Cultivating a Prosperous Wine Future in Central Oregon
While Central Oregon may be known for craft beer and a stunning Cascade Mountain Range backdrop, its burgeoning wine scene is beginning to get noticed. Area wine producers and wine-oriented tasting locales, each delivering delightfully diverse selections of the viniferous kind, continue to rack up awards and grow in number in our picturesque backyard.
Kerry Damon, vineyard consultant and member of the Wine Growers Association of Central Oregon, estimates there are upwards of 65 acres of grapevines—vinifera and hybrid—planted in Central Oregon. These numbers represent a minuscule, but not insignificant, portion of the 30,000 acres planted in Oregon. Oregon has the third largest number of wineries in the United States and an international reputation as a preeminent producer of Pinot Noir.
So, where does the High Desert—complete with a juniper landscape and oftentimes bitterly cold winter temperatures—fit into Oregon’s wine scene?
From a grape-growing point of view, years of hard work and experimentation go into figuring out what grows well—and not-so-well—in any wine climate. Doug Maragas, owner and winemaker of Maragas Winery in Culver, Oregon, was the first in Central Oregon to experiment with growing vitis vinifera, the common grapevine species that produces wines such as Merlot and Pinot Noir. Maragas planted vitis vinifera in 2006, the same year Ranch at the Canyons, a private residential community and working farmland, planted several French-American hybrid varietals, in their Monkey Face Vineyard outside of Terrebonne.
Maragas’s mentor at the U.C. Davis School of Viticulture & Enology, one of the most well-regarded teaching institutions of grape growing and winemaking, had no words of wisdom for the pioneering of grape-growing in Central Oregon. Instead, Maragas relied on ingenuity and an entrepreneurial attitude—along with his family’s decades-worth of experience in Greece and California— when first experimenting with growing grapes in Central Oregon.
“There is no common rulebook on how to grow the perfect grape in every climate,” says Maragas, who manages up to 16 employees, depending upon the season. “We have experimented with planting 45 different vitis vinifera and hybrid varietals over the past 10 years to see what works in our area.”
The years of experimenting have paid off for Maragas. Maragas Winery wines consistently medal in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Wine Competition, including a Silver Medal for his 2014 estate production dessert wine “Tootsie.”
To the west of Maragas Winery, Faith, Hope, and Charity Vineyards is nestled on an expansive Terrebonne property with a full view of the South, Middle and North Sister mountains for which the property is named. Owners Roger and Cindy Grossmann planted 15 acres of cold-hearty, hybrid grape varieties in 2010 and have a Custom Crush agreement with Linda Donovan at Pallet Wine Company in Medford.
“Faith, Hope, and Charity Vineyards was founded with the belief that growing grapes in Central Oregon would be as widely accepted as growing grapes in other regions of Oregon,” says Cindy Grossmann.
Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyards also boasts a beautiful events center, remodeled tasting room, available homes sites, and a vacation rental on their property. For their wine-making efforts, Faith Hope and Charity’s 2013 Vignole won a Gold Medal at the 2015 Sunset Magazine International Wine Competition.
While Bend is known predominately as a beer town, Volcano Vineyards co-owner and former home winemaker Liz Ratcliff feels as though there is still room for Bend to grow its general drinks traffic, especially given that Central Oregon is a major tourist destination. The Ratcliff’s blend, bottle, and store their 1500-case wine production in Bend. They also offer another alternative to Central Oregon’s beer scene: the Magmita Sangrias.
“Imbibing is so much easier when one is on vacation,” explains Liz Ratcliff. “We are a complement to beer, even an alternative to beer, when one has had enough of that.”
The Elixir Wine Group in Bend represents a different approach to the production of wine in Central Oregon. Owner Kirk Ermisch, doesn’t grow grapes in Oregon but does own the Bodega Calle winery in the Luján de Cuyo district of Mendoza, Argentina. Ermisch makes his own wine from Willamette Valley grapes and imports wines from Bodega Calle to the United States as well as brands from other wine-producing countries in Latin America and Europe.
Sipping on a glass of wine isn’t limited to winery tasting rooms in Central Oregon. There are many bottle and by-the-glass offerings at wine-oriented cafés and bars in the area, too. Try Portello Wine Café in Northwest Crossing or Sip Wine Bar on N.W. Galveston Avenue. If you happen to be downtown, try The Wine Shop and Tasting Bar or The Good Drop Wine Shoppe, both on N.W. Minnesota Avenue.
Wine is alive in Central Oregon. The steadfast work and experimentation by grape-growing pioneers in the area speaks to the real possibility the High Desert will attract more interests in viticulture and wine production. When looking for a good glass of vino, just remember, you’re closer to wine country than you might think, here in Central Oregon.