Capital Press | Special Sections Capital Press Fri, 20 Oct 2017 15:52:04 -0400 en Capital Press | Special Sections Fix or replace? It’s often a taxing question Thu, 19 Oct 2017 09:35:40 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Whether to fix or replace old farm equipment usually boils down to one thing, according to Will Schwartz, owner of the Tractor Store in Eugene, Ore.

“The biggest factor I find is whether they need a tax write-off or not and how much of a write-off they need,” Schwartz said. “If they’re having a bad year they just wind up fixing the old stuff rather than buying new.”

The Tractor Store sells all kinds of farm equipment except balers and combines, he said.

“Sales have been about the same for the last four or five years, at least for me,” Schwartz said. “There are a lot of small farmers that just can’t justify $30,000 for a new tractor and they don’t need a huge write-off.

“When it comes to the used equipment, most of our customers are willing to spend $6,000 for an engine overhaul on a tractor that may be worth only $6,000,” he said. “To go buy another used one it’s going to cost $6,000. At least this way when they fix their own they know that the motor’s going to be good for the next 15 or 20 years.”

Others simply love older and antique farm equipment, whether for sentimental reasons or simplicity and relative ease of repair, he said.

The store generally serves customers from Albany to Coos Bay, Ore., where there are a lot of small farms, with an increasing number going into organic farming.

Hobby farms also continue to gain in popularity.

“We have a lot of hobby farmers,” he said. “They have a full-time job and they make good money and it’s more that they want to live in the country, and if you live in the country you have to have a tractor. Those people will buy a brand-new tractor because they’re using the farm for a write-off anyway.”

To prevent unexpected breakdowns and subsequent delays during the busy season, it’s good to get machinery in order before putting it away for the winter, when waits are shorter and downtime isn’t an issue.

New small tractors cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000. Most of the farmers Schwartz sees tend to steer clear of onboard electronics, so he stocks his inventory along those lines.

With some of the other tractors that have the computerized engines, farmers are stuck with taking it back to the dealer to have it worked on, he said. “Unless you have the computer program there’s no way of doing too much to the engine on it. You plug the computer in and it tells you what’s going on.”

Ag tires also need care and maintenance Thu, 5 Oct 2017 11:10:56 -0400 Brenna Wiegand While doing preventive maintenance it’s easy to put off replacing tires — especially when a combine tire can run $3,000 to $4,000.

What’s not so easy is fixing the old tire on a tractor that’s stuck out in the field.

Mike McLain, Ag West Tire Department manager in Rickreall, Ore., said technicians carry 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of non-toxic liquid in tanks with them for adding weight to tractor tires when they make a field call. Putting 150 gallons of ballast in one large tire gives better traction by adding about 1,500 pounds to its total weight.

“Now have fun going out and fixing a flat on an inside dually,” McLain said. “You’ve got to pump the liquid out; we may use a boom or forklift to unbolt and lift out the inside tire, which is 6 feet tall and weighs about a ton. Then empty the liquid from the inside tire and take it off the rim while it’s on the tractor and find out your repair. That’s a $500 flat repair.”

Of course, it’s not always about the tire itself.

“One of the biggest issues farmers have with tires is the drivers; you can be trained in a two-hour class and get a farm endorsement at the age of 13 and get in a $250,000 combine and run in somebody’s field,” McLain said. “Naturally, they have driving skills, but when they’re going to make a corner they might hit a fencepost or a piece of equipment and then they’ve ruined the tire.”

A lot of farmers are also investing in caterpillar-like tracks for their tractors, though they are more expensive up front and to maintain.

Not to worry, said Kim Oberg, manager of D&S Tires in Parma, Idaho. His company recaps both tracks and tractor tires.

“We can save their tires,” Oberg said. “As long as we have a good core we can rebuild them.”

Tires from all over the country and Canada roll into their plants in Idaho, Nebraska and Indiana.

Retreading tracks is about half the cost of buying new ones and doubles the life of a track core.

“You don’t have to throw that core away; we’re recycling your track core and that’s the biggest thing; we’re not throwing all that rubber in the dump,” Oberg said. “It’s quite a process to see; we buff off all the old lugs, put on a new layer of rubber, extrude our lugs, put each one on and then we volcanize it with high heat and pressure for about 4½ hours so that the rubber sticks.”

In addition to retreading many types of ag tires and tracks, D&S makes irrigation pivot tires from old truck casings. These are shipped into the plant from all over the country and then buffed, recapped and placed in a hot cap mold to form the tire.

Fix or replace? It’s often a taxing question Thu, 5 Oct 2017 11:09:23 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Whether to fix or replace old farm equipment usually boils down to one thing, according to Will Schwartz, owner of the Tractor Store in Eugene, Ore.

“The biggest factor I find is whether they need a tax write-off or not and how much of a write-off they need,” Schwartz said. “If they’re having a bad year they just wind up fixing the old stuff rather than buying new.”

The Tractor Store sells all kinds of farm equipment except balers and combines, he said.

“Sales have been about the same for the last four or five years, at least for me,” Schwartz said. “There are a lot of small farmers that just can’t justify $30,000 for a new tractor and they don’t need a huge write-off.

“When it comes to the used equipment, most of our customers are willing to spend $6,000 for an engine overhaul on a tractor that may be worth only $6,000,” he said. “To go buy another used one it’s going to cost $6,000. At least this way when they fix their own they know that the motor’s going to be good for the next 15 or 20 years.”

Others simply love older and antique farm equipment, whether for sentimental reasons or simplicity and relative ease of repair, he said.

The store generally serves customers from Albany to Coos Bay, Ore., where there are a lot of small farms, with an increasing number going into organic farming.

Hobby farms also continue to gain in popularity.

“We have a lot of hobby farmers,” he said. “They have a full-time job and they make good money and it’s more that they want to live in the country, and if you live in the country you have to have a tractor. Those people will buy a brand-new tractor because they’re using the farm for a write-off anyway.”

To prevent unexpected breakdowns and subsequent delays during the busy season, it’s good to get machinery in order before putting it away for the winter, when waits are shorter and downtime isn’t an issue.

New small tractors cost anywhere from $15,000 to $50,000. Most of the farmers Schwartz sees tend to steer clear of onboard electronics, so he stocks his inventory along those lines.

With some of the other tractors that have the computerized engines, farmers are stuck with taking it back to the dealer to have it worked on, he said. “Unless you have the computer program there’s no way of doing too much to the engine on it. You plug the computer in and it tells you what’s going on.”

Tune-ups, maintenance keep ATVs in tip-top shape Thu, 5 Oct 2017 11:07:23 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Not long after the thrill-seekers embraced the first all-terrain vehicles 40 years ago, the ag industry began catching on to their potential for use on the farm or ranch.

Now they are indispensable workhorses that tend to stay in action all year. With their ability to get through areas not accessible to pickup trucks and perform some of the duties of tractors, ATVs have sped their way onto all types of farms, ranches, ornamental nurseries and orchards.

ATVs also provide a new sense of freedom to individuals with limited physical mobility, enabling them to access all areas of the farm and increasing their involvement in the operation.

ATVs are commonly used to inspect crops, livestock, fences, irrigation lines and touch base with work crews. They are also used to fertilize and apply chemicals, herd livestock, mow and transport materials.

“They’re used for just about everything, from checking the mail to pulling the drag chain to feeding the herd,” Edward Maldonado of Cycle Country said. “Unlike tractors, combines and other large equipment requiring winterization, ATVs, side-by-sides and utility machines tend to get used all year.”

Cycle Country in Salem, Ore., is a Honda dealer.

These and the other ATVs are so useful and reliable they are often overlooked when it comes to preventive maintenance.

“While they’re still going, there doesn’t seem to be an issue, but they still need regular maintenance and services,” Maldonado said.

Cycle Country service manager Steven Coen said while many farm operations perform their own maintenance or bring them in for periodic tune-ups, there’s a tendency to run them until they break down.

“We see an influx of machines during the spraying season,” Coen said. “They’ve been causing problems but owners haven’t wanted to bring them in, both because they rely on them for daily work and because of the perceived expense associated with servicing at the dealer. More often than not, most agricultural clients are pleasantly surprised at the final total, and are always excited to have a great functioning machine after having been through service.”

Coen finds his agricultural clients down-to-earth, easy-going and great at using their rigs to their full potential.

“ATVs are an easier way for some of the farmers to maintain their fields without spending $90,000 to $100,000 on a tractor that often has more restrictions and a higher expense per use,” Coen said.

Monitoring the systems of the farm’s ATV protects that investment and reduces the risk of injury and the potential of getting stranded. These include the throttle, brakes, lights, oil and fuel, drive train, chassis as well as tires — but only to a point.

“They all want bald tires so they don’t tear up their fields,” Coen said. “When they come in and we recommend new tires they usually say no.”

Irrigation systems need attention each fall Thu, 5 Oct 2017 11:05:45 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Stettler Supply has been doing irrigation since the Stettler brothers returned to Salem, Ore., from World War II in 1948.

Still locally owned, Stettler Supply designs, constructs, repairs and sells irrigation systems and their components.

“We are a Reinke dealer and sell a lot of overhead traveling systems — center pivots and linear sprinklers,” General Manager Trevor Spires said. “Other types of systems include self-powered aluminum wheel lines and drip irrigation.”

In sandier soils drip tape may be buried underground alongside row crops when they’re planted and replaced the next planting season. Above-ground drip irrigation is for permanent crops such as hazelnuts and blueberries. Both drip systems allow emitters to be placed at the desired locations for a specific application.

Whatever the type, as fall and winter approach it is imperative to drain and flush the system so lines and filters don’t freeze.

This is best accomplished before the rain sets in and access to the fields becomes more difficult. In the spring, flush systems to clear out sand and other particulates that can plug emitters.

Farmers are always looking for ways to be more efficient with water and energy.

Radio monitoring and control of pumps, valves and automated timers save on labor, or farmers can control things from a cell phone. Field weather stations can also measure moisture in the soil and make real-time adjustments to irrigation.

In addition, drones and satellite imagery provide aerial photos that show areas being missed by irrigation and detect other issues.

Greater mechanization is a common theme in the ag community to reduce the associated costs and not be subject to the scarcity of workers.

“We feel the effects in our construction projects when we’re trying to find qualified labor; on the farm, they’re having a hard time harvesting crops,” Spires said. “We have one customer who is moving away from aluminum handline irrigation to a traveling system because he can’t find labor to move the irrigation pipes.

“It’s a job I did in high school but nobody wants to do that anymore; moving through a corn patch, water dripping on your head and the corn cutting your arms.”

Now he’s using GPS survey equipment to map out fields, row spacing, crop spacing and other factors as Stettler Supply works with customers in designing the right system for them.

“Farmers are incredibly smart, resourceful people,” Spires said. “They know their crops and their soil and their objectives better than anybody and they all do things a little differently.

“It’s ingenious the tools and equipment they invent to do things the way they want,” Spires said. “We carry 800,000 pieces in our store but it is still difficult to stock everything that everybody might want. There’s a sense of urgency in farming I don’t have in other industries.”

Tractors, combines must be ready when it’s ‘go time’ Thu, 5 Oct 2017 11:01:59 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Farmers in the Midwest chuckle at their Western counterparts, asking how a machine used less than a month out of the year gets worn down so quickly.

While tractors normally have a lengthy work season, in Oregon’s Willamette Valley most combines will run two, maybe three weeks out of the year.

“Our harvest window is generally pretty short,” said Eric Stritzke, general manager of Linn Benton Tractor in Silverton, Ore. “That machine being parked, even in a building, is harder on all the seals, hoses and everything than if it were being used.”

The narrow harvest window and its variables mean a breakdown can be critical.

“They use them hard and any time you have downtime it is extremely expensive in the grand scheme of things,” Stritzke said. “In this day and age labor for absolutely any operation is a huge expense so if you have a combine or a tractor down you may have an operator down, a truck driver that’s not being productive and it’s just a vicious cycle. Also, any of the modern farm equipment can get pretty deadly pretty quickly if it’s not operating right or is not operated in a correct manner.

“When I was turning wrenches I was always looking for what might fail,” he said. “Downtime you lose money but safety you lose lives.”

While the workings of a combine can seem overwhelmingly complicated, boiled down to basics they’re pretty straightforward machines.

“There are a lot of great mechanics out there but very few have been taught the basic functions of how one part interacts with another,” Stritzke said. “You can’t typically take a truck mechanic and throw him at a combine or tractor and vice versa.”

The rapid advances in technology over the past 30 to 40 years is putting a monkey wrench into maintenance and repair.

“With the newest combines and tractors, you’ve got all the computerized electronics in addition to all the belts, chains, bearings and sheet metal and it takes much more of a technician to understand how those electronics work with the base machine,” he said. “You can shut down a $200,000 combine because of a $2 sensor.”

Electronic capabilities have created new gaps in the industry and a shortage of people to fill them. For instance, if a tractor operator rides the clutch for a certain period of time, in some cases the dealership gets an email informing them of the issue. They in turn are expected by the manufacturer to notify the customers.

The high-tech machines also spell opportunity for the next generation of mechanics.

“We need to start looking at our middle school and high school teenagers and grooming them to fill these gaps; providing them the college educations,” Stritzke said. “As we all know it’s tougher and tougher to find people that want to do physical labor and modern young technicians are a rare commodity because not only do they have the physical side of it but they also need to be a computer technician.

“There are a number of ag mechanic programs throughout the country but it’s getting tougher and tougher to find individuals that are interested in those programs,” he added. “That’s where we need to be engaging ourselves.”

Farmers plug into energy-saving incentives Thu, 5 Oct 2017 10:57:27 -0400 Brenna Wiegand Being reimbursed for energy-saving measures is easier than most farmers and greenhouse owners think.

In 2016, the Energy Trust of Oregon provided incentives of $1.25 million for 415 irrigation projects and $150,000 in incentives for 18 greenhouse projects.

“On top of these incentives there are energy and water savings,” Susan Jowaiszas of Energy Trust said, “and those go on and on year after year.”

Six different greenhouse measures are available for customers of Northwest Natural Gas, Cascade Natural Gas or Avista.

“A great one is replacing non-infrared greenhouse covering with infrared-transmitting polycarbonate covering,” Energy Trust Ag and Industrial Outreach Manager Ulrike Mengelberg said. “We pay 2 cents per square foot — just about the difference in cost between a non-IR poly versus an IR poly covering, and the energy savings on that is immense.”

The new unit heater rebate has also been popular, as is the greenhouse controller. Alerting features on the new controllers take some of the anxiety out of greenhouse management. For instance, the operator can receive a text message when the temperature is off.

“It’s just one of those measures that makes a lot of sense; it controls your heating and your cooling and your venting,” Mengelberg said.

For those converting to under-bench heat, whether in the floor or directly underneath the plants, Energy Trust offers $1.05 per foot on new tubing.

On the farm, Energy Trust offers rebates and custom incentives for irrigation system improvements to customers of Portland General Electric and Pacific Power. Calculated incentives require pre-approval. The efficiency a new system brings is reimbursed at 25 cents per kilowatt-hour saved. Examples include replacing a wheel line with a center pivot or replacing a big gun with drip irrigation.

Another big upgrade for irrigation is replacing an oversized irrigation pump.

“Maybe they have the 100-horsepower pump that Grandpa put in and now the grandkids have better irrigation systems and only need a 50 horsepower,” Mengelberg said. “We can help them pay for their new pump.”

Energy Trust’s incentive covers up to 40 percent of the cost of a new variable frequency drive. This allows farmers to use their pump more efficiently. Growers can also use their smart phones to remote start the new units.

Incentives are offered for just about anything that saves water because that means saving electricity, too.

“It’s easy — they just fill out the rebate form,” Mengelberg said. “There are about 14 different irrigation components they can get a rebate on.”

“We had one farmer who sent in a year’s worth of invoices on Dec. 27; it came in as a 55-page fax,” Mengelberg said. “We couldn’t use a third of them because they were too old — rebate forms are due within 6 months of purchase and before the end of the calendar year — but we ended up sending him a $20,000 incentive check for things like nozzles and gaskets and sprinkler heads. It can really add up.”

For more information, go to

Put row crops to bed for the winter Thu, 5 Oct 2017 10:54:40 -0400 Brenna Wiegand By the end of harvest most farmers are out of gas.

“They get really tired of farming by the end of the harvest,” said Ed Peachey, weed scientist and vegetable specialist with Oregon State University’s Horticulture Department, “but there are a few things to do before the fall rains start that can make farming easier in the future.”

For processed vegetable producers, it is important to stop weeds such as nightshade and keep them from producing seeds. Spraying herbicides such as glyphosate is easy but it doesn’t stop seed production very quickly; it’s usually better to try to destroy the plants with flails or tillage equipment to crunch up the berries. Otherwise, the weeds keep producing seeds, sometimes into mid-November, he said.

Fall is also a good time to identify new weeds that have shown up and make plans for control, if needed.

“If there are weeds you haven’t seen before that are exposed after harvest, that’s the time you’ve really got to pay attention,” Peachey said. “If it’s an invasive species and it’s got seeds on it, it’s not unreasonable to think about removing them from the field, especially if they’re in isolated spots.”

Velvetleaf has Peachey concerned; he’s seen it in Oregon’s Willamette Valley since the mid-1990s but never in such high numbers.

“I don’t know if it has reached some critical mass, but this summer I found a couple fields infested with velvetleaf,” he said. “Usually it’s been maybe one plant per acre or less; suddenly there are hundreds per acre.”

Fall is also a good time to plant cover crops to improve soil quality, reduce erosion and suppress winter weeds, but that can be a challenge given the factors involved. Herbicide carryover is one factor that must be taken seriously when considering cover crops. Herbicides with long residuals — Raptor, Reflex and Sandea, for example — limit the crops that can be planted in the spring and may affect cover crop growth in the fall.

Producing a good cover crop requires the same expertise and attention to detail as planting a cash crop.

“You have to think about how you’re going to manage slugs,” Peachey said. “If I have this amount of crop residue on the surface; can I get slug bait down to them?”

Most growers don’t have the time to fully work down a field in the fall to bury all the crop residue, he said, and disking or plowing deep is pretty risky as far as losing soil.

An alternative to fall-planted cover crops is to inter-seed cover crops into crops such as sweet corn during the summer. Peachey has been conducting several trials throughout the Willamette Valley this year in conventional and organic sweet corn and squash crops through support of the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (WSARE) Program.

The objective is to find ways to get more cover crops into the system without having to do all the planting and tillage in the fall, and without jeopardizing weed control in the vegetable crop.

Center trains Northwest vintners Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:14:03 -0400 Gail Oberst In the 1990s, a small group of vineyard and winery owners began a quest to develop a program that would help train workers for Oregon’s burgeoning wine industry.

Today, with more than 900 vineyards, 545 wineries and 14,000 wine-related jobs in the state, that small group appears forward-thinking. Eighteen years ago, Chemeketa Community College established its Northwest Wine Studies Center in the Eola Hills west of Salem. Since then, its students and workshop attendees have learned everything from food and wine pairing to managing entire vineyard operations, according to Jessica Sandrock, Chemeketa’s new director of wine studies and agricultural sciences.

Set at the edge of the eight-acre vineyard on Eola Hills’ oak-forested south side, the Northwest Wine Studies Center offers students hands-on work in the vineyard and in the on-site winery.

The program offers two associate degrees — one in winemaking and the other in vineyard management — and several certificates. Workshops — either for credit or for fun — are offered each term.

This fall, for example, the public and degree-seeking students can take wine appreciation, general viticulture and introduction to winemaking. Vineyard spraying and pruning workshops, some offered in Spanish, are also part of the line-up, aimed at helping current vineyard owners keep workers’ skills up to date.

The program has had an unexpected impact. In addition to training employees to work in established businesses, many of the program’s students have used winemaking and vineyard skills to launch their own operations. At a recent annual awards celebration at the center, dozens of wineries lined the hall offering samples of their latest vintages, all with connections to Chemeketa’s program.

For example, Iraq war veterans Ben Martin and Ryan Mills of Dauntless Wine Co., completed the wine studies program and joined Paul Warmbier to found their new Gaston winery.

Some of the students joined the program with an aim to working with the winery industry in the future. Danny Jaffer, the program’s Student of the Year, said he intends to use his knowledge as a civic leader. He got the idea from Lowell Ford, one of the founders of the program. “Lowell said: ‘Danny, if you really want to know something about the wine industry in this part of Oregon, you should take some classes in it at Chemeketa.’ He was right.”

Ford, owner of Illahe Vineyards, said in the 1990s he suggested teaching a vineyard management class at Chemeketa to meet the demand for training from new growers. The first class was so popular they had to cut off registration. More classes were offered, equally as popular.

“The college realized we had a winner in the program so we hired a full-time instructor in Al MacDonald and offered an associate degree. The wine studies program has grown way beyond what I ever dreamed possible,” Ford said.

Vineyard skills can be developed in two ways: by completing the two-year vineyard management degree, or by completing the one-year vineyard operations certificate. Both tracks provide coursework and hands-on experience for vineyard workers, but the degree program adds additional science, math, management and elective courses that could include some winemaking and processing skills, based on the student’s interests.

The winemaking degree provides technical training and background knowledge needed for winemaking in the Northwest. The winemaking program also provides on-the-job experience at local wineries.

For information about the program, call 503-399-5139, or visit the web page,

Holesinsky Winery grows in Magic Valley Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:22:06 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas Located 4 miles north of Buhl, Idaho, on the Snake River canyon rim, this winery was founded by James Holesinsky.

His father was a chemist and wanted James to be a chemist, but the son says he found his passion in a different sort of effort: winemaking. In 2001 James went to University of California-Davis and completed the wine program, then came back and planted 7 acres of grapes at his family’s farm.

That was the beginning of the Holesinsky Vineyard and Winery.

The first planting of 1,000 Chardonnay grapevines was in 2001. In 2002 the vineyard grew with the addition of 3,000 Syrah vines, 2,000 Merlot, and 200 Port (Sauzao, Tiuta Cao, Touragia).

Growth continued in 2006 with 1,000 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1,000 Riesling vines.

Muscat was added in 2007.

With love for his product, dedication to his family and comprehension of wine quality, chemistry and farming, James Holesinsky became a winemaker.

“When someone buys my wine I want them to taste it and know that this is what wine is supposed to taste like,” said Holesinsky.

Eric Smallwood came to the winery in January, focusing on growing their wine market.

“We just released our 2016 wine,” said Smallwood. “We have a new Riesling and a new Rose (Cabernet franc) that have been a big hit.”

This year, at Savor Idaho — an annual fundraiser in Boise for the Idaho Wine Commission at the Idaho Botanical Gardens — Holesinsky Vineyard and Winery was among 32 wineries offering their wares.

The Idaho Grape Growers and Wine Producers Commission hosted the wine and food event on June 11, featuring many Idaho wineries and restaurants.

Savor Idaho gives consumers a unique opportunity to savor the best Idaho has to offer in wine and food.

“Tickets are $100 per person. Everyone gets a tasting glass so they can try all the wines and report their tastings. Each winery can bring up to three wines, and we were pleased because our new Rose made a big splash,” said Smallwood. “People kept coming to our booth saying they’d heard other people talking about it and wanted to try it.”

The winery utilizes direct marketing.

“We self-distribute,” he said. “I am the marketing guy, sales guy, events guy, et cetera, focusing on south central Idaho. We are the farthest-east winery in Idaho, and the closest to Twin Falls, becoming established as the local winery for the Magic Valley.”

Holesinsky wines are in many stores and restaurants in the Magic Valley and Boise.

“We participate in as many events as we can. Many people find us on Facebook,” he said.

The tasting room at the winery is open by appointment only.

“We try to get groups of four or more and find a time that works for everyone. People enjoy the scenic setting and view from the canyon rim,” said Smallwood.

“We are planting more grapes, including some at a golf course in Filer, Idaho. We also have grapes at Hagerman; those vineyards are growing grapes for us.”

They also released a unique bottle of wine — called Blackout — for this summer’s solar eclipse.

“These bottles are screen printed at Boise,” he said. They sold the wine along the path of the total eclipse.

“It will be a souvenir for people to take home with them,” said Smallwood.

He became interested in winemaking many years ago.

“James and I grew up together and went to high school together. I moved back to Idaho after a decade gone, and James thought I’d be a good fit for the winery,” he said. “He’s still the winemaker but I am currently learning to be the winemaker, while taking care of many other things that need to be done.

“We are kicking butt and taking names, gearing up for future business,” Smallwood said.

The Idaho wine industry has boomed in recent years; there are now 58 wineries in the state.

“Many grapes are grown here now, and thankfully our grapes survived the winter,” he said.

“Wineries in the Nampa-Sunnyslope area really got hammered,” he said. “We were lucky and all our grapes came through it, so we are counting our blessings.

“This winter put them to the test.”

Queen of the vine: Betty O’Brien Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:31:45 -0400 Gail Oberst The daughter of an Oregon farmer, one might think that growing grapes was among Betty O’Brien’s first choices in careers. The owner of Elton Vineyard in the Eola Hills of Western Oregon laughs at the suggestion.

“I always said I would never work on a farm again, and here I am,” she said.

What changed her mind? The romance of wine, of course.

Betty and her late husband, Dick, were floating down the Rhine River early in their half-century marriage. Drifting by the romantic hillsides blanketed with winegrapes, an idea was born. Perhaps they could grow a few grapes on her parents’ (Elton and Peggy Ingram) property. In 1983, when they planted the first 5 acres, much of her family’s 500 acres was in blackcaps, North America’s indigenous black raspberry. Her father had purchased the then-marginal hillside farmland in the 1950s. “He got a great buy,” said Betty.

The couple planted the first 5 acres of grapes, and then more, as they could afford it. By 2002, when she and her brother inherited the property, the O’Briens had planted 60 acres of grapes. The grapes, it turns out, were planted on desirable Jory and Nekia soils.

In high demand, the Pinot noir, Pinot gris and other varietals grown on the Ingram farm have found their ways into the bottles of Ken Wright, Sylvan Ridge, Lange, Willamette Valley Vineyards and many other wines. O’Brien-grown Pinot noirs have earned high praise from wine experts. Willamette Valley in 2007 struck a lease and purchase deal with Betty and more recently, her brother, Allan Ingram. Willamette Valley is making a big deal of the vineyard, this year creating the Elton label and attracting new investors to build a tasting room and winery adjacent to the vineyard.

In recognition of Betty’s service, Jim Bernau, founder of Willamette Valley Vineyards, established a scholarship at Chemeketa Community College’s wine studies program in her name.

“It is wonderful to see what these bright, young winemakers are doing with the vineyard the O’Briens planted so many years ago. It gives me great pleasure to assist in achieving their dreams,” said Bernau.

Despite her declaration that farm work was too hard for her, Betty’s list of activities as an advocate for Oregon wineries and winegrape growers is exhausting. Foremost: the O’Briens have dedicated half of their residual estate to Chemeketa’s wine program, and the other half to support Oregon State University’s Viticulture Extension agent.

In addition to that posthumous donation, she’s on the board of directors of the Willamette Valley Vineyard. She’s been the head of the Oregon Wine Board, a past president of the Oregon Winegrowers Association and a past president of the Eola-Amity Hills Winegrowers Association. She’s on Chemeketa’s Foundation Board, and chairs its Wine Studies advisory committee. She’s had her hand in many other nonprofits through the years, from Girl Scouts to Willamette Valley Hospice to local arts groups.

Her nearly 2-acre gardens below the vineyard are a popular location for exclusive nonprofit events. The pathways past water features, native and exotic flowers and trees and foliage are packed with an eclectic collection of sculptures, carvings, glass, brass and quiet nooks, where one can sit and enjoy a glass of wine. One of her favorite sculptures, Rick Gregg’s “She Danced in the Garden All Day With Her Hat On,” is featured on the label of the new Elton Winery bottles. More than 300 people turned out for the release party July 30.

Walla Walla Vintners a Washington pioneer Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:30:29 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas It all began in 1981 when Gordy Venneri and Myles Anderson began making homemade wine. Venneri is a second-generation Walla Walla, Wash., native whose roots go back to the small Italian village of Serra Pedace.

“After a trip to Italy, I got the wine ‘bug’ and enjoyed having table wine with meals,” he said. It was a life-changing visit to meet his Italian relatives.

When he got home, he looked for wine grapes so he could make a barrel of wine for home use. He and Myles Anderson, a fellow teacher at Walla Walla Community College, started making wine for fun.

“I found some guys who had planted wine grapes and talked them into selling us 1,000 pounds of grapes, so we could make small batches of homemade wine. That little hobby went on for 14 years,” Vinneri said.

They experimented and expanded their wines and in 1995 made their first commercial wines. They launched Walla Walla Vintners — with 675 cases of wine — as the eighth winery in Walla Walla.

The wine business has blossomed.

“It took 17 years to get from the first commercial winery in 1978, to the eighth (our winery) in 1995. Now it’s gone from 8 to over 120 wineries just in the Walla Walla area alone and 900 in the state of Washington — plus Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia,” he said.

“After small beginnings, our winery earned a reputation for traditionally crafted, elegant wines served in a beautiful rustic and friendly setting on a plateau in the shadow of the Blue Mountains. Our logo is a red barn, which is on our label.”

He wanted an image that fit the landscape.

“You wouldn’t want a French chateau in the middle of farm country. So we built traditional-looking buildings that fit the farming, haying, and cow country of Eastern Washington. We are real people who happen to make wine, this appeals to ordinary people. Our market is the Northwest and West Coast and we want to fit our agricultural traditions,” Venneri said.

Walla Walla was a sleepy little farm town, then tourism became an important component. “This meant wineries, hotels, restaurants, vacation rentals, real estate businesses, people buying second homes in Walla Walla, coming from Seattle, Boise and other big cities,” he said.

Venneri grew up here, went to college, and came back.

“I’ve seen the town change a lot in 60 years. We still have traditional agriculture, but the wine industry is the new kid on the block. This industry has three phases — grape growing, wine production, and tourism. Some areas just grow grapes and make wine, but we have all three,” he explained.

“Our winery started out buying grapes from growers and making blends. We still do that, but also have 11 acres of our own estate grapes. Now we market 6,000 to 8,000 cases of wine annually,” said Venneri.

The wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Malbec and Sangiovese. About 70 percent of these wines are marketed directly to consumers through the tasting room at the winery, their wine club or e-commerce. About 30 percent is sold wholesale to restaurants and wine shops — directly or through distributors in California, Oregon, Montana, Idaho and a couple small distributors in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

When Anderson retired from winemaking in February 2017, the Haladay family became co-owners of Walla Walla Vintners. Scott Haladay became general manager. Venneri still directs winemaking and grower relations, while Haladay oversees strategy, marketing and sales.

Anderson was inducted into the Legends of Washington Wine Hall of Fame in 2011 and awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers in 2014. He helped create the Institute for Enology and Viticulture at Walla Walla Community College. He and Venneri assisted other wineries as they were getting started and were named “2016 Pacific Northwest Winery of the Year” by Wine Press Northwest.

When Anderson decided to retire, Venneri searched for a partner with business experience and skills that would complement winery operations, logistics and customer service.

Scott Haladay and his wife, Nici are looking forward to raising their young family in Walla Walla.

“Our plans include refreshing our packaging, updating our red barn tasting room and adding outdoor entertaining space,” said Venneri.

Vineyard produces rootstock for other vineyards Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:26:51 -0400 Aliya Hall Junction City, Ore. — Brigadoon Wine Co. is more than just a vineyard. The Shown family-owned business also produces scion wood and rootstock for other vineyards.

Established in 1992, Brigadoon opened with the encouragement of the eldest Shown son, Matt, who graduated from Oregon State University in horticulture. He worked at a winery in New Zealand before taking more classes at Chemeketa Community College. Now he’s the family winemaker.

“He was looking for something that would offer both a mental and physical challenge, and thought that winemaking might provide that,” Chris Shown, Matt’s father, said.

Chris was born into the wine business. He worked for his father’s Rutherford Vineyard in California’s Napa Valley, and has applied that experience to Brigadoon, even though it is smaller and produces primarily Pinot noir instead of Cabernet.

The name of the winery came from the 1954 movie of the same name, in which a small village in a valley appeared only every 100 years.

“First time we saw the property it was January. It was cold and foggy out in the valley; we drove up the driveway in our old soccer-mom van, an old Dodge Caravan. As we got up the driveway we got above the fog, came through the gate and basically had a beautiful, little valley open up to us. It was Brigadoon,” Chris Shown said.

Initially, the Showns bought their plant material from Oregon State University, but have now switched to Washington State University.

They buy what is called “foundation block,” which is what the start of rootstock is grounded on. This is monitored carefully and screened for viruses on a regular basis.

Once the plants are in the ground, they are considered a mother block. These blocks are tested twice a year by the Oregon Department of Agriculture to ensure that the winery is selling only clean and virus-free material.

“When we started, I thought it would be interesting to grow the rootstock on a trellis. It was a good idea, but prohibitively expensive. We made the decision to start with a small area, cut the trunks and let the vines grow into the ground. That’s how 75 percent of the world does it, and what a difference,” Chris Shown said.

There was a definite learning curve for Shown in the beginning because of the expense and the lack of knowledge about which rootstock would grow well in the Willamette Valley. Shown described the process as akin to “throwing mud on the wall and seeing what sticks.”

After the trial-and-error approach, the Showns could pick out which plants worked for them and what the market was seeking.

However, Chris Shown said the most important thing they have to offer is isolation.

“We’re surrounded on three sides by timber, and the disease pressure and insect pressure is less than so many other vineyards and nurseries. We benefit from that,” he said.

One rewarding aspect of selling rootstock was when Chris Shown discovered that plant material he grew was being planted in a vineyard owned by musician Dave Matthews.

“It was so cool,” he said. “That’s what makes you feel good.”

Winery sells unique refillable bottles to customers Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:29:05 -0400 Hear Smith Thomas The Pend d’Oreille Winery in Sandpoint, Idaho, was started by Steve and Julie Meyer 22 years ago. Jim Bopp has been their winemaker for 10 years and will soon be buying the winery from them.

“I was born and raised in Sandpoint and have known Steve and Julie a long time. Steve is from California and met Julie at college. They decided to move back here to Julie’s hometown because they both love to ski and bike,” said Bopp.

Steve was studying to be an accountant, then decided to be a winemaker after traveling around Europe to ski. In France he ran out of money and needed a job. He worked for vineyard owners who are still his friends.

“He helped with their harvest and fell in love with winemaking. When he came home he worked in wineries in California, and realized this is what he really wanted to do,” Bopp said.

Steve and Julie came back to Sandpoint and opened a winery in 1995. When Bopp was in college in Montana he took a semester off to come home, and helped with their 1998 harvest.

Bopp went back to college but made wine as a hobby. He met his wife at school, moved to Boise, then they decided to come back to Sandpoint.

“We wanted to raise our kids in a smaller town to have the experiences that I had growing up,” he said.

Steve asked him to come back to work for him.

“It didn’t take long to realize this was what I wanted to do,” Bopp said. “Winemaking is an artistic process; everyone has their own way of making wine, and I threw my own spin on things. Steve recognized this and let me do it.”

Steve and Julie are planning to sell the winery and let Bopp take over.

Pend d’Oreille Winery produces award-winning wines including Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot gris, the popular Huckleberry Blush and the Meyer Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

“We produce 6,000 cases annually. All our red wines come from Washington vineyards — mainly the Columbia Valley. We have some white wines from Washington, and two from Idaho. Those two, the Riesling and Chardonnay, are both grown by Kirby Vickers near Caldwell,” Bopp said.

It’s a long distance to transport grapes, but Bopp, Steve and Julie are satisfied with their winery location. “The quality of life here — in a small town — is worth every minute of travel. We only have to travel during September and October to check on the grapes,” said Bopp.

“We contract with 8 growers and visit them once or twice a week when we’re about ready to harvest. We bring some grapes back for analysis,” he said.

The grapes must be harvested at just the right time for making perfect wine.

Pend d’Oreille Winery’s wines have received recognition at wine festivals across the West. Their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Bistro Rouge both won a Double Gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition. Their 2012 Syrah won a gold at the Tri-Cities Wine Festival.

“One of the unique things we do is refill wines. We started 6 years ago, and have kept thousands of pounds of glass out of landfills; they don’t recycle glass here.”

Customers can buy a 1.5-liter refillable bottle. The label is silk-screened on the bottle itself and won’t come off. Initial price is slightly higher (buying the bottle) but refills are a discounted price.

The initial bottle usually contains Bistro Rouge, one of their most popular wines.

“We refill more than 1,000 bottles annually. The idea was to keep glass out of the landfill, but it benefits our business bringing a lot of people through the door every day to get bottles refilled,” he said. “This gives us the opportunity to sell them other newly released wines or let them know of events at the winery.”

Several wines are kept on tap for refills — not only Bistro Rouge but also Petit Syrah, Carmenere and Mourvedre. “People in our area love this system.” said Bopp.

The production facility/storage area is by the airport in a big hanger. “We have an indoor-outdoor crushing area, which keeps the inside from getting dirty that time of year. We also have events for the public here,” Bopp said.

“The BYOB (Blend Your Own Bistro) is mainly for customers with refill bottles; they make their own blend from the barrels,” he said. “There is often competition among our customers to see who has the best blend.”

Community grows up with wine Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:25:31 -0400 Brett Tallman DUNDEE, Ore. — Downtown Dundee is a construction zone.

At one end of town, the Newberg-Dundee bypass is nearly finished. At the other, orange cones protect freshly poured sidewalks that creep west along Highway 99W. Old buildings are being remodeled and new ones are springing up. At the west end of town, winemaker Cody Wright is washing barrels behind Purple Hands Winery’s new facility.

“Cellar Ridge Construction finished the facility the last week of July (2016),” Wright said.

By the first week of August, Purple Hands had moved from an old farmhouse in the Dundee Hills to downtown Dundee. Just three weeks later, Wright started the 2016 harvest.

“We saw it as an investment in Dundee and where this town is headed,” Wright said. “When we talked about where we’d put our tasting room, my wife, Marque, and I both felt like there was something special happening here.”

Wright makes only 5,500 cases of wine a year. At that scale, he believes he is making the highest quality wine he can and markets it primarily by word-of-mouth.

“We’re still small,” he said. “By positioning ourselves on a main thoroughfare, we have an opportunity to have the brand spotlighted.”

In addition to the location, Wright also thought deeply about the sustainability of Purple Hands. Cellar Ridge built the facility using recycled steel for the roof and reclaimed wood as siding. The interior is heated and cooled with efficient mini-split systems and plumbed with low-flow fixtures.

“I want to leave a light footprint,” he said. “As a winemaker, a big part of that has to be running a low impact facility.”

Wright is quick to point out that the decision also makes good economic sense.

“We power a 5,000-square-foot winemaking facility on $200 a month,” Wright said. “That’s nothing.”

Wright spent the first week of August bottling Purple Hands’ 2016 wines. With one vintage bottled up, he is turning his attention to the next one.

“August is almost like a meditation,” he said. “I’m downloading and decompressing, making sure all my resources are prepped and my inventory is correct. That way I’m in good shape turning the corner into harvest. It’s a good feeling because the last year has been a whirlwind.”

If the whirlwind affected his wine, it doesn’t show. Wine Spectator recently announced scores for the 2015 vintage. On a 100-point scale, Purple Hands wines from Holstein, Stoller, and Latchkey vineyards all received scores of 94.

“Since I started making wine, I’ve had five 93s,” he said. “Never a 94.”

From the 2015 vintage, only one wine in Oregon scored higher.

The first trucks carrying fruit from 2017 are on track to arrive in downtown Dundee by the middle of September. Dundee will still be a construction zone when they do, but Wright’s chips are on the table.

“People are investing in this community and we’re excited to be part of that,” he said. “Marque and I really believe that Dundee is going to be the premier wine town in the Willamette Valley.”

Wineries look to diversify their offerings Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:23:46 -0400 Margarett Waterbury In the global market, Oregon wine is virtually synonymous with Pinot noir. But that may be about to change. A new generation of winemakers is on the hunt for different grape varieties, and the Oregon grape growing industry is just starting to catch up.

Pinot noir remains the undisputed king of Oregon grapes in terms of acreage planted and tons of grapes crushed. In 2014, there were 17,146 acres planted to Pinot noir in Oregon, representing 63 percent of harvested acreage and 58 percent of all vineyard production.

Yet those dominant statistics mask another discomfiting reality: For the past several years, demand for Pinot noir seems to have softened.

“For at least five years, there has been a lot of fruit that just hung on the vines. It never found a home,” says Chad Stock, partner at Craft Wine Co. and winemaker at Minimus Winery. “The oversupply on Pinot noir is so severe.”

At the same time, many newer winemakers who can’t afford to grow their own grapes are searching for unusual or alternative varietals to help their businesses stand out. Those winemakers say tracking down alternative varieties is getting more challenging, and more competitive.

“It’s always fun to have an adventure or two,” says Kate Norris, co-owner and winemaker at Southeast Wine Collective. Under her labels, Division Winemaking Co. and Gamine, she uses a wide range of grape varietals, including standbys like Pinot noir and Chardonnay as well as Gamay noir, Grenache and Chenin blanc.

“Chenin blanc and Gamay have been the hardest to source,” says Norris. “You have to be really respectful, because you don’t want to be stealing somebody else’s contract or knocking somebody else off the vineyard.”

“What’s getting harder, from my perspective, is finding the other odd grapes that are not spoken for,” says Corey Schuster, winemaker at Jackelope Wine Cellars, who uses Viognier and Cabernet Franc, among other unusual varietals. “Some cool varieties are being grown, but in really small quantities that are hard or impossible to access without the necessary relationships. It’s kind of like a treasure hunt.”

One way that winemakers are helping growers take the risk of planting something like Viognier rather than Pinot noir is through the use of multi-year contracts. “Growers want to grow fruit that will sell,” says Shuster. “And if they get a long-term contract from a buyer, it’s more likely they’ll plant something ‘odd.’”

Stock has been using the contract model for seven years, entering into long-term agreements with growers throughout Oregon to plant or graft varieties like Vermentino and Trousseau noir where, in many cases, Pinot noir once grew. He says the economics of replacing Pinot noir with other in-demand varieties like Gamay noir, Cabernet Franc, and Trousseau noir pencil out just fine.

“One thing that’s appealing about these varieties is they yield higher amounts of fruit per acre,” says Stock. “They are much more productive, so farmers can generate a lot more product. Even if their pricing is less than Pinot noir, they will make more money at the end of the day.”

While some write off these long-tail varieties as a trendy flash-in-the-pan, Stock doesn’t think so. “It’s not just a micro niche among a bunch of geeky wineries,” says Chad. “I think the demand for diversification is real across the entire industry. We need it bad — the wine industry in general needs it — and this is a very good thing.”

Cooper looks to NW oak for barrels Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:19:15 -0400 Margarett Waterbury Ask most people what wine’s most important ingredient is, and they’ll say grapes. Ask Rick DiFerrari, owner of McMinnville’s Oregon Barrel Works, and you might get a different answer.

DiFerrari founded Oregon Barrel Works in 2000, but the company’s roots go back to the managed oak forests of France, where DiFerrari learned the ancient art of coopering. After earning a degree in forestry and working in Alaska, DiFerrari took a trip to Europe in 1992, where he ended up visiting a couple of cooperages in France.

Intrigued by the intersection of forestry and viticulture, he ended up extending his trip by a year and a half, taking on an apprenticeship at Francois Freres, a famous cooperage in Burgundy.

At Francois Freres, DiFerrari worked exclusively with French oak, but when he returned to Oregon in 1993, he started to wonder: Could he make barrels from native Oregon oak (Quercus garryana)? DiFerrari partnered with Francois Freres to test his idea, cutting and aging staves from Oregon oak at his own facility in Oregon and then shipping them to Demptos, a California cooperage owned by Francois Freres.

His first Oregon oak barrels hit the market in 1996 and 1997. “The initial response was really good,” says DiFerrari. “A lot of people were excited about using a product grown here.”

In the early 2000s, DiFerrari started building the barrels on his own, transforming Oregon Barrel Works from a stave mill into a full-fledged cooperage. DiFerrari says working with Oregon oak is much different than working with French oak.

“The wood is really dense and hard,” says DiFerrari. “It dulls all our planers really quickly. But, in a strange way, it’s easy to bend; we break very few staves. French oak is much lighter, not as dense, easier to run through equipment, but also more fragile.”

The impact of Oregon oak on wine and spirits is also much different than the impact of French oak. Evan Martin, owner and winemaker at Martin Woods Winery, uses almost exclusively Oregon oak casks in his cellar, and says the wood gives wine a unique texture and mouth feel.

“There’s an incredible focus and tension in the wine,” says Martin. “Where the French wood is very broad, the tannins reach out to the sides and are very mouth-filling, the Oregon oak is almost like a laser focus shooting through the middle.”

Brian O’Donnell, owner and winemaker at Belle Pente, uses half Oregon oak and half French oak to age his Chardonnay.

While some describe Oregon Oak as spicy and aggressive, he says its influence on Chardonnay is actually quite refined.

“The things it imparts in Chardonnay are a little bit of hazelnut character,” says O’Donnell. “It helps elevate some of the tropical characteristics we get: coconut, pineapple, mango.”

This year, DiFerrari estimates he’ll make about 400 Oregon oak casks, half of which will go to the wine industry and half to the spirits industry. The demand from both sides is much higher, but for DiFerrari, the drive to experiment remains his primary motivation. Now, he’s starting to tinker with barrels made from other Northwest woods.

“In Astoria, when they first showed up here, they brought a cooper. They had to be using other Northwest woods,” says DiFerrari. “So I’m not the first person to think of it — I’m just re-thinking it.”

Washington’s Puget Sound AVA comes of age Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:17:54 -0400 Sheryl Harris Washington State has 14 federally recognized American Viticulture Areas, but only the Puget Sound AVA is on the western side of the Cascade Range.

Established in 1995, the Puget Sound AVA reaches from the Canadian border on the north to just below Olympia on the south, and east into the foothills of the Cascades and to the west including the islands and mainland adjacent to Puget Sound.

The region’s 92 vineyard acres produce only about 1 percent of the state’s wine grapes.

Puget Sound AVA’s 45 or so wineries are a small portion of the state’s more than 900 wineries. Most, such as Perennial Vintners, and many other wineries on Bainbridge Island and throughout the Puget Sound AVA, use locally grown grapes for at least a few estate-grown wines, although they may purchase grapes from Eastern Washington or elsewhere to produce other wines.

AVAs are wine grape growing regions defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau and established at the request of wineries or other petitioners, according to the Washington State Wine Commission.

It takes in-depth research to define soil types, climate, and whatever it is that makes a proposed AVA unique. Some soil types produce different types of wine. Others are affected by the number of hot days and the amount of rain.

Within the Puget Sound AVA, the climate has “long, mild and dry summers.” With an average of 15 to 30 inches of precipitation per year, however, there is sufficient rainfall that, unlike vineyards of the state’s arid to semi-arid eastern areas, growers don’t need to irrigate.

While it does freeze in winter, it is seldom cold enough for long enough to endanger the plants. The climate and the long daylight hours of this latitude — 46 degrees North, the same as France’s Loire Valley — also help the vineyards thrive.

In this area, you can’t always just run out and plant a vineyard, no matter how many acres you have.

“It is often necessary to log a property first, and that takes a lot of money, especially for a sole proprietor,” Perennial Vintners owner Mike Lempriere said, pointing to a densely forested portion of his property.

The predominant varietals planted in the Puget Sound AVA are Madeleine Angevine, Siegerebbe and Muller-Thurgau.

Lempriere has all three, plus Zwiegelt.

Winemaker says wine consumers in flux Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:15:56 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER Chuck McKahn, the 28-year-old winemaker at McKahn Family Cellars in Livermore, Calif., says wine consumers have become more sophisticated in their drinking habits, but that’s not good news.

“The wine-drinking community is at a crossroads right now,” he said.  “There is a significant gap between varietal sales in the wholesale market and in tasting rooms.”

He said that people who visit tasting rooms want something new or unique, and people who buy wine at Safeway want Cabernet and Chardonnay.

Online wine sales are throwing a monkey wrench into the market as well.

“Young people are changing everything, but middle- aged and older people are still the bulk of the buying public, so everything is a mess,” McKahn said.

McKahn grew up in Ripon, Calif., a small farming community just north of Modesto, and was exposed to the wine industry at an early age mainly because his mother worked in exports at a large Livermore Valley winery.

“I decided to become a winemaker when I was 18,” he said. “I worked a harvest at McManis Family Vineyards (in San Joaquin County) before I moved to attend California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and I was hooked.

“I received my degree in enology,” he said. “Studying viticulture was part of my degree, but the core of my studies was in winemaking.”

He fermented his first batch of wine on his own in 2014. It was also the first vintage from the McKahn Family Cellars, and all three wines turned out to be exceptional. Today the winery’s tasting room hosts visitors for a seated, semi-private tasting experience in a relaxed setting.

The number of wines tasted is determined by availability, as the wines are produced in small quantities.

“For whites I like to make aromatic, fruit-driven wines with little to no new oak, and no malolactic fermentation,” McKahn said. “For reds, I like robust age-worthy wine and I want them to be drinking strong past 10 years in the bottle.”

Malolactic fermentation means the tart malic acid in grapes is converted into mellower lactic acid.

He doesn’t mince words or hesitate when it comes to naming his favorite varietal.

“Hands down, it’s Syrah, with Grenache being a close second,” he said. “Syrah threads the needle for me being a tannic variety with a lot of natural complexity. I also love how beleaguered its reputation is in the market these days. It’s a ‘black sheep’ wine right now and I think that is awesome considering how many great wines are made from Syrah.”

He expands on another area of the California wine industry that he sees as a huge challenge clouding the horizon.

“Large corporations buying every small winemaking or vineyard operation and burying them in a portfolio,” he said.  “The spending spree has been apocalyptic and it is going to homogenize our industry into a melting pot of mediocrity. Large corporations are inevitably concerned more with the bottom line than they are with quality.”

Grape grower gives time to the land, community Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:12:29 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER Fifth-generation Sonoma County grape grower Steve Dutton knows a lot about stewardship of the land; his family has been farming in the county since the 1800s.

“My brother, Joe, and I never wanted to do anything else,” he said. “We have always wanted to be farmers, we never had another job. We both worked on the ranch as teenagers, and started full time in 1987.”

Dutton is a co-owner of Dutton Ranch alongside his brother, a business started by their late father, Warren Dutton, in the 1960s. Currently, they farm 1,400 acres — 1,200 acres of winegrapes and 200 acres of organic apples. He is also a partner in Dutton-Goldfield Winery with winemaker Dan Goldfield. The Sebastopol winery primarily produces Chardonnay and Pinot noir.

“Our days are long,” he said. “In the spring and summer we work 10 to 11 hours, at harvest 13 to 15 hours, and in the winter eight hours.”

All the grapes are hand-picked. The Pinot noir grapes are harvested at night, starting at 2 a.m. and finishing most days at 12:30 when the weather heats up.

“The 2017 harvest looks good so far,” he said. “It’s on track to be a good year.”

Although he says Pinot noir grapes are hardest to grow, the varietal has gained in popularity, and the demand continues to grow, he said.

Grape growing has steadily evolved over the past 10 years because growers have a better understanding of which rootstocks and varietals grow best in each American Viticultural Area, he said.

He has some advice for someone considering a career in grape growing: “Pay attention to detail and grow the varieties that sell best from your AVA,” he said. “For example, foreign competition is something we are aware of but not a real problem. We are fortunate to grow Chardonnay and Pinot noir in the Russian River Valley AVA. They both have a lot of demand.”

He is also concerned about agriculture in general, serving as president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

“It’s important to me to keep Sonoma County as open space,” he said on the organization’s website. “It’s important to protect agriculture and protect the right to farm. The Farm Bureau is the only entity fighting for property rights, farming rights, water rights and to protect agriculture in Sonoma County while representing all agriculture.”

He says challenges face not only Sonoma County grape growers but California viticulture in general.

“In my opinion, there are two challenges,” he said. “A severe shortage of labor and over regulation of the agriculture industry.”

Dutton has served on the county Farm Bureau board 13 years. For the last four years, Dutton also chaired the membership committee.

In his “spare time” he has served on the boards of Sonoma County Farm Trails and the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Foundation, where he is currently president.

Five viticulture programs offered in Washington Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:10:48 -0400 Sheryl Harris In Washington state, five college or technical school programs are available to launch students into careers in the wine industry. Once prepared, students can enjoy many careers in the industry.

Washington State University offers a bachelor’s, a master’s and a doctoral degree in viticulture and enology-related fields.

Courses are taught at the Pullman campus and at the Richland campus, where WSU has the largest research winery in the Pacific Northwest. WSU offers a major, minor, and certificate in Wine Business Management through the College of Business. Professional certificates are offered in viticulture or enology, each a one-year program with hands-on camps at Richland or Prosser.

Central Washington University’s program offers a bachelor of science in Global Wine Studies and a minor in Wine, Trade and Tourism. Faculty-guided field experience throughout Europe is required. In the future, they hope to offer a Wine Trade Certificate and a Sommelier Certificate.

South Seattle College, through its Northwest Wine Academy, features Puget Ridge Winery, the only complete operating winery at a college in Western Washington. Three professional certificate programs are offered: Wine Making, Wine Marketing & Sales and Food and Wine Pairing. The associates of applied sciences degree and the transfer degree (associates of applied science-T) cover the same three major areas.

Yakima Valley Community College offers degrees in Agribusiness, Food Technology, Vineyard Technology, and Winery Technology. Transfer degrees are offered in Associate of Applied Science Agribusiness, Associate of Applied Science Vineyard, and a Technology Transfer Degree. YVCC currently offers a professional certificate program in Wine Sales, but is in the process of adding two certificates (Vineyard Technology and Winery Technology) in collaboration with South Seattle College and Wenatchee College. Brad Smith, Certified Sommelier II with the Yakima program, says all classes are available in the evenings, and all resources are available online.

He also says the program has nearly 100 percent job placement.

Walla Walla Community College’s Institute for Enology and Viticulture includes a state-of-the-art winery at College Cellars and 5 acres of teaching vineyards. Students, under the direction of the Director of Viticulture, take care of these vineyards. Danielle Swan-Froese says, “WWCC is a Workforce Education program well known for hands-on experiences. We prepare students to work in the industry.”

WWCC offers an AAAS in Enology and Viticulture, AAAS in Wine Business, AAAS-T Enology and Viticulture. An internship is required where students experience working in the college winery and one other.

Two professional certificate programs are offered: the Viticulture Science Certificate after the program’s first year, and Fermentation Science Certificate after completing the second year.

Lake Washington Institute of Technology recently offered two programs of study, but according to Admission Coach Mary Powers, they have been discontinued.

Each institution feeding into the industry presents different courses, certificates, career opportunities, and scholarships. Scholarships information should be requested at the institution of choice.

The ‘Big Two’ wine states by the numbers Thu, 7 Sep 2017 09:08:20 -0400 Native seed business takes root Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:25:22 -0400 Aliya Hall ALBANY, Ore. — Sarah Stutzman and Michele Santoyo didn’t realize how hard their dad, Craig Edminster, worked until they joined him at Pacific NW Natives a few years ago.

“You have to be a glutton for punishment,” Stutzman said about their native seed production enterprise. “My dad works his a-- off, always has.”

Edminster started Pacific NW Natives in 1996 after working as a research scientist for a cooperative of Western farmers.

It was there that Edminster’s interest in native plant species began.

“Natives are quite unique. I didn’t switch 100 percent; I needed a day job,” he said. “The native seed business was strong east of the Cascades because it was funded by (Bureau of Land Management) money. But I saw it was a growth market with not a lot of competitors.”

The Albany, Ore., business struggled for the first couple of years, and most of the seed was taken to the dump, he said. However, Edminster continued to contract with organizations such as the Calapooia Watershed Council, FFA and 4-H. Eventually they also contracted with the BLM for a program based on indefinite delivery and indefinite quantity, which funded Edminster because his seeds were good for forest restoration.

“That’s what really put us on the map. Private dollars aren’t going to make this industry grow over a couple of years; public dollars are the way to get this thing going,” Edminster said.

The biggest learning curve, Edminster said, was not knowing when to cut the grass, how to fertilize it, and if it needed irrigation or required a combine.

“Every population is different; even in the same gene of species,” he said.

Stutzman and Santoyo said it was the same with cleaning the seed. As children, they cleaned each seed by hand because the company couldn’t afford a seed cleaner.

“We had a 50-pound bag of dirty seed and a tweezer to pinch the seed out onto white paper,” Stutzman said.

Edminster estimates that no more than 30 or 50 growers have ever tried local natives in their production fields because of the risk of not making money.

“When I was in the field it was all worked by hand with species that were too delicate to be put through the combine. We had to have a group of people going down aisles with scissors or taking seed off with their hands,” Stutzman said.

“It’s very time-consuming, and makes it more expensive and difficult to handle. People want them, but they don’t want to invest that time and effort,” she said.

Stutzman said she’s vacuumed seeds off the ground to save them. Santoyo added that those few seeds were worth $30.

“Most of what we do is as difficult as you can get,” Edminster said.

Stutzman and Santoyo knew that their father worked a lot, but they didn’t realize how hard until they committed to the company.

“It’s constant and doesn’t stop. When you participate in it, you see how hard it is,” Stutzman said. “I worked in the field with my now husband, and harvesting stuff is really difficult. You’re laying it out on tarps and drying it, then pitchforking it into a thrasher and then to the seed cleaner. It’s much more difficult than commercial grasses.”

Although Edminster joked about retiring as soon as he can, his daughters say they don’t see that happening.

Oregon nursery industry reclaims No. 1 spot Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:29:25 -0400 Aliya Hall WILSONVILLE, Ore. — During the recession that began in 2008, one-third of the Oregon’s nursery business was lost, but now in 2017, the industry has come back strong, reclaiming first place among agricultural commodities in the state.

“It was almost a perfect storm of calamity economically,” Jeff Stone, director of Oregon Association of Nurseries, said of the recession. “It hit farm-wide.”

The recession that hit the housing and construction industries by proxy also hurt nurseries, because both are major customers. Homeowners also shied away from making improvements to their yards and gardens.

“I equate it to families who don’t go on vacation, but do a staycation, and say, ‘Man, my yard looks like garbage; I should go to the garden center.’ Well, they were so timid about their future they didn’t do any home improvement,” Stone said.

There had been downturns in the nursery industry before, but none lasted as long or cut as deeply, said Stone.

“The 2008 cycle was particularly dark and damaging,” he said.

The market difficulty combined with the lack of labor at the time made nurseries more cautious.

After 2008, nurseries had to change and adjust their growing time. Before, they could simply plant products and sell them, but during the recession, they “came to a rude awakening,” Stone said.

“When it got past a certain age of a plant that isn’t going to market, what do you with it? You destroy it,” he said. “You have all those years of trying to get a plant to market and then there was no market.”

Nurseries knew the recession wasn’t going to last forever, but the concern was if the companies could handle how long it would last.

“The ones that survived continued planting. Bigger nurseries weathered it out, medium (nurseries) had tougher times, but the smaller ones had true difficulty,” Stone said.

Recovery was initially slow, but the industry has since grown significantly. In terms of sales, nurseries have generated $950 million to $975 million; the peak in past years was over $1 billion.

However, fewer nurseries have generated that revenue, Stone said.

Nurseries have also changed how they manage production to look for more efficiencies. During the recession, they focused on making production more lean. Stone said that the biggest step to save labor cost was to switch to automation.

“Automation is an alternative for folks, but that still costs money and significant investment,” Stone said.

The ordering process has changed as well, said Stone. Customers are putting orders in to ship sooner than they had previously.

“The degree of dependence on planting a long time ago for sale next year has probably shortened,” Stone said.

Stone enjoys an informal competition with Oregon’s beef industry, which has traded the top sales spot with the nursery industry over the years.

“It’s the greatest arms race between aggies that you can have. I’d rather have us trade off by a growing market share,” he said. “We have great collaboration and relationship with cattle, wine and crop farms.”

After sitting at the No. 2 position, the nursery industry reclaimed its first-place position this month.

“The sales figures reflect how the nursery and greenhouse industry recovered from the great recession,” Stone said in an email. “The quality of plant material grown and sold by Oregon growers is well known and (I) hope that this signals continued success of our traded sector industry.”

As for the competition with the beef business, Stone called the cattle industry “vibrant and a force in Oregon agriculture.”

“I hope that we continue to grow together for the benefit of all of Oregon agriculture,” Stone said.

Bamboo a life-long fascination Thu, 17 Aug 2017 09:26:40 -0400 Aliya Hall ALBANY, Ore. — From a young age, Dain Sansome was interested in bamboo.

The owner of Bamboo Valley in Albany, Ore., Sansome fell in love with Asian themes, such as martial arts, Japanese gardens and bamboo, after seeing a National Geographic special about bamboo. During high school in Minnesota, he started growing his first plants that he bought mail-order from a catalog.

“They did OK, but they didn’t grow like I wanted them to,” he said. “So I went to Japan and saw the big stuff.”

Sansome later moved to Oregon with his Japanese wife and began working at Bamboo Gardens in North Plains, Ore., where he was trained. In 2004, he opened Bamboo Valley, which is both a farm and nursery.

“I always wanted a farm more than a nursery. A nursery in my mind means small plants, which is fun and nice, but I like the ‘big’ stuff,” he said. “That feeling of actual mature bamboo, it’s really magical. It’s all one organism and you can get inside of it, which is a neat feeling.”

Beyond selling bamboo, Sansome also offers landscaping and stump-grinding services.

“There’s a demand for delivering plants, planting and removing. I wanted to get my hands into everything,” he said.

Sansome said bamboo is often purchased for privacy screens.

“It’s used for landscaping and beautification. It has a lightness and airiness about it that evergreens do not. Bamboo is very different, it has an exotic feel, an airy quality of leaves that rustle in the wind; people like having that option,” he said.

Despite popular misconceptions, bamboo is not a tree, but rather a grass.

Sansome said there are several misconceptions regarding bamboo, such as there’s no maintenance, all of it comes out of China and that there’s only one type of bamboo.

“There is a lot of variation in bamboo. All are different, even within a genus. There are differences in cane color, shoot appearance and leaves. It’s really fascinating,” he said.

Bamboo Valley grows 20 varieties, but the overarching categories are running and clumping bamboo. Sansome said the grasses are mainly “old favorites” with a few newer varieties.

Running bamboo varieties are popular for landscaping because of their rapid horizontal growth, which is useful for creating privacy screens. They can “run” from a few feet to 10 or 20 feet depending on the soil, which makes maintenance important because bamboo “wants to become a forest,” Sansome said.

Clumping bamboo, however, only spreads horizontally for a short distance before shooting upward. It is usually less than 15 feet tall, but some varieties can grow to nearly 20 feet tall.

Harvesting the bamboo is the most challenging aspect for Sansome because of how thick the rhizome runners are underneath the ground.

“They can be as thick as your thumb; cutting them is hard. I’ve tried everything from axes and shovels, we’ve graduated into hydraulic equipment now,” he said.

With the difficulties in harvesting the bamboo, keeping enough in stock is also challenging. Most of Bamboo Valley’s customers are retail, and it’s important for customers to see the product, grab it and go, Sansome said.

Sansome loves having the opportunity to meet and connect with new people through the nursery, landscaping and stump-grinding, but nothing beats being outside in the sun.

“I spend the vast majority outside in the sunlight; I love that,” he said. “Being able to have a family and piece of land that essentially is a giant garden.”