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Monday, August 18, 2008

Oregon vineyard education

I need to restart my vine education. I can tell by my lonely little Golden Muscat vine that things grow differently here in Oregon. No more twelve-foot shoots like back in Missouri. No more six or seven tons of fruit hanging on every acre. A lot less rain during the growing season. It all sounds ideal. Growing grapes should be a snap here compared to the Midwest, right? But I'm sure there is plenty I need to learn about the quirks and challenges a cooler region with fewer heat units during the growing season.

So I'm starting with Oregon Viticulture, a collection of articles and academic papers edited by Edward Hellman and published by the OSU press. The opening chapter is by Susan Sokol Blosser, a pioneer of the local industry who also penned what will likely be my next book on Oregon winegrowing.

Beyond books, there are other educational options. OSU offers four year degrees. They also have a number of workshops, programs and newsletters keyed on this region. If you don't have the time to go back to school, the Northwest Viticulture Center in Salem offers associate degrees, certificate programs and very specific enology and viticulture courses. Washington State also offers what is reputedly one of the best low residency certificate programs in the country.

Of course the best crash course is to volunteer to perform menial labor in someone's vineyard. I learned a lot at Michael Amigoni's vinifera vineyard in Centerview, Missouri. Check out his blog and see how much fruit is currently hanging on his Mourvedre trellises.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Plan

Those of you who've been reading Vinestress know that this blog started when we purchased a vineyard property in Missouri with the intention of producing a commercial wine crop. I covered everything from amending the soil to hemming and hawing over what grape varietals to plant. I also documented successes and failures in my little test vineyard.

But now a job opportunity brought us to Oregon, and we live in a zero-lot-line house in a cozy little town on the edge of the Coast Range. We're landless. Our vineyard property is for sale (attention buyers who need a good vineyard site in central Missouri!) And we're surrounded by grapes, out there, shimmering in the late afternoon sun, teasing us, reminding us of what we left behind.

The job is good and the area is gorgeous. We're surrounded by great wine country. But we miss our vineyard and as harvest approaches here in the Willamette Valley, I'm realizing that there's no way I can remain on the sidelines.

So I've concocted a new plan.

This blog will no longer be about establishing a vineyard in Missouri, but instead will be about starting a wine label from scratch in the Pacific Northwest. As before, I'll document the whole process on this blog, from research to actual steps I take every step along the way. My goal will be to lease an acre or two of vineyard in production, manage it myself through the growing season, bring in the harvest and have it custom crushed to my specifications, and eventually bottle and sell the wine. Instead of growing on our own land, we'll outsource everything. But we'll do the work in the vineyards ourselves, as that's where I've been focusing my studies and experimentation over the past eight years.

I plan to be transparent with the whole process. I'll post the initial business plan for this wine label over the next couple weeks. I don't expect to make any money at this, at least not at first. I was bitten by the wine bug years ago. It's a strange condition. My good friend Michael Amigoni calls people with our affliction Grape Nuts. When someone has the bug, they can't be deterred. No amount of failure...badly made wine, disease ridden crops, killer freezes that wipe out your vines, hail, tractor breakdowns and so on...can dissuade someone from making wine once they've been overcome by the obsession.

So, after a cross-country move and a complete change of direction, I'm back. Wish me luck. And I'll see you in the vineyard.

Monday, August 11, 2008

About this blog (Chapter 2)

This blog is about everything it takes to start a wine label from scratch in Oregon. My goal is to crush in the fall of 2009 with a first release in 2010. I have only a vague idea of how to get there. You're welcome to watch me fail or succeed.

I'm not just some yahoo with a crazy notion. Okay, well maybe I am. But I do have some idea of what I'm doing. Read About this blog (Chapter 1) if you want to hear about my first foray into commercial winemaking in Missouri. I grew grapes in a test vineyard for eight years. I made wine (some of it actually pretty good) in the basement. I covered the Missouri wine industry as a journalist and public relations hack. I've taken courses in viticulture and spent plenty of volunteer hours in commercial vineyards.

I will be transparent in my efforts. I'll post the full business plan and document every step (and misstep). I don't expect that I'll make much money, but that's okay. It's not about money. It's about obsession. It's about catching the wine bug. And then doing something with it.

See you in the vineyard.