Rooted in Jory

You know you’ve made it when you’ve officially been recognized by your home state. Just ask the Chinook salmon, hazelnut or pear. 

Long nicknamed the Oregon Pine, the Doug Fir was named state tree in 1939. In 2011, Jory became the Beaver State’s official soil, much to the joy of Willamette Valley winemakers and wine enthusiasts. The distinguished family of state-centric iconography continues to evolve today. 

For company, the Doug Fir has the beaver as state animal, Western Meadowlark as state bird, Dungeness Crab as state crustacean and Thunderegg as state rock. Newer additions, like chanterelle (state mushroom) and brewer’s yeast (state microbe) reflect Oregon’s gastronomical leanings. 

It’s fair to say that many of these homegrown goods are all the better with a glass of locally-produced wine. Oregon may have named milk the state beverage in 1997, but that was before some of our best wine vintages to date. Some simple lobbying by way of new estate releases from a few esteemed producers would probably change that.

The inclusion of Jory soil and the state’s most famous evergreen reflects a deep-seated connection that the two subjects share. There’s hardly enough ink in the world to supply the love letters penned between the two. 

Dr. Scott Burns is a beloved geologist and professor at Portland State University. He’s also a wine fanatic, known to frequent the many folds of Willamette Valley viticultural areas. Something of a state symbol himself, Burns has become a major voice in the ongoing terroir conversation, offering years of scientific experience and a certain closeness with Oregon wine country. 

He’s the kind of guy who can make even the most indifferent person excited about earth and rocks. Burns can trace volcanic activity that occurred millions of years ago to why a certain variety thrives in a certain spot, or a specific flavor you’re pulling from a Pinot Noir. Wine has become a powerful gauge for understanding some of these seemingly ancient, sometimes tough-to-grasp concepts. 

Jory’s story began long, long ago. It is the age-old weathered bedrock of basalt flows that trickled in some 15-17 million years ago. These soils were established well, well before Missoula Floods. And because they were set in the foothills higher up, they were spared from the flood line and maintain their integrity today. 

“It’s very old—probably the oldest in Oregon and definitely the reddest,” he says. “Jory gets redder with age. It’s a good soil for agriculture because it is well-drained. You want low nutrient soils for great wine grapes and it is low nutrient. You want to stress the grape vines.” 

Doug Firs, too, appreciate the nature of the soil. Like vines, the tree’s roots are pushed to dig deep in such soils for nourishment. Those roots anchor hillsides prone to erosion, the very aspects preferred for wine growing. Some of Jory’s most prized inhabitants—Doug Firs and wine grapes—are alike in their versatility and adaptability. They thrive under conditions other plants would write-off as less than optimal. And they tend to wear their challenges on their sleeves. 

A relatively cool vintage like the one unfolding in 2019 will someday be documented by bright, austere Willamette Valley wines. An old Doug Fir might sport the scars of an intense fire season (but avoid the flames, as it often does thanks to its thick bark and high-set crown) or fierce rain storm via some fallen branches. Throughout, and somewhat quietly beneath the surface, Jory soils tell the two to keep at it. 

It all happens a bit above the valley floor, where ancient Jory soil reigns supreme and its residents are forced to do some digging, both figuratively and literally. “Wine grapes and Doug Fir trees do not really do well on the Missoula Flood sediments that make up the valley bottom of the Willamette Valley,” Burns adds. “Too nutrient-rich!”

In the vineyard, there are triumphs over pests, heat, disease and mildew. The same could be said in the forest, where Doug Firs flourish. The trees practically prefer the natural light-limiting conditions of their own proliferation. They drop their cones and start anew in their favored brand of soil. Somewhat similarly, most grape vines self-pollinate. 

Because Jory does not pamper, like other soil types, Doug Firs and wine grapes are encouraged to develop and perfect their own character types—to fend for themselves, in a certain respect. Tasteful, resourceful and selfless, Jory’s famous duo absorbs enough to survive and gives much, much more. For vines, the quality yield is obvious and celebrated every fall. For fir trees, the generosity is expressed through heightened biodiversity, carbon gobbling, climate control, and more; not to mention basic good looks.

Unsurprisingly, the two work well together. The trees offer the vines shelter from the sun and house protective birds-of-prey. Vineyard land can attract certain types of tasty prey for tree and forest dwellers and serve as a buffer for certain threats. The French plant roses at the ends of vineyard rows as both tradition and a means of measuring soil health. Oregonians, it seems, look for neighboring Doug Firs to echo the fitness of the ecosystem. 

Jory soil and the Doug Fir continue to enjoy a dynamic and time-tested relationship. In recent history, the partnership has—at least by extension—prompted a sizable wine element within Oregon agriculture. The dynamic duo has become a tantalizing trio, anchored by brick-red soils that gave rise to all this in the first place, millions of years ago. 

 

By Mark A. Stock  |  markastock.com

Art by John Fisher

Mark Stock is a writer from Portland, Oregon who spent a healthy stretch in the Dundee Hills making, selling and drinking wine. He’s written for Willamette Week, Oregon Wine Press, Travel Oregon, Sip Northwest, SevenFifty and more. Fly-fishing, Icelandic soccer and The Simpsons are among his favorite distractions.