After months of anticipation the day finally arrived. A couple weeks ago the agriculture students of Yamhill-Carlton high school, their teacher Nicole Eskelsen, and other community and Y-C AVA members gathered together to plant the first acre of Pinot Noir for the school’s vineyard. Ken Wright was among this group providing expertise when needed, and soaking up the joyful experience after putting in so much time and preparation to get this project up and running. Everyone is excited to watch the students in this program and the vineyard grow for years to come.
After thirty-five years of winemaking experience in Oregon and California, I can count the truly great years on three fingers. 1979 in California’s Monterey County, 1990 in the Willamette Valley and, yes, 2012 in the Willamette Valley as well.
We have an amazing team with terrific depth of experience that gives us the ability to produce wine that delivers a very pleasurable bottle from the challenging vintages. But there are years when we simply sit in awe as Mother Nature hands us remarkable fruit that only requires that we respect the gift we have received. 2012 is such a year.
The intensity of color, aroma and flavor is inspiring. The onus has been on us to protect those qualities at all costs. We know how special this vintage is and that this kind of opportunity is rare. My promise to you is that we have cared for the fruit from each of our sites as if this was the last great vintage we would experience. I do of course hope this is not true as I expect several decades more of active winemaking. But you never know. I may be dragged out of the winery by my Red Wing boots at eighty without seeing another year like this.
2012 Futures are now available for purchase, visit http://shop.kenwrightcellars.
The booming propane cannons that are used to scare off the migratory starlings and cedar waxwings can make the valley sound like a war zone. It is exasperating for everyone when a grower forgets to turn them off at nightfall and it happens several times every year. In our hope to be a better neighbor we have turned to falcons for control of predacious birds. It is nothing short of amazing to see flocks of birds vanish when the falcons are in the air. Unlike propane cannons, which are ineffective after a few days, the falcons remain a very real threat. Sister-in-law Susi Crum has jumped into falconry training with both feet and captured a juvenile kestrel early this fall. In a few years, after quite a bit more training, she will be able to work with full size falcons. Go Susi!
Another current topic that has my full attention is the recent creation of a viticulture program at Yamhill-Carlton High School. With the support of the Yamhill Carlton Winegrowers Association, Chemeketa College, the FFA program at YC High School, the principal of the high school and the Yamhill Carlton school board, we were successful this year in establishing a curriculum for the students that gives college credits toward a grape growing degree. It was time for our industry, now mature, to step up and support the young people in our community that wish to pursue a path in agriculture that has been previously unavailable. This program is now real and being taught as of this fall. It will include the planting of a “land lab”, beginning with one acre of Pinot noir on school property which will provide a hands on experience that is rare for a high school student. This is the first program of its type in Oregon, and to my knowledge, the country.
We are offering two new vineyards this year. Bryce Vineyard, planted in the Ribbon Ridge AVA in 1999 by Bryce and Marcia Bagnall, is an exceptional site. We were honored that after Bryce’s passing Marcia approached us about a long term relationship with the vineyard. We established a fifteen year lease and our team now farms Bryce Vineyard. This is the first Ribbon Ridge AVA wine we have produced in many years. We sourced fruit from Beaux Freres from ’91 to ’93, then Mike Etzel realized there simply was not enough profit in growing grapes alone, turned his pig barn into a very nice wine facility and kept his fruit in house. We are pleased that Marcia Bagnall asked us to take over her special five acre site and we are very excited to be working with Ribbon Ridge fruit again.
Sister Susi and her bird loving husband Art (a Delta pilot) purchased property near our home vineyard Savoya several years ago. We were enthusiastic about the potential of the site and entered into a thirty year lease (yikes!) to develop the best part of the land (6.5 acres) for vineyard. They have coined the vineyard Tanager, named after the colorful Western Tanager that inhabits our area for a number of weeks in the spring.
We have heard from so many that you would like to have the opportunity to purchase every vineyard that we offer without the need to purchase a half case of each. Beginning this year you have the option to do exactly that. The “Vineyard Sampler” is two full cases (24 bottles) which will include two bottles of each vineyard site that we produce. A great opportunity for horizontal tastings.
We will be open for tasting of this great vintage on the 23rd and 24th of November from 10 am to 4 pm. We hope to see you here.
Our heartfelt thanks for your continued support of our endeavors.
We have been fortunate to have an active and engaged FFA/Ag program at Yamhill Carlton High School. I have been very impressed with the young men and women who are involved in this program. They look you in the eye, have a firm handshake and are polite and respectful. The program is far more than the usual image of kids with animals they have raised at the county fair. I’ve had the pleasure of judging speech contests and employment interview contests. Ivory Duyn, who has worked with us since the age of 14, went to the nationals with her Ag Marketing Development project as a senior.
The Ag classes taught at the high school have been based on the traditional farming that has been done in the region. The curriculum included nursery work, animal sciences, greenhouse production, soil science, Ag mechanics and natural resources.
Grape farming (viticulture) is relatively new to the region. David Lett and Charles Coury were the first to plant vines in the area in 1965. The industry has grown significantly since that humble start. Yamhill County now boasts over 300 vineyards (three times that of any other Oregon county) and 6,500 acres planted (twice that of any other Oregon county). We are real now and it looks like we are here to stay.
This last year I began to formulate a way that our industry could provide a significant giveback to the local Ag/FFA kids in our community. It began with a meeting of the Yamhill Carlton Winegrowers board which includes yours truly. I spoke with the board members about our growing economic impact in Yamhill County and of opportunities for the youth in our community to potentially benefit from that. I asked for their blessing to pursue the creation of a viticulture curriculum at the high school and the establishment of a working vineyard on the school property historically farmed for grain.
Next up was a call to my friend Cheryl Roberts, president of Chemeketa Community College. Chemeketa has an existing wine and grape program that I hoped to tie in neatly with the high school. Cheryl generously provided the help of her curriculum writers Trish Conlon and Johnny Mack to help make sure any high school program developed would seamlessly transition to theirs including earning community college credits for participation in the FFA program while in high school.
With the Chemeketa support I contacted the school principal, Jim Orth,and the FFA coordinator, Nichole Eskelson and laid out our plans for establishment of the curriculum and “land lab”. They were more than excited. They both immediately grasped the new opportunities available to their students. It was a new path previously unavailable to these students and it might mean the difference in keeping our youth in the area.
The entire group met several times and I had terrific support from fellow growers Carla Chambers, John Hirschy and Joel Kiff in moving the process forward. Once curriculum was developed we approached the school board and asked for their approval. The support from the school board was unanimous and heartening.
Fundraising efforts for the first vineyard acre are underway. The FFA program expects to plant its first acre of vineyard in 2013. The Yamhill Carlton AVA raised the first $1980 of the $20,000 budget for the first acre via a raffle at its spring consumer tasting. AVA members have made cash contributions and committed to making additional contributions in cash and in kind. All contributions are deeply appreciated. Yamhill Carlton will be the first high school to have a viticulture curriculum and accompanying vineyard in the State of Oregon. Pretty awesome.