Fine Wine from the East Side of I-5

Gayle Goshie describes the plan for vineyard expansion on Goshie Farms while Kevin McCurdy looks on.
Gayle Goshie describes the plan for vineyard expansion on Goshie Farms while Kevin McCurdy looks on.
Tow-behind machine harvester is Deckelmann's answer to harvest-time labor shortages.
Tow-behind machine harvester is Deckelmann's answer to harvest-time labor shortages.
Mark Chien and Victoria Binning chat with Sandee Puliso about varietal success for her boutique winery.
Mark Chien and Victoria Binning chat with Sandee Puliso about varietal success for her boutique winery.
Wooden Shoe's artisan wines are sold from the farm's tasting room and wine wagon tours.
Wooden Shoe's artisan wines are sold from the farm's tasting room and wine wagon tours.
Jason Hanson grows an unusual Russian variety of winegrapes called Golubok
Jason Hanson grows an unusual Russian variety of winegrapes called Golubok
By Mark Chien, OSU's Oregon Wine Institute

In or outside of Oregon, when most people think about Oregon wine, they conjure up visions of a small vineyard and winery on a hillside near Dundee or Carlton. In fact, this is the wine brand image that is cultivated by the Oregon Wine Board: small, artisan, family owned and operated. And, in truth many winery owners, starting with David Lett, the original pinot pioneer, came from somewhere else but moved to Oregon to plant a wine flag in our wine-friendly terroir, and many with the same passion for Pinot noir followed him. 

But there is another side to the Oregon wine industry, and while it is also artisan and family-owned and operated, it has a very different feel from the boutique wineries between Newberg and Eugene.  Mary Stewart, the agriculture business and marketing faculty, and Victoria Binning, the agriculture program coordinator, are Extension faculty in the OSU Marion County Extension office, and together we spent a day exploring wineries and vineyards in the Cascade Foothills in the vicinity of Canby, Silverton and Aumsville, not exactly common names in Oregon wine lore.  We found the small wineries common to the “other side of I-5” but most remarkably we discovered large vineyards belonging to traditional farming families in the area, who for generations have grown diverse crops from fruits, nuts, wheat, corn, sugar beets, and hops, and now have added wine grapes to their agricultural repertoire. 

We first met Gayle Goschie and her vineyard manager Kevin McCurdy at their 1000-acre Goschie century farm in Silverton.  Gayle is an impressive person and an experienced farmer and astute businessperson who clearly understands every miniscule nuance of her farm.  She saw an opportunity with grapes and jumped right into the fire! Maybe it wasn’t a hug leap from hops to grapes, but a 150 acre vineyard is large by Oregon standards, and they are growing some of the best Pinot gris and Viognier in the state for King Estate Winery in Eugene.  It probably took them a while to learn how to pronounce the French grap names: Pea-know gree and Vee-yoh-n yeh.  Upon inspection their vineyard is well-designed and developed and immaculately tended by Kevin and his crew.  It may not look like a little Pinot plot on a hill in Yamhill County, but it may be as or more profitable, and the grapes are Oregon Low Input Viticulture and Enology (LIVE) and Salmon-Safe certified. 

Just down the road is Chris and Sharon Deckelmann, who with their son Brian farms about 100 acres of their own vineyard as well as others in the area.  Just to keep busy they also started Vitis Ridge Winery and produce about 3,000 cases of wine each year.  In 2013 they were not able to find enough labor to harvest all of their grapes so they purchased a tow-behind machine harvester that is able to pick at night and with just an operator and a few support personnel instead of a large harvest crew.  Chris showed us other vineyards among the rolling Silverton Hills and we were amazed by the quality of the Jory soils, and the vast amount of open fields that could be planted with vineyards.

Of course, there are small, artisan wineries in the foothills as well, and we visited Wooden Shoe in Woodburn, which is well known for its tulips, and is a classic example of an Oregon agritourism farm. At Hanson Vineyards near Canby Jason Hanson left his high powered marketing career in D.C. to return to the family farm, a familiar story in the Oregon wine community.  He is growing an unusual Russian variety called Golubok, and other French hybrids that are more disease resistant that the classic European varieties.  Sandee Piluso crafts artisan Dolcetto, Tempranillo and Gruner Veltliner along with Pinot noir at her vineyard near Aumsville. 

There are distinct climate differences between the Silverton Hills and Dundee Hills, but a clever wine grower can match varieties, clones and rootstocks to get the best possible wine quality from the local terroir – oh gosh, another French word that means the interface of soil, climate, plant and cultivation.  It’s a different style and feel of farming from what’s expected of Oregon wine, but it’s being pursued with as much or more passion, skill and hard work as any wine area in the world.  If you like wine, the Cascade Foothills is well worth a visit.  

Photos: Mary Stewart

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