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Three local wineries take the slow ride

In the 1980s, the Slow Food movement originated as a reaction to “fast food.” Centered in Italy, the organization with chapters in more than 160 countries uses the words “good, clean and fair” to express its goal: fostering high-quality food produced in an environmentally responsible way, reasonably priced and accessible to consumers, with a fair reward for the people who produce it.

An offshoot movement, Slow Wine, arose in 2010 to promote the same values in the wine industry by publishing a guide to wines produced according to good, clean and fair principles. The 2018 guide included California wineries for the first time, and this year 50 Oregon wineries are featured.

Of the 50 Oregon wineries appearing in the 2019 Slow Wine Guide, only three are from Southern Oregon — Quady North, Troon Vineyard and Upper Five Vineyard.

The Oregon selections for the 2019 Slow Wine Guide were curated by Oregonian wine writer Michael Alberty. Alberty organized a tour of the state’s wineries for a panel of tasters, which led to invitations for winemakers to submit samples of their wines. Selections were made based on commitment to sustainable wine-making, respect for terroir and support for local agriculture. A deliberate departure from evaluation based on numerical scoring, the 2019 Slow Wine Guide provides a profile for each winery describing growing and wine-making practices, including certifications such as organic or biodynamic.

Upper Five Vineyard in Talent has been Demeter Certified biodynamic for several years, a contributing factor to selection for the guide. Owner and grower Terry Sullivan says selection “is about quality and how the growers identify a sense of where they grow and a sense of who they are in the wine. I can go back to the scores I got from Wine Enthusiast or Wine Spectator, and this means more to me than that.”

Regarding practices in the winery, he observes, “you don’t have to add stuff but you have to monitor oxygen, you have to watch temperature. If you’ve done nothing, you’ve done a lot, you’ve taken a lot of care. It’s about using the natural cycles as yeasts develop, knowing when the CO2 is going down, making sure there’s no head space — all very simple things, but you’re on it.”

Sullivan speaks of Slow Wine’s commitment to accessibility. “Wine can become so opulent and so heady we forget that it’s an agricultural product.”

He has a personal goal of shrinking the perceived distance between the vineyard and where the wine is sipped. “It’s basically the same place.”

To that end, Upper Five will soon offer an indoor tasting area for winter weather and summer smoke. “We’ll still be by appointment, but it will be a nice comfortable space serviceable by May.”

Speaking of Troon’s selection, General Manager Craig Camp explains, “Michael Alberty came down to observe our soil studies, and one day we got an email from Slow Food. They did research for about a year before they announced themselves.”

He largely attributes Troon’s inclusion in the guide to conversion to biodynamic agriculture slated to receive Demeter certification later this year. Based on extensive soil analysis, sectors of the vineyard dating back to 1972 are being replanted primarily to Rhone varietals with riesling, vermentino, tanat, malbec, grenache, grenache blanc and grenache gris. The biodynamic farm structure will be completed with a field of organic buckwheat, heritage apple orchard, resident bees, a commercial vegetable garden with farm stand and a flock of sheep.

“It’s a thrill for us. It’s coming at just the right moment. We’ve done a lot of work over the last couple years, and it’s nice to get a little recognition just at the time we’re also getting Demeter-certified. The interesting part about going through the changes in the vineyard is making changes in the people, because we’re creating a new culture and taking pride in what people are trying to accomplish. It brings the team together in a unique way. It’s a real honor, really rewarding.”

Quady North made the guide based on three estate wines, Ox Block Viognier, Mae’s Vineyard Syrah and Cab Franc, all made at Barrel 42 Custom Winecraft by winemakers Herb Quady, Brian Gruber and Nichole Schulte.

In addition to farming practices that echo Slow Wine principles, “Slow winemaking is a piece of what we’re doing as well,” Quady says. Our winemaking ethos is small lot, hands on, high quality. We put a lot of ourselves into the bottle. We don’t do things on an industrial scale. We chose about the slowest possible de-stemmer because it makes the best wine.”

Quady North also has a populist side, with packaging and messaging that speaks to wine for the people. “That is in our mission statement, that wine should be accessible,” Quady says. “I believe in the democratization of wine, and that’s one of the things that led us to cans, for example, and the kegs. What makes the most sense for that person and that wine. Let’s break down all the rest of the barriers.”

Selectees for inclusion in the 2019 Slow Wine Guide were offered the opportunity to join in the Slow Wine Tour of the U.S. Over 60 Italian producers joined by California and Oregon selectees will tour six U.S. cities in nine days starting with San Francisco March 4 and Portland March 5. For more information about the guide and the tour, see www.slowwineusa.com.

What’s your take? Email MJ Daspit at mjdaspitwinot@gmail.com. For more on this topic, check out her Backstory Blog at mjdaspit.com.