May 30, 2006

Le Cadeau Vineyard, part 1

I was fortunate enough to visit the other day with Tom Mortimer of Le Cadeau Vineyard on Parrett Mountain.

Tom and his wife Deb are unusual in Oregon wine because they live most of the year in Minneapolis, MN. Some years back Tom bought a company based in Dundee and fell in love with Oregon. With a serious wine hobby, it seemed logical to find land and plant a vineyard.

A long search ended at a very rocky southern exposure on Parrett Mountain, south of Newberg proper and just north of the Willamette River, which flows west to east here a short way before turning north again.

The land was a mess. The fir trees had largely been logged, with some notable exceptions. Maples, scotch broom, brambles and poison oak flourished. There wasn’t a view, much less anywhere to plant. But the Mortimers cleared the land, revealing a gorgeous view and seriously rocky soil on which to “create the environment” they wanted.

Much of the northern Willamette Valley vineyards are planted in deep but infertile soils where the roots may never reach the bedrock. There are some areas with shallower soils, but I haven’t seen anything like the bare rock in the vineyards of Parrett Mountain. Chunks of fractured basalt at the surface, with a foot or two of soil in places north and east, but essentially bare rock to the west and south. It’s not the white and grey limestone of Burgundy, it’s rusty red Oregon basalt and it’s beautiful.

Planting was more than challenging in the unforgiving ground. As you go west, you notice the senic wooden trellis posts giving way to metal bars that are the only things able to penetrate the rock. The result is a slow growing vineyard, with smaller vines that produce grapes that seem to show the mineral flavor of the site.

The vineyard itself is a mix of rootstocks and clones, all the Dijon regulars and Pommard, along with the little known Mariafeld clone from Switzerland that produces a large, blackfruited wine. The elevation ranges from 610 to 725 feet, on the higher side for Oregon but still well within the norm.

Plantings were in 1999 and 2002, with additional plans for the uncleared ravine to the southwest. It’s a steep, rocky site that could be terrific if not expensive. But the entire project has been expensive, which led to the name “Black Hole Vineyard” that you don't see on the wine bottles.

How's the wine, you ask? Next time.

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