GASTON, Ore. — Elk Cove Vineyards will release its 2012 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for the popular Thanksgiving Weekend tasting, when scores of wineries around the region will open their doors.
“Our visitors will be the first to taste this excellent vintage,” co-owner Pat Campbell.
Their award-winning 2012 Pinot Gris, the top white wine in the recent Great Northwest Invitational Wine Competition, will also be available.”It’s very popular,” said Campbell, “and will probably sell out by the end of the year.”
Pat and Joe Campbell started Elk Cove, one of Oregon’s oldest wineries, in 1974.
For Pat, who grew up on an apple and pear orchard in Hood River, farming was in her blood. For Joe, an emergency room doctor from Hood River, farming was an appealing way of life. They both wanted their children to grow up on a farm.
When they bought the 112-acre site near Gaston, wine grapes were the logical thing to plant.
“The very first day we planted 5,000 grapes,” Pat said. With the help of family and friends, they planted a total of 10 acres.
Early years were filled with long days, hard work and plenty of trial and error. They tried to learn everything they could about grapes and wine, visiting other wineries, taking courses through the University of California-Davis, turning to Oregon State University for help and reading everything they could get their hands on about winemaking.
“We were basically self-taught,” Pat said.
The first wine release was in 1977. Joe and Pat made 2,000 cases and continued as winemakers for the next 20 years.
Then their son Adam took over. Now in his 17th year as winemaker, he is also the general manager. His sister Anna, who owns a photography business in Portland, helps with marketing.
Today, Elk Cove, named for the Roosevelt elk that once roamed the original vineyard, produces around 40,000 to 50,000 cases a year, fairly evenly divided between Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. Other grapes like Pinot Blanc and Riesling account for less than ten percent of total production.
Elk Cove has grown in all directions. The first winery equipment and building cost about $11,000. The tasting room, an expansive space with windows on three sides and overlooking the vineyard and pond, was built in 1981.
In 1988, they invested in new equipment and in 1996 they added barrel storage and a special events room, making it a favored locale for weddings and other celebrations. Currently, they are in the midst of a major expansion and construction project that will double the winemaking space.
With their new vineyards, they will need it. From their original site, which has 50 acres of grapes, they have expanded to 240 acres of grapes on five sites in the North Willamette Valley. The picturesque Mt. Richmond vineyard is the largest at 315 acres with 160 acres planted in grapes.
Their Willamette Valley flagship Pinot, a blend from all the vineyards, sells for around $30, and the single vineyard Pinots for around $50.
“We’re focused on growing our own grapes by planting new vineyards,” Adam said. “Although it’s expensive, about $30,000 an acre, we’re constantly looking for new property.”
All vineyards are sustainably farmed and certified Salmon Safe. Other “green” practices include solar installations that provides about 40 percent of their power, the use of biodiesel in most farm equipment and plans to add a charging station for electric cars.
“We sell wine all over the United States and 15 export markets. We want to increase exports. As we sell into that market, it’s all about Pinot Noir,” Adam said. “I don’t know if we know how NOT to grow.”