I met Terry McIntyre, the wine maker and proprietor of Stone Griffin Vineyards seven or so years ago.
Off we went, book in hand.Stone Griffon Vineyards in Carlton OR is where it's at. #wine #carlton #oregonpinot Click To Tweet
Some of our favorite wines (and wineries) were discovered that winter Sunday afternoon, all those years ago. For all of you in Oregon, or for those who want to know more about Oregon wine… you can buy the book here.
Hwy 99 is the main road in and out of Oregon’s wine country, and as such, the wineries that line 99 are busy almost all of the time. Not just a little busy either, three deep at the tasting counter kind of deep.
Not my scene.
Through the Wine Trails book, we ended up in Carlton, a small down in the Yamhill Valley, about 15 minutes off of HWY 99. Adorable small town, great main street, and a TON of kick ass wine.
We have an open door policy, show up with wine, and we’ll open the door – @cawineclub
Even now, when we go wine tasting, we always hit Carlton first. As we were working our way down the main drag, deciding which we wanted to taste in, we walked in to a small shop at the end of the street. The sun was slanting through the clouds and into the plate glass windows and warm yellow walls looked inviting. (I promise I’m not color blind. The tasting room has since moved, and it’s new location has a different paint color)
We walked in, expecting to taste, make chit chat with whomever was pouring that day, buy a couple bottles of wine, and then be on our way.
Then we met Terry.
We tasted, we talked as though we’d all known each other for years, we bought a whole bunch of wine, and we’ve been going back ever since.
While in Oregon over the holidays we went down to Carlton again, (I NEEDED an Oregon countryside fix, and we definitely needed to drink Oregon wines again.) Turns out, in the time that we’ve been away, Terry moved his shop up the street, and right next door to another of our favorites, Seven of Hearts. (stay tuned for more on that.)
We walked in, and it was as though no time at all had passed. Glasses came out, wine was poured, and conversation picked up right where it had left off. Talking story with Terry has got to be one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon of wine tasting. This time though, I had my camera in hand, and asked if it would be alright if I snapped some shots as we all talked. He said yes.
Conversation turned to why the hell we’d moved to Ohio, what we were all up to job wise, and the fact that I’m a photographer and food blogger now (before my career was in sales) and that I would love to sit down and talk, to write a full blog post on Terry, his tasting room, and his vineyards. He said yes.
Not only did he say yes, he agreed to a yearlong series that follows the vineyard throughout the changing seasons. And said so in my favorite way; “you can do whatever you want.”
// Winter //
The morning that we went out to the vineyard, it was cool and cloudy, the vines were bare, and the ground was muddy.
Terry met us in the drive, where I swapped Uggs for Hunters, Sassy the dog joined us, and off we went.
The vineyards roll back from their home, with a grassy green lane cutting down the middle, with rows upon rows upon rows of grapes laid out on either side of us. Terry took us off down the road.
As we walked we talked about which vines were what, the how’s and whys of where everything was planted, how he came to be in Oregon, and why he got into wine.
Growing up and graduating in Southern California, Terry wandered his way to Alaska and back, ending up in Southern Oregon, working construction as he went. The first time that wine became a possibility, a serious one, the timing wasn’t quite right, and the money went to other things Oregon is now famous for growing.
Fast forward to 2012, when the timing was finally right, and the grapes went into the ground.
As I was asking questions, a lot of the answers were reminiscent of the most memorable answer I’ve ever received. Excuse me while I digress for a moment.
The first restaurant kitchen I ever worked in was for the tasting room of a wine bar in the town I went to college in. The fates dropped me into her lap just before the bar’s opening, and for the sake of brevity (haha, I know) we’ll skip to the part where she was teaching me all of the menu items.
I asked her how long to leave something on the heat, and how I would know it was done. She looked at me and without missing a beat, told me ‘well, it’s done when it’s done”. Totally set me back on my heels. I mean really, what do you say to that?
Turns out that it is also the most accurate answer I’ve ever received. I’ve used it as well, while teaching someone to cook, and more than a few times when answering my impatient friends when dinner will be done. (yes, we generally dine at a very European time in our household, but if you’re over for dinner, I can guarantee that you will be having a fantastic time, wine will be flowing, and there will be plenty of things to munch on prior)
The fact that Terry used my most favorite answer when answering one of my questions tells me a couple things. First being, he really knows his stuff, and second, that he’s intuitive about his work.
While all other wine makers in Oregon were developing their pinot noir grapes, the decision (gamble, some may say) to plant Tempernillo grapes was made, and breath was held. It worked. And it worked big.
To the best of anyone’s knowledge, the Stone Griffon Vineyards holds the largest planting of Tempernillo grapes in the Willamette Valley so far.
Tempernillo is a grape that is traditionally grown in Spain, near the coast in the mountains. Sound familiar? The biggest difference in climate being that Spain is at a lower altitude than Oregon, and with that, the stronger sun. To combat this, the leaves were clipped off of both the afternoon and morning sides of the vines.
Unlike Tempernillo, Pinot Noir on the other hand, need to be protected from the sun, as too much is absolutely a bad thing.
In the spring, bloom starts anywhere from March in through April, but largely depends on the weather and how the winter has been.
As we walked, Terry would stop and explain different parts and pieces of what goes into working on and maintaining a vineyard. As he would stop to demonstrate a specific technique, such as paring back the vines, which follows the same theory as with roses. The new growth comes from old wood, you cut back your roses every year, same with the vines.
Now imagine that you have acres upon acres of rose bushes, planted only a few feet apart. Now, do all the pruning with your bare hands and clippers. He does all of the work in the vineyard on his own, with the occasional assist from migrant workers that follow the harvest.
This happens at the end of December each year. In the spring he’ll come back and make sure that the trimming was done to the proper length. New grapes push from further back, so to ensure that each vine is pushing the maximum amount of fruit each year, adjustments are made on an as needed basis.
As we reached the back edge of the vineyards, a plot of land on our left has been left fallow. When I asked what the plan was for that land, the answer reveled to me the enormity of what Terry has accomplished. This acre, this piece of land, has been waiting for the next roll of the dice, but has been pushed back time and again due to the lack of hours in the day.
So what do you do? In this case, the answer was clear. Build a facility.
He does all of the work in the vineyard on his own, with the occasional assist from migrant workers that follow the harvest.
Once we’d made our way back up the lane, we came to the building that houses his onsite barrels. The building that he built himself when the original arrangements he’d had in place at his first harvest fell through at the 11th hour. Built himself. In less than a month.
The place that he had been making wine at was courteous enough to tell him less than a month prior to harvest that he wasn’t going to be able to make his wines there that year. Less. Than. A. Month.
You know that feeling of your stomach dropping into your feet?
Like that, with an entire year’s worth of work and time and energy riding on what you do next.
So what do you do? In this case, the answer was clear. Build a facility.
Remember that part earlier about how as he worked his way up and down the Northwestern Costal states? The background in construction came in incredibly handy. The building went up in just over a week.
A whole building. That wasn’t planned for. In just over a week, the week leading up to harvest nonetheless. Cause ya know, why not? It’s not like there isn’t a whole lot of things going on or anything.
He swung the door open and in we went.
During the harvest, the grapes are picked, de-stemmed and crushed, and the resulting juice is here, in these tanks. The wine is left to settle in these tanks (and sometimes in barrels) where it rests.
Barrel tasting wine is a phenomenal experience, and when you have the opportunity to do so, make sure you do it. Wine is drawn out of the barrels with a long glass tube (think the droppers that are used to pull liquid out of a child’s medicine bottle) to be poured into and tasted from wine glasses.
At this point, the malolactic fermentation process hasn’t started yet, and as such, the wine is completely green. Tastes amazing. Sharp, and rich, and fruity.
There’s a very unique combination of scents that swirl together in barrel & tasting rooms, the wine, the cork, and to lesser extent the cardboard.
As we walked into the room that scent enveloped me. (Part of my someday list includes figuring out how to make that scent into a candle, it’s that good)
A long wooden table stretches through the center of the space, now holding the errant note pad, and other general detritus of a working space, will soon be flooded with a sea of wine glasses, each holding a sample from each of the barrels in the room.
The glasses will be numbered, so while there will be a master list, tasters will not have any preconceived bias as to what they are tasting. Through this process, the decisions are made as to which barrels will be held back for reserve label, which will be blended together, and which will stand on their own.
It’s only after all of these decisions are made that the list is unveiled, doing away with the chance for preconceived notions to slip through.
The conversation turned to the specifics of wine making, which as it is largely chemistry, goes largely right over the top of my bottle blonde head. What didn’t go over the top of my head though is this. Terry is self-taught when it comes to making wine, and unabashedly admits it. His stance is that while he may not have the technical training other wine makers have, he absolutely has the intuition.
As we move through January and into February, the time for the barrel tasting is coming closer, so stay tuned for Spring.