Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Visit With Nature

There is something magical about walking through land that is unsullied by pesticides, Monsanto, and all the un-natural concoctions made by man to "tame" nature. It feels light, tingly, clean, and exciting. There is a good article by Brien Cantwell about Oregon's Bio-dynamic "Voodoo Vintners" here.
Recently I was fortunate to visit Keeler Estate Vineyard. Tucked in to the hills of the Eolla Amity AVA just outside of Amity, Oregon it is, like many wineries these days, bio-dynamic, but instead of becoming bio-dynamic, they started that way from day one.
I was warmly greeted by Gabriel and Craig Keeler along with my friend Jennifer Kadell, who works with them to promote their wines. The 200 acre farm has, along with the vineyards, table grapes, fruit trees, gardens, and now, its own mushroom farm!




The soils are Steiwer, Chehulpum, and shallow sedimentary soils over a base of deep ocean floor. (see photo) The range of elevation is from 220 to 500 feet with the higher vineyards being the newer recently planted.
The grapes grown are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and a small amount of Riesling. They also have introduced a newer varietal of Pinot Noir, 943, with a very masculine profile, deep and rich with currents and dark berry. It has been a cause for some excitement in France and California and a few vineyards in Oregon, such as Adelsheim, have had some pleasing results with it.
We tasted the wines in the tasting room and were treated to some delicious snacks prepared by Nicci Stokes. Her restaurant is Cafe Uncorked on Highway 18, McMinnville. 

The wines they make from Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes planted in '08 are superb in the hands of Darcy Pendergrass, the winemaker
The whites very in style from the '11 Pinot Gris' crisp, refreshing minerality and white peach then a '11 Reserve Pinot Gris with more tropical notes and a wonderful mouth-feel and last (so far) a quite surprising '11 Chardonnay that has the softness of melon yet retains a powerful mineral note, leaving a very pleasant and long lasting finish. The soil play into this wine very deeply. (NPI)
Now on to my favorite, the Pinot Noir. This is also an '11 and is done in 55% neutral oak and 45% new oak that give it a nice rich mouth feel. It has room to grow and all the signs are there that  in about 5 rears this will be a real beauty! Spicy and full of red fruit, nice acid balance and a long complex finish. Keep this one down for a few years and you will be rewarded!
 After a lull in the rain we walked down through the beautiful gardens and past the ponds to the Pinot Noir block where we sampled fruit from both top and bottom of the vine.  The Keelers employ a unique trellising system developed by Scott Henry, that trains the vines to grow in a lower and upper row. I must say I could discern the slightest shift in flavor profile, the top most being lighter. Craig showed us the problem of having bee hives at the end of the rows: Bee holes in a few of the grapes that can encourage Botrytis. The juice is removed and they collapse, inviting mold. Small issue but next year he is moving them further away. We rode around the back side of the vineyards past the compost pile stretching the length of the vineyard where straw and manure plus all the plant debris from the property is added to replenish the soils with what has been removed by the plants.

I smelled coffee grounds and  rich clean soil like when I was a child on the farm after tilling. Worms were hard at work as Craig explained the tubes that allowed for out-gassing and less worry about turning the piles of compost.
Heading up the hill we past some recent excavations where they were creating Insectariums: ponds, along with flowered and grassy areas meant to encourage native insects and encourage the control of invasive and harmful insects.

As we started up the hill we could see the vineyard workers hand hoeing the rows between the newer plantings and to the left, in the lip of the forested area, we saw the mushroom farm. They have inoculated oak logs with various edibles and  had just harvested. There were a few Oyster Mushrooms left.
We got to the top of the hill as the storm sat lurking on the horizon. We stood on the deck and admired the furniture Craig had made for visitors, painted in what Gabriel called Easter Egg.
When we were done watching the storm and were ready for another round of tasting and stuffed mushrooms, we took off down the hill and toured the newly excavated areas up close where Crag had built an earth dam with small culverts for circulation and drainage. We then went to the barn where we saw a most remarkable innovation! The teas that are made for the soils must be stirred a defines number of times in each direction to activate. This is at worst tedious and at best meditative, but
when you are farming a huge area and managing other ventures one must innovate. Behold an automatic stirring device that frees up man power and still does the job. Lots of controversy around having it done by machine but my feeling is, it was invented and built by mind and hand with a deep love for the land and respect for the practices so it should fit in to Rodolph's original ideas.


One last note: The dog is worth the visit just to see an animal that is in a constant state of pure joy! He ran in front of the vehicles waiting for a ball, a stick, anything! Here he is waiting patiently for us to get going.
The family is so nice and the feel of the land so vibrant that it is hard to leave. Gabriel and Craig's son Nick also has a bit of an arm in the wine industry, he owns Nicholas Keeler International and supply's barrels all over the world as well as making his own wines!
 I hated to leave and would much rather have stayed the rest of the day.

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