Capital Press | Viticulture http://www.capitalpress.com Capital Press Wed, 10 Sep 2014 04:16:18 -0400 en http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcsi.dll/staticimage/images/rss-logo.jpg Capital Press | Viticulture http://www.capitalpress.com Wineries draw on 130 years of experience http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20131122/ARTICLE/131129958 http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20131122/ARTICLE/131129958#Comments Fri, 22 Nov 2013 13:42:13 -0400 JULIA HOLLISTER http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013131129958 LIVERMORE, Calif. — Wente Vineyards, nestled in the rolling hills of the Livermore Valley, is an American success story and the oldest continuously operated family-owned winery in the nation.

C.H. Wente, an immigrant from Germany, came to the valley and recognized it was an ideal spot for growing grapes. He purchased 48 acres in 1883 and today the fourth and fifth generations are continuing that legacy.

Wente is recognized as the pioneer of California Chardonnay. He released the nation’s first bottling from the 1936 vintage with the varietal name Chardonnay on the label.

“My grandfather bought nearby Murrieta’s Well Winery from neighbor Louie Mel in 1936. It was a gravity-flow operation built into the hillside,” said fourth generation winemaker Philip Wente. “In 1990, I formed a partnership with well-know winemaker Sergio Traverso and we resurrected Murrieta’s Well as a working winery.

Philip Wente learned his winemaking at the University of California-Davis.

Murrieta’s Well has a rich history, according to stories and possible folk tales passed down. In the 1850s, Joaquin Murrieta, the “Mexican Robin Hood” (or bandit) of the Gold Rush, came upon an underground spring and brought his purloined cattle to drink and camp in the Livermore Valley. The well remains on the property.

“Our red blend named ‘The Spur’ is specific to this location,” Wente said. “It is a combination of Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.”

“The Whip” is the white blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Semillon, Orange Muscat, Pinot Blanc and Muscat Canelli.

Murrieta’s Well Winery produces only estate-grown blended wines for the marketplace on 90 acres while Wente Vineyards focuses on growing varietal wines. They have two distinct vineyards, so there is no competition.

Chris Chandler, executive director of the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association acknowledged Wente and his family’s contributions.

“Livermore Valley is fortunate to have among its 50 wineries the country’s oldest continuously operated family-owned winery, Wente Vineyards,” she said. “As urbanization spread toward Livermore Valley in the ’80s, Phil Wente and his family were instrumental in creating a land-use plan that allowed for some homes while preserving land for vineyards and other agricultural uses. Thirty years later, the valley is definitely grateful for his vision and leadership.”

Wente said there are numerous challenges facing California winemakers.

“I think one of my main concerns is the supply of grapes for the marketplace,” he said. “That issue involves finding capital investment and growing locations. Other challenges involve water, land cost, pressure from international markets and whether capital is available. All these are very complicated issues.”

He has some advice for those thinking of planting roots in the wine industry.

“My advice would be the same for those getting into any business,” he said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘What kind of profit and return do I need to be a success and then work backwards. Before you spend any money you have to make sure you can achieve that goal.

“Winemaking is a romantic but at the end of the day it needs to be a viable business.”

Philip Wente

Wineries: Murrieta’s Well, Wente Vineyards

Owner: Wente Family

Location: Livermore Valley and Arroyo Seco, Calif.

Number 0f acres: 90 acres and 2,000 acres

How long in business: 130 years

Varieties of grapes grown: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Zinfandel

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Winery among many that will uncork for Thanksgiving weekend http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20131114/ARTICLE/131119939 http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20131114/ARTICLE/131119939#Comments Thu, 14 Nov 2013 14:55:17 -0400 Patty Mamula http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013131119939 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.”

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Weisinger’s looks ahead to the next 25 years http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20131114/ARTICLE/131119946 http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20131114/ARTICLE/131119946#Comments Thu, 14 Nov 2013 11:05:30 -0400 Patty Mamula http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013131119946 ASHLAND, Ore. ­— John Weisinger was a minister and youth counselor before moving to Ashland to pursue his lifelong dream — founding a winery. The first grapes he planted in 1979 were Gewurztraminer cuttings a friend gave him.

The 4 1/2-acre estate vineyard, the first in Ashland and, at 2,100 feet, the highest in the Siskiyou foothills, also now grows Pinot Noir and Tempranillo.

When the tasting room opened in the spring of 1989, there were only six other wineries in the Rogue Valley.

In the early years John was the primary winemaker. His son Eric took over from 1997 to 2006 when he left for New Zealand to broaden his experience.

“When I chose this as a career, I decided that to get better I had to go. I learned more about grape growing, about management, about the art of making wine and about production — how to streamline and work smarter, not harder,” he said.

He returned in 2011 and still consults locally and in New Zealand, primarily for the April harvest. He resumed winemaking and took over as general manager.

“When I first came back, I took a fresh look at our production and changed vineyards to improve the quality of our fruit,” he said.

In addition to the original vineyard, Eric manages several others and uses 11 acres of grapes, making 75 percent of the fruit they use estate grown.

Eventually all the grapes will be estate grown.

“Then our wine will really be the taste of Ashland,” said Eric.

In August, at the time of this interview, wildfires in southwest Oregon filled the Rogue Valley with smoke. Eric said the sky reminded him of conditions from the 2002 Biscuit Fire. Smoke can have an affect on the grapes in terms of taste and maturation time, he said.

After tackling production issues, Eric turned his attention to marketing, asking questions like “What is this brand and what’s it about? What do we want to be known for?”

“It’s our 25-year anniversary, a good time for introspection. I think my job is to reshape the business for the next 25 years,” he said. The four pillars of the winery were clearly history, family, quality and locale. A new name, Weisinger Family Winery, and a new logo will be rolled out this fall.

Another change to their business model is an emphasis on the custom crush service that takes grapes from raw fruit to bottled wine. This has grown from 10 percent to 60 percent of their production in the past few years.

“What we earn off 2,000 cases of custom crush is about one-third what we make on our own wine, but the margins are higher,” said Eric.

“We have the capacity to produce as much as 4,500 cases of our wine. But, we only want to make as many as we can sell. Decisions we make today will affect our business in 2015.”

He continues to spread production out to hedge slightly and expects about 1,600 cases this year.

Even so, he notes that the southern Oregon market is growing, especially toward the reds and the Rhone varieties that grow so well there, and tourism is on the increase in Ashland.

Accordingly, he plans to increase wholesale marketing in 2014 and to grow the wine club by 25 percent.

Weisinger Family Winery

Location: Ashland, Ore.

Founder: John Weisinger

Winemaker and general manager: Eric Weisinger

Vineyard: Fifteen acres

Production: About 1,600 cases annually of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Bordeaux style blends, Chardonnay, Semillion, Gewurztraminer

AVA: Rogue Valley

Opened for business in 1988.

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Weisinger’s looks ahead to the next 25 years http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20131106/ARTICLE/131109934 http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20131106/ARTICLE/131109934#Comments Wed, 6 Nov 2013 10:32:58 -0400 Patty Mamula http://www.capitalpress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013131109934 ASHLAND, Ore. ­— John Weisinger was a minister and youth counselor before moving to Ashland to pursue his lifelong dream — founding a winery. The first grapes he planted in 1979 were Gewurztraminer cuttings a friend gave him.

The 4 1/2-acre estate vineyard, the first in Ashland and, at 2,100 feet, the highest in the Siskiyou foothills, also now grows Pinot Noir and Tempranillo.

When the tasting room opened in the spring of 1989, there were only six other wineries in the Rogue Valley.

In the early years John was the primary winemaker. His son Eric took over from 1997 to 2006 when he left for New Zealand to broaden his experience.

“When I chose this as a career, I decided that to get better I had to go. I learned more about grape growing, about management, about the art of making wine and about production — how to streamline and work smarter, not harder,” he said.

He returned in 2011 and still consults locally and in New Zealand, primarily for the April harvest. He resumed winemaking and took over as general manager.

“When I first came back, I took a fresh look at our production and changed vineyards to improve the quality of our fruit,” he said.

In addition to the original vineyard, Eric manages several others and uses 11 acres of grapes, making 75 percent of the fruit they use estate grown.

Eventually all the grapes will be estate grown.

“Then our wine will really be the taste of Ashland,” said Eric.

In August, at the time of this interview, wildfires in southwest Oregon filled the Rogue Valley with smoke. Eric said the sky reminded him of conditions from the 2002 Biscuit Fire. Smoke can have an affect on the grapes in terms of taste and maturation time, he said.

After tackling production issues, Eric turned his attention to marketing, asking questions like “What is this brand and what’s it about? What do we want to be known for?”

“It’s our 25-year anniversary, a good time for introspection. I think my job is to reshape the business for the next 25 years,” he said. The four pillars of the winery were clearly history, family, quality and locale. A new name, Weisinger Family Winery, and a new logo will be rolled out this fall.

Another change to their business model is an emphasis on the custom crush service that takes grapes from raw fruit to bottled wine. This has grown from 10 percent to 60 percent of their production in the past few years.

“What we earn off 2,000 cases of custom crush is about one-third what we make on our own wine, but the margins are higher,” said Eric.

“We have the capacity to produce as much as 4,500 cases of our wine. But, we only want to make as many as we can sell. Decisions we make today will affect our business in 2015.”

He continues to spread production out to hedge slightly and expects about 1,600 cases this year.

Even so, he notes that the southern Oregon market is growing, especially toward the reds and the Rhone varieties that grow so well there, and tourism is on the increase in Ashland.

Accordingly, he plans to increase wholesale marketing in 2014 and to grow the wine club by 25 percent.

Weisinger Family Winery

Location: Ashland, Ore.

Founder: John Weisinger

Winemaker and general manager: Eric Weisinger

Vineyard: Fifteen acres

Production: About 1,600 cases annually of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Bordeaux style blends, Chardonnay, Semillion, Gewurztraminer

AVA: Rogue Valley

Opened for business in 1988.

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