Winemaking starts in the vineyard, from the soil that nurtures the plants, to the hands that work the vines, to the sun and rain that feeds them. While hundreds of small decisions are made by the winemaker in the winery, it is nothing compared to the thousands of decisions that are made in the vineyard, down to the first rough cut of each vine that determines the vigor and quality of each fruiting cane.
Vineyard sites that we work with are typically higher in elevation and cooler in climate, which allows the fruit to hang longer on the vines. For us, physiological ripeness is more important than reaching the desired brix (sugar) level. In warmer vintages, it can be challenging to achieve this ripening without sky-high sugars so cooler growing temperatures are essential. We’re known for harvesting later than other wineries in the Willamette Valley. Once, in 2011, one of the coldest vintages, we harvested Riesling on the third of December, creating some of the best wine we ever made.
A sense of place must reflect in our wines, so all our wines (with the exception of one blend) are single vineyard varietals or field blends. We use wild yeast from each individual location to ferment our wines. A week before harvest, we collect about a hundred pounds of fruit from each vineyard and make a pied de cuvée, a yeast starter that will be pitched into the rest of the fruit. This is an old world method of starting fermentation, and we believe it’s still the best way to allow the wild yeast from the vineyard to dominate the fermentation process.
In 2005, we planted our estate vineyard, located in Alsea, Ore., 22 miles from the Pacific coast. On a windy day, when the breeze is just right, you can smell the ocean. This is a difficult vineyard to manage primarily because the temperature can dip below freezing during springtime after the vines have sprouted their buds, damaging them and their potential fruit yields. We typically don’t harvest more than a half a ton per acre, but the fruit quality is extraordinary. We don’t irrigate, plow or till, just mow the field. Alsea Vineyard is rich with a variety of wild plants and mushrooms. Wild clover, garlic, carrots, dill and various wildflowers grow throughout the field and we even let weeds grow as part of the natural ground cover.
Our latest vineyard project includes a newer site (established in 2006) in the Willamette Valley that was planted over a decommissioned gravel quarry. When we saw all the rocks, gravel and basalt in the ground, we knew this was an exceptional place and jumped on the opportunity to manage it. In 2013, we planted a very dense quarter acre of Riesling, adding to the vineyard’s two acres of Pinot Noir.
We are extremely excited to lease a small section (planted in 1955) in one of the most well-known vineyards in the Mosel, Himmelreich vineyard in Zeltingen, thanks to our friends Harald and Anne Junglen of Weingut Ackermann. They manage it for us and make the Riesling under Barnaby’s specifications. The first vintage is 2012 and the wine will be available sometime later this year.
Other vineyards we work with include Laurel Vineyard, which is one of the highest elevation vineyards in Oregon at 1250 feet. We also source fruit from Bell Pine, Borgo Pass, David Hill, Crow Valley, Maresh and Medici Vineyards in the Willamette Valley. We are always on the lookout to find new places as long as their farming practices align with our philosophy. In 2013 we joined the Deep Roots Coalition, which consists of a small group of winemakers who are dedicated to dry-farming and sustainable vineyard practices.