Valley Treasures

THANKSGIVING 2019 – OCTOBER 22, 2019

The legacy of the Willamette Valley has a seemingly endless trunk and gently drooping branches. Read full article


Valley Treasures

Valley Treasures

 The legacy of the Willamette Valley has a seemingly endless trunk and gently drooping branches. When left to a steady and preferred diet of ancient soils and oft-damp weather, it can grow to 250 feet in height and live well past a millennium. The prairie has its bison herds, the Rocky Mountains have their mile-high peaks and the Pacific Northwest has its skyline of gorgeous Douglas Firs.

Long before wine, there was timber. At one time, wood was practically currency, used for everything from heat and housing to vital tools, wheels and horse-drawn wagons. Early settlers were awestruck by the dense green horizons of Pacific Northwest forests. Among the most astonished was David Douglas, 19th Century explorer, naturalist and soul behind the tree’s name (although it’s a shared distinction, with the latin name “Pseudotsuga menziesii” owing to fellow botanist Archibald Menzies).

Douglas was a botanist born in 1799. First fascinated by the Highlands of his native Scotland, Douglas went on to investigate the ecological wealth of relatively untouched places like North America and the Hawaiian Islands. He could not get enough of the Columbia River and surrounding country, it seemed, returning multiple times on behalf of the Royal Horticultural Society.

He documented scores of plant species, introducing many of them to the Old World. Some 80 plants bear some semblance of the Douglas name. By 1827, the Douglas Fir was officially under cultivation. Woodworkers were exceedingly drawn to the hardiness of the Doug Fir, believed to be more durable than stone. Commercially, its timber yield was exceptionally high. These were some of the tallest conifers on the planet, after all. And aesthetically, the wood was easy on the eye, kissed with a signature and subtle blush of red.

It’s said that the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest dubbed Douglas the “man of grass.” They watched as he collected samples and looked after tester rows of specific plants. He journaled about the many things we take for granted today, from enormous sturgeon and salmon to towering trees. When he first encountered a sugar pine, about the only West Coast tree larger than the Douglas Fir, he described it in his journal as “most beautiful and immensely grand.” Too tall to climb, Douglas resorted to firing his weapon at the dangling cones high up in the canopy, hoping to fetch samples.

The cone of the Douglas Fir is especially unique and the subject of much folklore. The most common tale involves mice fleeing a wildfire and finding refuge in the tree’s cones (hence, the small tail and foot-shaped strands that extend from the core of the cone). Native Americans used to pitch from the tree to seal canoes and found medicinal uses for other parts, such as the especially antiseptic resin.

Some of the biggest Douglas Firs are true elder statesmen and they look it as well, wearing their customary wrinkled and rugged coat of bark. They pepper the valley from the verdant topography of Junction City to the west hills of Portland; from the vines of Antiquum Farm to the tasting room of Boedecker Cellars. Some were saplings during the driest days of Prohibition. Others are old enough to recall Oregon’s statehood in 1859 or even the birthday of the United States. True stoics, they quietly remind us of the rugged region that existed prior to our arrival.

The days of timber barons and sawdust clouds are mostly over. The images of crews wielding automobile-sized saws are black and white and covered in dust. At one point, Doug Firs made up the vast majority of American timber, accounting for at least three-quarters of the whole. It remains a lauded and logged tree but holds a meaning above and beyond mere utility to most these days, especially Oregonians.

It’s fitting that Douglas the man first visited the Willamette Valley in late September almost two centuries ago. The landscape has undoubtedly changed since but there’s still a visceral connection for anybody who’s meandered through wine country right as autumn unfolds. The same travelers who venture out to vineyards and tasting rooms just as the leaves begin to change and grapes arrive on crush pads are experiencing—even if just a dose—of what Douglas did in 1826.

Of course, fall doesn’t hugely affect the Douglas Fir, which wears its brilliant green coat of spiraling pine needles year round. These trees stand as towering lookouts, observing their deciduous and perennial peers as they change and yield. They are rustic statues of the Willamette Valley and beyond.

This special region has long captivated the masses. Douglas the botanist revealed hundreds of plant and animal species to eager Brits in the 19th Century. Outsiders feel a similar sense of discovery today when they open a bottle of Pinot Noir or Chardonnay produced in these parts, whether they’re in Los Angeles, London or elsewhere. These great exports tell a larger story of the region and its particular feel and flavor.

We covet old growth and associate it with deep roots and burly, moss-covered trunks and vines. The largest and oldest trees in the northwest are the subject of much debate but the type of tree is not—it’s almost always a Doug Fir. Sipping an Adelsheim Pinot Noir from vines planted in 1972 is not only a means of treating your palate, but a form of time travel that transports you straight to classic rock guitar solos and Atari. The same can be said for a colossal old Doug Fir. Just being in its company feels instinctive, natural, prehistoric even.

The footprints of the Doug Fir remain sizable today, as large or larger than those of Bigfoot, Wy’East, or Paul Bunyan. It shares its name with area high schools and Portland music venues and is represented in city flags. Just as it impressed a young and intrepid David Douglas years ago, the tree continues to do so.

And while it’s given up some of the regional spotlight of late to vineyard rows and sought-after wines, the iconic tree is and always will be Oregon’s tallest and most recognizable ambassador.

 

By Mark A. Stock  |  markastock.com

Photo of Alexana Winery by Julia Burke

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.


Better Feasting Through Wine

THANKSGIVING 2019 – OCTOBER 9, 2019

It’s always a challenge to find the perfect wine that goes with everything on a Thanksgiving table—but that never stops wine lovers from trying. Luckily, Willamette Valley wines have the perfect characteristics for food pairing. Read full article


Better Feasting Through Wine

Better Feasting Through Wine: tips for holiday pairing

It’s always a challenge to find the perfect wine that goes with everything on a Thanksgiving table—but that never stops wine lovers from trying. Luckily, Willamette Valley wines have the perfect characteristics for food pairing: they’re high in acid, relatively low in tannin and moderate in alcohol, meaning they’ll complement your food without overpowering it. Here are some guiding principles for making the most of the wine on your Thanksgiving table.

It’s not the protein, it’s the sauce. While “red meat with red wine, chicken and fish with white wine” has become conventional wisdom, it’s actually the seasonings and sauces that are most significant when choosing an appropriate wine pairing. If you’re trying an unconventional Thanksgiving centerpiece such as a vegetarian dish, a ham, or pasta, consider whether you’re including a rich, creamy sauce or intense spice element when selecting wine, and be sure to mention it if you’re asking a wine professional for a recommendation.

Pinot is a staple for a reason. Our region’s flagship grape is is one of the most commonly recommended Thanksgiving dinner wines. Why? It has lively acidity to refresh the palate, with alcohol and tannin levels mild enough not to overwhelm delicate foods, and it often shows cranberry and spice notes that fit right in among seasonal side dishes.

But don’t forget to branch out. While Pinot is a terrific table wine thanks to its versatility, don’t forget the other Willamette Valley grapes that pair well with traditional Thanksgiving fare: Gamay, Chardonnay, Riesling, and even Grüner Veltliner and Syrah are all wonderful food wines.

Bubbles are your friend. Festive as sparkling wine may be, we hope you aren’t restricting your consumption to New Year’s Eve and anniversaries. The Willamette Valley has more sparkling wine than ever before, and it’s an obvious choice for holiday food pairing thanks to palate-cleansing bubbles and refreshing acidity.

Try a dessert wine! Our region has wonderful after-dinner sippers in many styles and from many grapes. If you haven’t tried pairing a late-harvest Riesling or Port-style wine with a slice of pie, you’re missing out.

Take a page from winemakers’ cookbooks. If you’d like to introduce a few new dishes into your holiday routine, don’t miss our Harvest Recipes, with winery-submitted dishes tested on harvest crews and winemaking families. 

Photo by John Valls

 


Rooted in Jory

THANKSGIVING 2019 – OCTOBER 1, 2019

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. Read full article


Rooted in Jory

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.


First Encounter

THANKSGIVING 2019 – october 1, 2019

When you close your eyes and think of Oregon, it’s tough not to imagine a towering tree or two. Not just any leaf-bearing, sap-producing, bird-sheltering, bark-wearing tree. Instead, a Pseudotsuga menziesii, false hemlock, or, as we tend to dub it locally, the Douglas Fir. Read full article


First Encounter

First Encounter: THe Douglas fir in oregon

When you close your eyes and think of Oregon, it’s tough not to imagine a towering tree or two. Not just any leaf-bearing, sap-producing, bird-sheltering, bark-wearing tree. Instead, a Pseudotsuga menziesii, false hemlock, or, as we tend to dub it locally, the Douglas Fir.

The Doug Fir is the emperor of the Pacific Northwest landscape. The solemn giants frame vineyards, blanket distant hillsides and oversee just about every activity in the bustling Willamette Valley. Regional folklore can’t escape the remarkable evergreen as it sprouts up in everything from state license plates to wine labels.

Wine country possesses an especially close relationship with the tree. After all, as the area’s original inhabitant, the Doug Fir once occupied countless vineyard sites and growing areas. It’s what many raised and sold before viticulture. And it continues to inform the way we think about our cherished, one-of-a-kind landscape.

For pioneering producer The Eyrie Vineyards, the Doug Fir is engrained in its very brand. The tree is stamped on to the base of the label, a symbol of both the Oregon landscape as well the biodiversity it spawns. A red-tailed hawk wafts above the label’s tree and is the subject of the Eyrie name, meaning the nesting spot of a bird of prey.

As David and Diana Lett first planted in 1966, a family of red-tailed hawks nested above the vineyard, watching over their industry-building labors. “They still nest there today, and seem to come out on cue whenever I bring a group there,” says Eyrie assistant winemaker Amy McCandlish Esper.

A Blooming Hill Vineyard in Cornelius rests atop land that is the former headquarters of a large Washington County farm. Doug Firs were grown and harvested as Christmas trees, among other crops, and eager families came to claim their own every year. The estate trees have become a forest over the years and serve as vineyard gatekeepers today.

“One of our Doug Firs was the Hillsboro Orenco Station Christmas tree a couple of years ago,” says A Blooming Hill’s Holly Witte. “They are, to say the least, very photogenic.”

Tom Schaad of August Cellars in the Chehalem Mountains was born and raised in Oregon. His grandfather, Clarence, purchased the land for the family in 1942. Tom recalls the thawing wood furnace of his grandfather’s house, fed often by fresh Douglas Fir wood that Clarence fell himself and then replanted. “[When I was] a Boy Scout, our troop earned money by planting fir seedlings in the Coast Range for timber companies,” Schaad says.

“I’m a lucky one who grew up in the land of Douglas Firs,” says Karen Saul of Andante Vineyard in the mid-Willamette Valley. Her favorite memories involve walks with her mother through the thick Marion County woods. “[When I was ] a sixth grader in Salem, Mrs. T taught me about native plants and the geology of Oregon. Our class had a secret code— Pseudotsuga menziesii—and I knew how to identify these trees from their distinctive cones.”

Saul has since revealed that secret code to the rest of her family. The Andante co-owner says her grandkids know to look for the “little squirrel tail” when examining pine cones, a telltale sign of the presence these magnificent trees.

Some, like Richard Boyles of Iris Vineyards in the southern valley, are so moved by the trees that they can’t help but get poetic. His appreciation of the trees, he suggests, is best expressed in haiku form:

Body tired from harvest labor

I pause to view the landscape,

Douglas Fir and vines.

Douglas Fir forest

Neighbors my sunny vineyard,

shades sweltering vines.

Fir boughs shelter me

From sun, wind and rain

During harvest breaks.

In Carlton, MonksGate Vineyard is bordered by many majestic firs like so many Oregon vineyards. The winery knows that while these trees can house potentially damaging flocks of grape-eating birds come harvest time, the benefits of their company are many.

The trees in the east stretches of the vineyard provide shady relief, especially during warmer vintages. Such shelter promotes acid retention and lengthens hang time, something the winery covets especially for its Pommard clone of Pinot noir and dry rosé. The forest on the southern end shields estate fruit from strong autumn winds, which can weaken grape skins, dehydrate clusters and invite disease and pests.

“We view the iconic Doug Fir as a guardian of, rather than a threat to, our vineyard and therefor our way of life” says Rebecca Moore of MonksGate.

“Long may they reign!”

 

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.