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Central Oregon wine industry reaps fruit

Growing vineyards and wineries are looking ahead

By Rachael Rees / The Bulletin

Published May 4, 2014 at 12:11AM / Updated May 5, 2014 at 04:31PM

TERREBONNE —

As the sun beat down and Monkey Face at Smith Rock State Park provided a picturesque backdrop, Kerry Damon pruned last year’s wood off the grape vines at Ranch at the Canyons.

While he trimmed the vines to what looked like bare bones, he explained the art and science behind growing a successful vineyard.

“It really is climatically challenging here for grapes and even beyond that, fruits and vegetables as well,” said Damon, the vineyard manager .

Despite the short growing season and volatile weather patterns, Damon said local vineyards have proved grapes can be grown in Central Oregon.

And now, his goal as president of the Wine Growers Association of Central Oregon is to develop the vineyard and winery industry within the High Desert.

Central Oregon is home to three wineries with licenses to make wine — Maragas Winery, Volcano Vineyards and Faith, Hope and Charity — four vineyards where the grapes are grown — Monkey Face, Maragas, Faith, Hope and Charity, and Deschutes River Vineyards — and several tasting rooms. And with the maturity of local vineyards and the newly developed wine trail — a map that leads visitors to several wineries, vineyards and tasting rooms — Damon hopes the region will build its reputation for alcoholic beverages beyond beer.

Each of the three vineyards currently producing Central Oregon grapes have a different business model.

For Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyards & Events Center in Terrebonne , wine is the nucleus of what owner Cindy Grossmann hopes will become an agriculture resort.

For Ranch at the Canyons, which runs Monkey Face Vineyard, wine is the heart of a gated community that allows homeowners to have their own vineyard.

And for Doug Maragas of Maragas Winery in Culver, growing and selling his wine in a traditional way is the heart of his business that allows him to live the lifestyle he wants.

“For us it’s all about the wine,” Maragas said. “So we had to figure out what was going to grow here to maximize the quality of our wine.”

Replanting

On Wednesday, Maragas was hard at work replanting 18 acres of the 19-acre vineyard expansion he planted last year; it didn’t make it through the subzero temperatures over the winter.

“It wouldn’t have mattered if we would have planted oak trees. If they’re just little seedlings and you get 21½ below zero and there’s not enough moisture in the ground really to insulate it from that extreme cold, you’re going to get too much damage on such a small plant for the rest of the plant to survive,” he said. “It would be the difference between expecting a grown person to make it in the woods camping, versus putting a 4-year-old in there. It’s not the same.”

Maragas said he produced the first wine with grapes grown and bottled in Central Oregon at his farm.

“There is no question that that will have an impact … on others that seek to come here to follow suit,” he said.

This year, Maragas said his focus is on his 21-acre vineyard.

“We’ve got some work to do from last year,” he said. “We lost 90 percent of that expansion, so we have to get that replanted. It’s a lot of labor.”

He said he’s been yanking out the dead vines and replacing them with live cuttings to root out in place.

He said he excavated 3,000 yards of rock on the property and is using that rock as a heat sink to create heat retention that promotes growth and weed abatement for his organically grown grapes.

Unlike the other vineyards in the region, Maragas said, his vines are head trained — the trunk is tied to a stake to encourage the vine to grow like a small tree. The result is often less yield but a higher quality grape, he said. He expects to get 4 tons of grapes — double the amount from last year — from his 2½ acres of established vineyards, which equates to about 260 cases of wine. Once the vines are fully mature, he said, he will yield 6 tons from those acres.

Growth potential

Damon, at Ranch at the Canyons, said the 4 acres of vines at Monkey Face Vineyard are grown on a vertical shoot positioning trellis system where the arms of the vine are attached to a training wire and the annual growth of foliage is grown vertically to allow for more sunlight and air movement.

“We prune so that we create a permanent structure, and on that permanent structure we prune to distribute growing points, or spur positions ,” he said.

The goal is to create balance between production of fruit and how much canopy, or greenery, needs to be retained to support and ripen the crop, he said. If there’s too much crop, the vine will be overstressed and unable to develop and ripen the fruit. But if there’s too much vegetative growth on the vine, he said it will be overshaded, which promotes insect invasion, fungus, disease and a lack of fruit quality.

This year, he expects Monkey Face Vineyard to yield 8 tons of grapes. And for the first year, he said, the vineyard plans to keep its grapes, instead of selling them to Faith Hope and Charity. The grapes will be made into wine off site and bottled under the Monkey Face label.

Damon said the new owners of Ranch at the Canyons have also expressed interest in expanding the acreage of the vineyard in hopes of becoming a licensed winery where wine could be produced on site. In order to achieve a license, a vineyard must be at least 15 acres on exclusive farm use land, he said.

But to expand will come at a cost: about $25,000 per acre. And that upfront investment has at least a three-year turnaround. Damon said Monkey Face was planted in 2006 and had a minimal harvest in 2009.

Grossmann, of Faith Hope and Charity, said she is expecting the vineyard’s first harvest this season.

The winery sits on 312 acres with a view of the Three Sisters and has a 15-acre vineyard that was planted in 2010.

“The vines made it wonderfully through the winter. They’re in real good condition,’ she said.

Grossmann said Faith, Hope and Charity is the first vineyard winery in Deschutes County. However, while she has the license to produce wine on site like Maragas, she currently has the wine made off site in Medford.

“Our production isn’t big enough for that just yet,’ she said.

From 2010 to 2013, her wines contained Central Oregon grapes from Monkey Face Vineyard, but this year the grapes will come from the Faith, Hope and Charity.

The trail

And to promote her wine and others from the region, she released the Central Oregon Wine Trail last week.

While there’s a Bend Ale Trail, she said there was no wine trail, and her customers were requesting one.

The trail starts in Sisters at Cork Cellars Wine Bar & Bottle Shop and the Open Door Wine Bar, goes through Faith, Hope and Charity and Maragas Winery, and ends at Bend’s urban winery Volcano Vineyards and Naked Winery’s tasting room.

“With the tourism business … but especially with the wine business, the more the merrier. If you can collaborate and be a community, everybody sees more success,’ she said. “We thought people are looking for it. Let’s give it to them.’

—Reporter: 541-617-7818,

rrees@bendbulletin.com