We planted the first five acres of our vineyard in April of 2011 and added another eight acres in April of 2012, for a total of 13 planted acres. Our vines are spaced five feet apart in rows that are eight feet apart, which gives us 1,089 vines per acre. Altogether, we planted 13, 639 vines!
The grape variety we planted is Pinot Noir, which is the red wine grape of Burgundy, France. As a cool climate grape, Pinot Noir is perfectly suited to our comfortable, foggy mornings during the summer growing season. Our site and climate are also ideal for Chardonnay, the white wine grape of Burgundy. We might plant some Chardonnay someday if we can convince the horses to give up a bit of their pasture.
All of our vines consist of a European Pinot Noir shoot grafted onto an American root stock. This is because European wine grapes are susceptible to an insect native to The United States known as phylloxera that attacks the roots and kills the vine. Phylloxera is so deadly to European wine grapes it nearly wiped out all of the vineyards in France in the 1800! American grapes are resistant to phylloxera. But most people think European grapes make better wine. So by grafting the European wine grape onto the American root stock, you end up with a vine that has the resistance of the American vine and the quality wine grape of the European vine. Vineyards can be established using own-rooted vines. But such vineyards have a much higher risk of being destroyed by phylloxera.
Within the Pinot Noir variety, there are roughly one hundred clones. A clone is basically a Pinot Noir vine with a specific quality that can be traced back to a cutting from a single vine. The desired quality is passed down from vine to vine using cuttings from previous vines, so that each new vine is an exact genetic copy of the last.
Some clones are selected strictly for viticulture purposes to get a vine that grows a certain way. A clone might be selected because of its drought tolerance, its vigor, or rate of growth, its height, the size of the leaves or the time needed to ripen fruit. Other clones are selected for wine making reasons.
The Pinot Noir clones in our vineyard include 777, which is known for big color and tannins, French 114 and 115, both known for desirable aromas, Pommard, which adds spicy notes to wine, and 828, which produces larger berries that ripen later in the season. Most people wouldn’t be able to taste the difference between the clones if they sampled them one on one. But when blended, clones can make a notable difference. It is our hope we’ve chosen a mix that will blend into a quality wine.
There are hundreds of root stocks to choose from as well and it is important to match the root stocks to the soil type, climate and growing conditions of the vineyard. Our root stocks include 101-14, 3309C, and Riparia Gloire. These are among the most common root stocks used in Oregon. They are able to tolerate waterlogged soil, which is important given how much it can rain here.
It takes three-to-five years for young vines to establish their root systems and mature enough to start producing fruit. We harvested our first grapes from our first plantings in the fall of 2013 and plan to harvest the full vineyard for the first time in 2014. Our first harvest yielded about four tons of fruit. When our vineyard is at full production, we hope to get 2.5 to 3 tons per acre. Pinot Noir typically produces 60 cases of wine per ton of grapes. So our vineyard could eventually produce almost 2.400 cases of wine each year!
Bob and I knew nothing about growing wine grapes when we moved here and started the vineyard. We were very fortunate that Nathan showed up with his Napa Valley know how just as we were getting ready to start planting. We’ve also been taking classes at Umpqua Community College, which offers a two-year degree in viticulture (grape growing) and enology (wine making). We’ve taken extension courses online through Oregon State University. And we attend lectures, workshops and seminars on vineyards and wine whenever we can.
We’ve also relied upon the advice and support of our neighbors in the wine business, including Mike and Vonnie at River’s Edge Winery, the late John Bradley and his wife Bonnie of Bradley Vineyards, and Terry and Sue Brandborg of Brandborg Winery. We’ve also had tremendous support, financial and otherwise, from our families and especially from Bob’s folks. We are grateful to them, our neighbors, Nathan and his family, and to our instructors for their help, encouragement and support. Anyone can start a vineyard if they are willing to put in the money and time, but nobody can do it alone.