trek down to The Dalles, maybe on the basalt lip running along the river where their trail is still visible, or maybe fanned out across the landscape, passing right by the base of our vineyard. But once at The Dalles, they have to decide two things (if they’re late comers to the Trail) in order to circumnavigate Mt. Hood: continue on over the treacheries of a late Fall Cascade Mountain trail, or put it all on a raft and navigate the wilds of the Columbia. So close, so close. Yet no matter which curtain they picked, I can’t imagine they’re NOT thinking, where is the green we’ve been promised? Where are those fertile valleys? And stands of timber? And quiet spots of respite, where we might eek out a new life?

Those valleys would be there, obviously. And only the toughest would reach them. As I watch a small school of fry try to hide in the reeds as I wade past, I look out and think, “We are so close, so close. And yes, Stephanie, we came here for this.”

*Years later around this very spot where I tool around in the water wondering all this, a Heritage Marker would be placed, one I have yet to see, reading: “The Oregon Trail crossed the hazardous Deschutes River at this point by floating the prairie schooners and swimming the livestock. An island at the river mouth was often utilized when the water was high and the ford dangerous. Pioneer women and children were frequently ferried across the stream by Native canoe men who made the passage in exchange for bright colored shirts and other trade goods.”

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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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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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HIGHLIGHTS: Preliminary Design Package Done, On to Phase II. Sneak Peak! Junk the Countdown. Inching Along: To Do List.

JUNKED* COUNTDOWN: 17 WEEKS *(Last time you’ll see this particular countdown. See below.)

Twenty-six weeks. That’s half a year. If this were the only thing going on in our lives I’d be rather ashamed at not being further along. But between taking care of Samuel and the nanny being sick and hawking our wares in NYC, house chores and a bunch of family-based travel, Week Twenty-Six and where we are in it is a wonderful half-way point. Not that I know where and how and most importantly WHEN this Little House On the Hilltop Project will end. But halfway sounds just right. So halfway here we are. Read the rest of this entry »

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HIGHLIGHTS: Pole Barn Departs Again. Fast-Tracking an Ag Structure with PSU Architects. What Makes It an Ag Building? Moving Along: To Do List.


It’s now been seventeen weeks since The Little House On the Hilltop (TLHOTH) project began. Where are we now?

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HIGHLIGHTS: Architects Meet Us On the Hilltop. Building-Wise, What Do We Really Need Now? Fan Keeps Up Much Needed Urging. Moving Along: To Do List.


Now that eight weeks of The Little House On the Hilltop (TLHOTH) project have come and gone, let me share what’s happened since the last post:

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HIGHLIGHTS: Rural Living in Wasco County: Who to Call. Time to Get Serious: To Do List.


Almost back on a Sunday posting schedule and now into Week Four of The Little House On the Hilltop (TLHOTH) project, let me share what’s happened.

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Scott went off to the farm this past weekend, and as much as he loves farming, he hates leaving us to do it. We were supposed to be moved out there by now, to tend the vineyard from a 10-minute drive, and eventually, when we could afford to build on our ground, by stepping out our front door, not this 90 minute plus haul that happens each time something must be taken care of. And now that season has begun. The taking-care-of-the-farm time.

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