On July 30th, 2016, Mr. and Ms. Haiyan Zhang came to south Oregon to visit some famous local wineries.
Southern Oregon’s latitude and prevailing oceanic winds create a 7-month European-like growing season that distinguishes it from all other west coast (and American) growing regions and this uniquely defines, identifies and unifies us as an ideal place to grow wine grapes.
Eola Hills Wine Cellars
Situated in a natural weather shadow of the Coast Range, which shunts storms from the Pacific Ocean north to Portland and south below Salem, the Eola Hills vineyards are protected from weather extremes. Yet in summer, a gorge carved by ancient glaciers draws in maritime air to provide ideal cooling for sensitive varietals in those warmer months.
The Eola Hills premium varietals are aged in a variety of oak barrels, mostly French, to provide subtle complexity to the wines. Several yeast strains are utilized during fermentation to develop appropriate nuances in the various wines. Such attention to detail is also reflected in the vineyards by the hand removal of leaves around each grape cluster to admit maximum sunlight.
Mr. and Ms. Zhang had lunch with the owners, talking about wine making and the wine business.
Benton-Lane grows 100% of its Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay. This is because they use costly, labor intensive practices in the vineyard to make the fruit more flavorful and balanced. If they were selling their grapes, they wouldn’t incur the cost of these extra measures. So, Benton-Lane grows rather than buys which ensures a higher quality product.
The vineyard was a historic, beautiful sheep ranch called Sunnymount. They learned that this name came about over 100 years ago due to Prairie Peak to the west that protected the ranch from winter storms. This mountain carves the rain clouds, sending them north and south while the ranch bathes in sun. Exposure to sun produces wine with full flavor.
The Benton-Lane vineyard is nestled in the middle of a peninsula-like outcropping of the Coastal Mountain Range on a gentle southeast slope. This aspect allows the vines to receive both the benefit of early morning sun and full exposure throughout the day. The vineyard also rests high enough so the cold night air drains down to the valley floor, which helps the vines escape harmful frosts. The vines are above the valley fog-line yet low enough to escape the strong winds at the top, both of which would adversely affect grape quality. The volcanic soils are brick red due to their high iron content and are deep and well drained, ensuring active and healthy root systems.
The winery owner explained their unique wine culture and sent some wine samples to Mr. and Ms. Zhang as gifts.
Abacela, in 2016, is a world-class, multi-award winning winery and viticulture success story. But 21 years ago when founders Earl and Hilda Jones planted its first vines they had no way of knowing what the outcome would be. They were scientists with zero winemaking experience who left secure careers and trekked 2700 miles west, kids in tow, to test a hypothesis.
Abacela was an experiment they hoped would answer a question that had puzzled them for years: Why doesn’t America produce any fine varietal Tempranillo wine? Earl and Hilda probably weren’t the first enophiles to wonder why the great grape of Spain’s famous Rioja wines was mysteriously absent from American fine wine. However, they were the first to approach the question with scientific rigor, form a hypothesis, then devote their lives to testing it.
This is the story of how one ordinary family’s curiosity and determination transformed their lives, built one of Oregon’s best-loved wineries and influenced winegrowing not only in Oregon and the Pacific Northwest but across America.
Mr. and Ms. Zhang had a good time in Abacela Vineyard, learnt more useful and advanced knowledge about wine making and wine selling.
Basel Cellars Estate Winery
The Estate House which is now Basel Cellars Estate Winery was completed in 1997 as a private home for the original owners who named it Double River Ranch. The home’s 13,800 square foot design is reminiscent of the casual grandeur found in American Lodges such as Timberline or Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite.
Basel Cellars Estate Winery had its beginnings in 2002. When the opportunity presented itself, local grape grower Greg Basel purchased the Estate House and the surrounding 85 acre Double River Ranch. He saw in this site two vital components to creating an estate winery. The first: nature. The rich soil and the hilltop position between Yellowhawk Creek and the Walla Walla River made for the perfect vineyard site.
The second: a manmade, 9600 sq. ft., temperature controlled, subterranean structure (now referred to by the team as the “batcave”) which had previously housed a car collection. The underground space was as perfect for winemaking as the caves of France! Plus, the idea of using the beautiful Estate home as a tasting room added to the appeal. And so, Basel Cellars Estate Winery was born when the Basel family began producing high caliber wines and transformed the stately lodge at the top of the hill into a wine country destination and event venue for many others to enjoy.
Mr. and Ms. Zhang ended their busy trip in the end of the day, this trip helped them gather more wine selling experience and strategies, and have the chance to be connected with the famous wineries in South Oregon.