(Photo | by Kristine Thomas)
Every May, winery and vineyard owners invite Oregonians to celebrate Oregon Wine Month. They invite people to taste and learn about Oregon’s wine industry. Central Oregon is beginning to grow as a wine region. There are several vineyards and wineries in the region, along with wine bars and tasting rooms. We invite you to explore and learn more about the unique wines being made in Central Oregon.
Cascade Business News Feature Writer Kristine Thomas interviewed Central Oregon wine industry pioneers, who are eager to share their enthusiasm for the area’s future of growing cold-hardy, hybrid grapes and making wine. The wineries are introducing new varietals including Marquette, Marechal Foch, La Crescent, Leon Millot and more. The winery owners invite people to learn more by visiting their tasting rooms and asking questions about their vineyards and wines.
Central Oregon is Becoming Known as a Wine Region
by Kristine Thomas — CBN Feature Writer
NewGen Vineyard Services President Chad Vargas said many people in Oregon’s wine and vineyard industry are unaware of what’s happening in Central Oregon. “Once they do learn what’s happening and what’s being grown in Central Oregon, people are fascinated,” Vargas said. “They are intrigued and watching closely to see what happens with the vineyards growing cold hardy hybrid grapes.”
Before starting his vineyard services company in the Willamette Valley, Vargas was the vineyard manager for ten years at Adelsheim Vineyard, one of Oregon’s founding wineries. His experience and leadership have earned him a reputation of being an influencer in the success of Oregon’s wine industry.
He was unaware wine grapes were being grown in Central Oregon until he met Kerry Damon at the 2019 Oregon Wine Symposium. A professional viticulturist and vineyard manager with 23 years of experience working at vineyards and wineries in Oregon and California, Damon invited Vargas to tour several vineyards and to taste wine last spring.
“There are several pioneers in Central Oregon who are passionate about growing grapes and making great wines. Kerry is definitely one of them who is eager to help everyone succeed,” Vargas said.
This winter, Vargas worked with Lava Terrace Cellars co-owner Duane Barker to prune the vines for cuttings of Brianna and La Crescent. Vargas propagated the cuttings at his greenhouses to create new plants for Lava Terrace and a new vineyard near Redmond.
A game changer for Central Oregon’s wine industry, Vargas said, is the recent news that Redside Ranch in Terrebonne won a gold medal for its 2019 Marquette at the 21st annual San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, one of the largest and most important for American wines in the world. Redside Ranch’s 2019 Marquette received the highest points for a Marquette in the United States, competing against well-established and award-winning wineries and vineyards in the United States. The award-winning Marquette was handcrafted by winemaker Christopher Kirk Ermisch at Elixir Wine Group in Bend from Redside Ranch’s harvest in 2019.
“This recognition is important, and it will help establish Central Oregon as a place to grow wine grapes and make wine, and the award will encourage more people to try Marquette and other cold hardy varietals,” Vargas said.
Vargas said there was a time when people doubted grapes could be grown in the Willamette Valley. “Look what happened,” Vargas said. “The people pioneering the wine industry in Central Oregon are determined to show it can successfully be done.”
Leading the way
Kerry Damon has tirelessly and enthusiastically worked to establish Central Oregon as a region to successfully grow cold hardy and French/American hybrid grapes in Central Oregon. He is a founder of Central Oregon’s first commercial-size vineyard Monkeyface at Ranch of the Canyon in 2006, and the president of the Central Oregon Wine and Grape Growers Association.
Damon serves as a consultant to several young vineyards in Central Oregon. He is focused on Redside Ranch’s development and his continued research on collecting data on soil, weather, bud break and harvest dates, vine physiology and more.
He stated Central Oregon vineyard owners’ future lies in working together to share their knowledge and to promote Central Oregon as a wine region. Through trials and errors, he has learned what pruning methods work best, how to process the grapes to make wine and much more.
“We know we can’t do the same things they do in other regions in Oregon to manage the vineyards and make wine,” Damon said. “We have defined what cold hardy grapes prosper in Central Oregon that allow us to make high quality wine.”
Instrumental in managing Redside Ranch’s vineyard, Damon believes the gold medal earned by Redside Ranch shows what is possible. “Our challenge is educating people about the varietals we are successfully growing. The grapes grown here, and the wines being made each have the characters of the climate and soils. The terroir of Central Oregon is so much more different.”
Central Oregon may be one of the most challenging climates agriculturally to grow grapes because of the shorter growing season, and the temperature swings. “We chose to grow the cold hardy hybrid grapes in Central Oregon because they have late bud break, a rapid accelerated growth and an early ripening cycle,” he said. “We can have bud break in mid-May and harvest by the end of September.”
Every place he has worked in California, Washington and Oregon has had its own challenges. “I have always looked at a place for its potential and learned how to maximize that potential. It takes dedication, collaboration, passion and a pioneering spirit to achieve a region’s potential,” Damon said. “I don’t listen when people say that can’t happen, instead I look at what can be done to make it happen.”
He predicts Central Oregon will be recognized as a wine growing region in Oregon, just as the Umpqua, Columbia Valley and Rogue Valley have. “That’s our eventual future,” he added. “Success is at hand for all of us.”
The honors belong to Redside Ranch Vineyard Manger and Ranch Manager Ryder Redfield and Elixir Winemaker Christopher Kirk Ermisch. But the celebrations are reverberating throughout Central Oregon’s wine and vineyard community.
The gold medal earned by Redside Ranch’s 2019 Marquette is vindication award-winning wines can be made from grapes grown in Central Oregon, especially since many vineyard owners were told it couldn’t be done.
Damon is both honored and amazed Redside Ranch in Terrebonne won a gold medal in its first competition, adding the recognition from the vineyard’s harvest is a tribute to the partnership between the vineyard managers and the winemaker.
“This recognition will help establish Central Oregon as the next place to grow grapes and make wine. This gold medal is a tribute to the pioneering spirit and the work being done by many people to establish Central Oregon as a winegrowing region,” Damon said. “We are a close community of winery and vineyard owners here, so it benefits us all.”
Damon said Marquette is a natural fit to Central Oregon’s terroir. “Marquette is well-suited for the unique, high desert climate of Central Oregon much like its cousin, Pinot Noir, is suited for the greater Willamette Valley,” Damon said.
Describing Redside Ranch Vineyard as a “passion project,” Redfield said the ranch is owned by his cousin, Kris Kibak. “When Kris purchased the ranch, there was already a small vineyard,” Redfield shared. “When we first worked with Kerry to expand the vineyard, we decided to make wine to give to family and friends.”
Redfield said his first indication of the Marquette’s quality was when he shared it with friends who live in Sonoma, California. “They normally drink vinifera wine made in California,” he said. “They thought our Marquette was incredible. That was really good feedback.”
Redfield said there are currently five acres of Marquette grapes, with another acre being planted in June. With the vineyard’s expansion, they are predicting 12 tons of grapes to make 785 cases in the next few years. The gold medal for their first vintage of Marquette has all four men asking the question, “What’s next for Redside Ranch?”
Redfield said the recognition acknowledges the years of hard work and care that has gone into the vineyard to grow high-quality grapes. Both men said the competition showed them how their Marquette stacks up against established wineries making Marquette wines for many years. “The gold medal brings awareness to the years of lessons we have learned about cultivating grapes and making wine in Central Oregon,” Damon said.
Zack Gomber is both honored and excited for the responsibility to be tending the vines at Monkeyface Vineyards at Ranch at the Canyons, the first wine grape vineyards to be planted in Central Oregon.
Along with his dog, Walter, he tends to the four acres of vines, deciding with each snip of his pruning shears the vineyards’ future growth. He’s grateful for Damon’s guidance and advice on how to care for the vineyard.
Gomber, 34, was born and raised in Central Oregon. By weekday, he works as the senior grower relations manager for a large farming and wine company. By evenings and weekends, he cares for Monkeyface Vineyards, where he is growing the red varietals of Frontenac, Marechal Foch, St. Croix and Leon Millot and the white varietals are Vignoles, La Croix and La Crescent. He and his business partner Cale Meyer are the owners of Central Vineyards. They are growing Marechal Foch, Frontenac Gris, Brianna, La Crescent, Baco Noir and Marquette on two acres east of Bend. They received an initial 150 cuttings from Cindy Grossmann of Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyards. “We are grateful for the support we have received from Cindy and the local wine community who continue to encourage us and share their knowledge with us,” Gomber said.
Gomber and Meyer chose to focus on the cold hardy hybrid grapes because they are seeing a growing movement of like-minded individuals in Vermont, New York and the East Coast interested in the grape’s sustainability. The cold-tolerant hybrids are mildew and fungal resistant, Gomber said, adding he doesn’t need to use chemicals on his grapes. “While other generations like big, bold wines, our generation seems to be more interested in knowing more about where the grape grew and how it was grown,” Gomber said. “My generation is more focused on sustainability and buying local.”
Meyer and Gomber have chosen to make unique blends for Central Vineyards. They used Frontenac to make a deep rosé, their La Crescent to make a sparkling white and their La Crescent, Frontenac Gris and Baco Noir to create a carbonic wine called “Freak Flag.” “Last year, we made only 40 cases of wine at Southeast Wine Collective in Portland,” Gomber said, adding 2020 was a challenging year due to the wildfires. “Our goal is to eventually grow our own grapes and make our wines in Central Oregon.”
While he has experience growing grapes and making wine in California and Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Gomber said it doesn’t translate to what needs to be done in Central Oregon. “We have to continue to learn how to grow grapes and make wine that reflects Central Oregon’s style,” Gomber said. “I have learned how we process vinifera grapes like Syrah or pinot noir isn’t the same for how we process hybrid grapes.”
The passion for his craft of growing grapes and his vision for the potential of Central Oregon becoming a well-established wine region are what motivate him to endure the long hours and days. “I’m excited for everything that’s happening now and what the future will bring,” he said.
Kimball Joy Vineyards
Linda Lattavo was half serious and half not about her offer to Grant Scholz. He obviously took her seriously about becoming her partner in starting a vineyard and winery in Central Oregon.
The couple’s story began in 2016 at Maragas Winery where Scholz was working as an assistant winemaker and vineyard manager and Lattavo was helping to harvest the grapes. Scholz also has worked a harvest in New Zealand.
Impressed with Scholz’ work ethic and his knowledge of making wine and growing grapes, Lattavo was inspired to inquire if he wanted to be her business partner. They are preparing to plant a vineyard on nine of the 42 acres they purchased in 2018. The property is less than a mile from Cline Falls State Park and has views of Cline Butte and the Cascade Mountain Range.
They spent two years adding power to property, building a shop and pond, preparing the land to plant the vineyard and learning everything they can about their new business venture. Scholz is studying winemaking at UC Davis. “The land is flat and was covered mostly with lava rock, sagebrush and cheat grass,” Scholz shared. “We planted six different crop covers including rye grass, radishes, winter peas and clover to improve the soil structure.”
Using the working name Kimball Joy Vineyards, they are planting white grapes in June — five acres of La Crescent, 2.5 of Albarino and 1.5 of Brianna. He plans to plant Cabernet Franc as his red varietal. Having grown up in Central Oregon, Scholz has taken the approach that growing reliable cold hardy hybrids in combination with more risky vinifera cultivars can be a successful growing strategy in this region. “Recent advancements in cold hardy grape breeding and vineyard management techniques have made viticulture in marginal climates a feasible venture,” Scholz said.
Lattavo was born and raised in Ohio and worked for many years in Washington, D.C. Scholz was born in Terrebonne. When he has shared with his friends and community members that he was going to grow grapes and make wine in Central Oregon, Scholz said he received many raised eyebrows, pats on the back and chuckles, telling him, “Hey, good luck with that.”
They are grateful they are venturing into the new territory with the support of Central Oregon’s wine and vineyard community. They appreciate how Kerry Damon has been an advocate for all the vineyards and wineries in Central Oregon, sharing his years of knowledge and providing his professional opinions.
“I think people are starting to understand that the cold hardy hybrid grapes can make excellent wines. And I think the growing interest by people in Central Oregon to know where their food and drinks come from is going to be good for the wine industry,” Scholz said.
Maragas Winery: Using Old-World Techniques to Create their Wines & Manage their Vineyard
Wine enthusiasts seeking a classic winery and vineyard experience should plan to visit Maragas Winery in Culver, right off Highway 97.
The cornerstone of this vested Central Oregon landmark is amazing barrel-aged wine, crafted using knowledge shared from one generation to the next.
Inspired by a family wine tradition going back hundreds of years in Greece (The Maragas family still manages their vineyard in Crete, Greece) and since 1941 in California, in 1999, Doug Maragas followed his own dream when he started Maragas Winery in Central Oregon.
Borrowing from the business format begun by his Grandmother, Anna, who operated a wine grape brokerage and wine making business out of Lodi, California, which serviced East Coast wineries with California grapes, Doug found Central Oregon. At the time, Central Oregon had no vineyards but was ideally located near established grape growing areas to source world class grapes.
The other fantastic aspect of Central Oregon was the dry-sunny summers and volcanic sandy loam soils (ironically, identical to those found at the family vineyard in Crete). Doug envisioned a grape growing region and planted the first Vitis vinfera (fine European wine grapes) vineyard in Central Oregon.
Doug met his wife, Gina Maragas, back East where Doug’s grandparents sold wine grapes to Gina’s grandparents who were also winemakers, bringing their skills from Udine, Italy. Doug and Gina’s arrival here beckoned the beginning of the Central Oregon Wine region.
Doug’s winemaking style comes from his grandmother, who mentored him in winemaking and the wine business. These techniques, although not often used in the United States due to the volume loss in the production of wine, are used by Doug because they create uniquely robust and smooth naturally made wines. As a result, Maragas wines have earned medal after medal in prestigious wine competitions.
Located in the heart of Central Oregon, between the beautiful rock formations of Smith Rock State Park and the majestic peaks of the Cascades, Doug and Gina enjoy showing visitors their boutique winery.
Doug and Gina are the first to grow vinifera grapes in Central Oregon. For 11 years, they experimented with test plots with over 40 varietals, different spacing and pruning methods and cover crop arrangements to learn what varietals could grow successfully in the volcanic soil and climate in Central Oregon. Today, 35 different types of vines grow in their vineyards. The Estate vineyard has the majority of varietals, including Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and multiple clones of Pinot and Chardonnay. Maragas signature wine “Legal Zin” is sourced from their Roberts Ranch vineyard about 25 miles north of their Estate vineyard. Here, the varietals including Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon have flourished.
Doug and Gina, along with their daughter, Samantha, and a few cherished assistants, are the core of the formula that creates and maintains Maragas’ idyllic vineyard environment and delicious wine.
Using organic growing methods, the vineyard and grounds of Maragas underlie a basic tenant of their tradition — wine and lifestyle should maximize their ability to live joyful extended lives of abundant health and vitality. Doug carefully selects the right grape variety for his property’s unique terroir, allowing him to exclude the use of artificial fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides. Rather, Doug relies on hand labor to control weeds, and the chickens to eat the bugs. He also has large farm dogs to keep the deer out, as well as small dogs and feral cats to control the rodents. Because of this, although it is obvious that the Maragas family loves their animals, pets from visitors are not a good fit and aren’t permitted.
The winery produces 2,000 cases annually, with no more than 400 cases of any varietal. While Doug takes his winemaking seriously, he has added a little fun to his enterprise with his comic wine labels, featuring the artwork of his late mother, Joanne Lattavo. The drawings are caricatures created during the Beatnik area of the late 50s and early 60s. Doug chose to use the humorous art over more serious pieces in his mother’s painting archives, because he never wanted to be taken as “stuffy.” Although his wine is first rate, the wine should mirror the well-healed family motto of joy — what better way to do this than packaging this magical beverage with hilarious caricatures of family members and friends.
Faith, Hope & Charity Vineyards’ Hospitality Opens Doors for Guests to Explore New Wines
by Kristine Thomas — CBN Feature Writer
Cindy and Roger Grossmann credit a snowstorm for altering their retirement plans and launching them into an incredible adventure.
Their goal was to retire in Sunriver after living and working 60 miles west of Chicago, Illinois for almost 30 years. A snowstorm caused them to stop in Redmond in 2000. And from there, they discovered a 312-acre farm with magnificent views of the Three Sisters — Faith, Hope and Charity. “We were only looking for 20 acres to build our dream house,” Cindy said. “Instead, we are building a destination showcasing the vineyard, winery and our beautiful surroundings.”
Faith, Hope & Charity Vineyards is nestled between two ridges and a canyon in Terrebonne, just 14 miles from Smith Rock State Park. The tasting room and event center are surrounded by the rich beauty of the winery’s namesake, the Three Sisters Mountain range (originally named Faith, Hope and Charity), along with 15 acres of vineyard, a pond and beautiful grounds.
The Grossmanns spent three years building their home, landscaping the property and building the vineyard’s infrastructure. They planted the vineyard in 2010. While waiting for their vines to mature, they harvested grapes from Monkeyface Vineyards near Smith Rock State Park, starting with La Crescent, Marechal Foch, St. Croix, Frontenac Gris, and Frontenac in 2010. They opened their tasting room in 2011 with their first vintages of the grapes sourced from Monkeyface Vineyards. During that time, Cindy and Roger researched growing cold hardy hybrid grapes and wine agritourism. In September of 2015, they harvested their first block of Marquette, a cousin of Frontenac and grandson of Pinot Noir, and celebrated the reality they could sustainably grow grapes in Central Oregon.
“I’m known as the world’s biggest dreamer and someone who can make her dreams happen,” Cindy said. Ten years later, they have welcomed thousands of guests, hosted countless weddings, won numerous awards for their wines, and enjoyed spending their retirement years working in an industry they love.
Cindy and Roger are known to say, “It takes Faith, it takes Hope, and it takes Charity to grow wine grapes in Central Oregon and produce award winning wines from those grapes.” It also has taken numerous partnerships. The Grossmanns are known in the Central Oregon wine and vineyard community for bringing people together, sharing their resources and celebrating the success of their fellow vineyard and winery owners.
As a child, Cindy grew up on her family’s resort in Minnesota. It’s where she met Roger, first as a tourist and then as a summer employee. They were married in 1973.
Cindy credits her years working in both construction and hospitality for providing her the vision and knowledge for establishing Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyards as a Central Oregon destination. They host many events including upcoming music concerts, a Mother’s Day Brunch, Father’s Day Fly Fishing Lessons, an art show, a car show and a Crush Cancer 5K, 10K and Half Marathon, which benefit Central Oregon’s Ronald McDonald House and The Sparrow Club. Cindy and Roger believe in the importance of generously donating to the “wonderful nonprofits of Central Oregon.”
Their plans include building an event center, on-premise production facility, guest ranch, an amphitheater and farm-to-table garden. They have plans to expand their vineyard, and they are selling six, five-acre estate homesites and a 116 acre farm to be sold to another agritourism business. “We are still in our infancy as far as what we want to accomplish,” Cindy said. “We joke we both need to live to be 110 to get everything we want to get done in our lifetime.” Cindy is 67 and Roger is 72.
The Grossmanns’ red varietal estate grapes are Marquette, Leon Millot, Marechal Foch and Frontenac. Their white varietal estate grapes are La Crescent, Vignole, Frontenac Gris and La Crosse. They also source Merlot, Barbera, Syrah and Zinfandel from the Columbia Valley; their Pinot Noir and Rose of Pinot Noir are from the Willamette Valley and their Viognier, Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc from Oregon’s Rogue Valley.
“We truly love what we do every day, and we love welcoming people to Faith, Hope and Charity,” Cindy said. “We are ‘people’ people, and we enjoy sharing with people this beautiful destination, our wines and our hospitality.”
Lava Terrace Cellars: Bend’s Vineyard & Winery
by Kristine Thomas — CBN Feature Writer
On an April evening, Lava Terrace Cellars owners Dina and Duane Barker joyfully banter about when and where they think bud break will occur in their vineyard in Bend.
While their days have seemingly endless “to do lists,” their enthusiasm for the future of their vineyard and wines is boundless, as they wholeheartedly believe their goal to sustainably grow wine grapes is coming to a fruition.
It’s been nine years of hard work, patience, research and determination to transform their land from sagebrush and lava rocks with incredible outcroppings into a 5.5-acre vineyard producing award-winning wines.
This May, they are checking off another goal as they prepare their tasting venue for limited, approved openings on their farm, about a 12-minute drive from downtown Bend. Guests will need to visit their website to make reservations to visit the tasting venue. “We are excited to share our wines and provide our guests with a unique experience,” Dina said. “Our guests will be able to see how we are growing wine grapes in Bend, Oregon.”
Their adventure began in 2012 when they planted Marechal Foch and pinot noir, with only three of the 20 pinot noir plants surviving and the Marechal Foch flourishing. Their focus switched from planting vinifera grapes such as pinot noir to cold hardy hybrid grapes that would thrive like the Marechal Foch had done.
Two years later, they planted La Crescent, Brianna and Marquette and added more Marechal Foch. This year, they are planting Crimson Pearl. It takes about five years for the vines to produce good fruit to make commercial-level wines. Dina and Duane have used their knowledge from their successful partnership operating their company Brilliance in Branding to navigate Lava Terrace Cellars.
In 2017, they took their first harvest to a winemaker and in 2019, they released their first commercial vintage. Last year, they entered their first two wine competitions resulting in six medals and international recognition. At the 2020 Sunset International Wine Competition, Lava Terrace Cellars received silver medals for its 2017 Barrel Aged Marechal Foch and 2018 La Crescent. The 2020 San Francisco International Wine Competition awarded silver medals for its 2018 Reserve — One Barrel Marechal Foch and 2019 Marquette, and bronze medals for its 2018 and 2019 La Crescent.
“You have to be a bit crazy to take on a project like this, especially when many people doubt wine grapes can be grown here,” Duane said. “We have a passion for what we are growing, and we have a goal to help our region to become well-known for making excellent wines.”
Dina and Duane are grateful for the support they have received from fellow Central Oregon vineyard and winery owners. And they both pay it forward by sharing what they have learned about growing cold hardy hybrid grapes. Despite his own to do list, Duane spent a recent Sunday teaching a vineyard owner in Prineville how to prune his grapes.
Both Dina and Duane have conducted intensive research into how to successfully grow wine grapes, continually studying best practices for vineyard management. They said their vineyard’s success is due to its microclimate. The vineyard is planted on lava outcropping at 3,440 feet and is on the edge of the 45th parallel with longer days and more intense sun exposure. They believe great wines start in the vineyard.
“I feel like I have an intimate relationship with the vineyard and understand what’s going on and what needs to be done to successfully grow our grapes,” Duane said. “I am constantly keeping an eye on things because every part of the vineyard is different from one another, and I am always thinking about not only what needs to be done today but what needs to be done so we have good crops two years from now.”
Duane recently has safely done wine tastings at Black Butte Ranch’s General Store, Eqwine Wine Bar in Redmond, C.E. Lovejoy’s in Bend and The Wine Shop and Beer Tasting Bar in Bend. Although most people have not heard about La Crescent, Marquette or Marechal Foch wines, Duane said they are excited to try the wines.
“And once they do, they enjoy the wines and learning more about how we are growing the grapes and making the wine in Bend,” Duane said. “That’s why we are excited to visit our vineyard and tasting venue. We are eager to share what we learned and our passion for making great wines and sharing them with people.”
For additional information, visit lavaterracecellars.com to sign up for the newsletter or make reservations to their limited small events at their vineyard. Follow Lava Terrace on Instagram and Facebook.