Learning the Winds and Changeable Ways
But plough not an unknown plain:
First you must learn the winds and changeable ways of its weather,
The land’s peculiar cultivation and character,
The different crops that different parts of it yield or yield not.
Winter creeps up on me quickly. When I go into the cellar in late August or early September to begin preparations for harvest, there are still many hours of daylight. I often haul my paddleboard in the back of my truck just in case there is time for a river plunge after work. But by the time I emerge from another season - with the new vintage’s wines safely tucked away in barrel – the sun seems to have suddenly picked up and moved on. Dry hillsides are green again, having settled in to endless days of rain. The hopeful pastels of spring and the high-energy blues of summer feel like distant memories in the dim grey-green of mid-November.
Although this happens with predictable regularity, it always seems to come as a surprise, perhaps because the weeks of harvest demand my complete focus and attention. While no less startling than in years past, this year I find myself moving into the change of season extra-exhausted but with the joyful realization that I have made it through my first year of winegrowing.
I wrote you last in the promising days of early spring when I foolishly believed that tucking my new baby vines in to some ramial wood chips and building a deer fence might be my hardest labors of the growing season. I imagined the vines spreading their green tendrils up toward the brilliant light of the sun, nourished by the alpine meadow’s generous ashy loam. What I did not clearly envision were the many nights of hauling water, bucket by bucket, to each individual plant or my relentless battle with gophers. I could not have imagined how it would feel to go to bed knowing that a late frost would spread across my meadow that night – possibly freezing my new vines to the ground. I think many of us can say that we did not fully anticipate the unique challenges of this past year. But here we find ourselves on the other side of summer.
For me, it is tempting, as the season comes to a close, to try to determine whether my efforts have been a success or a failure. My business plan, in fact, demands that I make such an assessment - since progress is supposed to unfold on a carefully laid out, well-organized timeline. But nature does not always follow our plans, and she will not stand for any skipped steps. In farming, as in life, I am beginning to understand just how little I control. Maybe being strictly results oriented misses the point of the process?
In Georgics, his didactic poem about agriculture from around 29 BCE, Virgil writes “plough not an unknown field,” advising that the first step in successful farming is to get to know the land’s “winds and changeable ways.” To me, Virgil’s words are a reminder that while I cannot control things like the weather or change the essential character of the land, I do have agency to observe and to learn. I can choose how much I get out of the process, and this, perhaps, sums up the progress of my year. In the past twelve months, I have begun to learn the rhythms of a place - to anticipate the sun moments before it rises, to recognize where cool air pools, where shadows linger longest, and what time of day the heat will be most intense. From here, I can encourage my young vines to establish deep roots, I can select the next best pieces of hillside to plant, and I can work to foster healthy soil. My vines and I will face heat and frost and wind and smoke again, but we can actively build resilience to thrive in whatever comes.
I have written other words from Virgil on my bathroom mirror:
“[…], as long as
You’re no quitter and willing to learn your modest craft.”
I like to think of this as an open invitation. If I simply refuse to quit and remain willing to learn, I will no doubt master my modest craft.
And so, finally, here are another season’s wines. After careful blending trials in the cellar, three distinct expressions came forward – each with its own unique energy.
Lila means “play” in Sanskrit. This Gamay is 100% carbonic,- a unique kind of "fermentation" that preserves levity and bright fruit. Feels like a warm breezy day on the Oregon coast. Don’t hesitate to serve it chilled.
Uitwaaien: Who let me use this wild Dutch name? Please look it up. It's very Columbia Gorge. I designed the label during a tropical storm. The wine is grounding and structured. Consider decanting if drinking young.
2019 Gamay: The Classic. The theme this year is seeds: natural abundance + the persistent, hopeful inevitability of regeneration and new life. Pair with lamb, Thanksgiving turkey, campfires, open skies, and all the phases of the moon.
I'm excited to note that my shipping capabilities have recently expanded to include 42 states. I hope this will make it easier to get wine to you where you live. I am currently able to ship anywhere in the U.S. except: ND, NH, UT, MS, AL, VT, KY, and SD. Click here for the online shop.
Thank you, as always, for being a part of this journey. I hope you find the new wines enjoyable and full of life.