Applegate Valley’s Troon Vineyard Leads in Sustainability

Soon after I visited Southern Oregon as part of the 2021 Wine Media Conference (WMC21) this summer, the Oregon Wine Board released the 2020 Vineyard and Winery Report, which confirmed some of the thoughts I had during my weeklong visit to this beautiful wine region. Some of my thoughts were not so good, based on the horrific wildfires and oppressive heat that were making their presence known in the form of smoky skies and parched fields. But most of my thoughts were positive, based on the fact that my eyes were opened to a whole world of wine possibilities, including the impressive organic/biodynamic/sustainability movement among vineyards in Oregon, as well as the plethora of grape varieties that the Southern Oregon climate is capable of growing successfully.

Some of the key findings of the report, which can be found in full here, support the fact that 2020 was a bad year for Oregon wine, just as it was for most of the world. COVID and wildfires are the main culprits, and both factors were omnipresent in my travels through the region. Statistically, per the report, there was a downward slide in yield per acre (-24%), grape production (-29%), and direct-to-consumer sales (-27%). Factors for these, in order, were a cooler spring, September wildfires, and COVID-caused tasting room closures.

But there were some bright spots, and they point to a rosier future for Oregon wines, although climate-change factors and pandemic-related issues are unpredictable and could have continuing negative effects. That being said, per the report, there were increases in total acreage planted, grape tonnage (particularly in Rogue and Columbia River regions), national sales (both within and outside the state), and international sales.

The state currently has 995 wineries, up 10% from 2019, and not surprisingly the bulk of them are in the Northern Willamette Valley. However, Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley AVA  (which includes the Applegate Valley AVA) saw a healthier growth of 12%, bringing the total of wineries to 122.

In my last post, several of the Rouge/Applegate Valley vintners were mentioned, and this highlighted the great variety of varieties that these AVAs are producing, with most of the vineyards using fairly robust sustainability practices. My previous post on Cowhorn Vineyards is a good example of this push toward a “closed-loop” farming system.

There were several other Southern Oregon wineries that provided the WMC attendees with a focused look at the area. Of note is Troon Vineyard, a recognized leader in the sustainability world. Following is a closer look at Troon.

Troon Vineyard

The hospitality and information provided by Troon General Manager Craig Camp was beyond compare. This industry veteran and his team set up a four-part tour of the Troon estate in Grants Pass, Oregon. My tour started in the barrel room, moving on to the vineyard and its terroir, the composting facilities, and finally the viticulture practices. The day was complete with a multi-course dinner cooked by local chefs and accompanied by Troon wines. Talk about a wine geek’s perfect day!
All quadrants of the tour (on a very hot day with wildfire smoke in the air no less!) provided insights into the factors that contribute to Troon Vineyard achieving Regenerative Organic Certified farm status, being the second winery in the US to do so (Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, CA is the other one). Troon Vineyard is also Demeter Biodynamic certified.
Following are some facts learned about Troon on this tour.
collage of Troon vineyards with Craig Camp
(From top left) Amphorae in the barrel room make orange wine from Vermentino; cowhorns in Troon’s biodynamic arsenal; General Manager Craig Camp with vineyard dogs; Kubli Bench soils of granite loam.

In the Barrel Room

  • All native yeast is used, there is no “legacy” yeast. It’s winemaker Nate Wall’s belief that the wine is made in the vineyard, and his “minimalist” style prevails.
  • Amphorae are used for Troon’s orange Vermentino, which Wall says grows perfectly on the estate. The clay vessels are made by Andrew Beckham of Beckham Estate Vineyard in Sherwood, OR, who is a ceramics instructor as well as a winemaker. The vessels are unglazed and unsealed, allowing for the right amount of oxidation of the wines. Vermentino is Troon’s only grape fermented in the amphorae; the grapes sit for three weeks on their skins to produce an orange wine.
  • No new oak is used at Troon, and the newest oak barrel is third fill; barrels are used up to 7 times.
  • Wall would love to use a concrete egg, but so far has not.
  • Most of Troon’s wines are Mediterranean varieties. Estate-grown grapes include Vermentino, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Syrah, Grenache, Primitivo, Tinta Roriz, and Tennat.
  • Piquette, or “frugal farmer fizz,” per the Troon Web site, is made when the leftover juice and skins are pressed again for a light, fizzy, quaffable wine. We were served this at the end of our tour, pre-dinner (see photo below). Called Piquette!, this 2020 vintage was a delicious aperitif on a very hot day in August.

In the Vineyard

  • Troon’s 100-acre vineyard is part of the Applegate Valley AVA, and is situated at 1300 to 1400 feet elevation.
  • The property sits on the Kubli Bench, a geologic plateau of sorts that part of the Siskiyou mountain range, and which has its own meso-climate. The vineyard gets more wind and sun than other parts of the Applegate Valley.
  • The soils are granite loam, pushed up by tectonic plates that collided thousands of years ago.
  • Owners Brian & Denise White bought the vineyard three years ago from Dick Troon, who planted in 1972. In 2017 the Whites implemented the robust biodynamic program which, among other things, meant pulling out diseased old vines and replanting with new vine and new varieties.
  • The vineyard has a thriving native garden and they are moving toward a permanent cover crop, which includes rye and fescue, which increases the earth’s ability to hold water. Sheep have been added to the farm’s animal life, and they forage on the cover crops.

Composting & Viticulture

  • Troon Vineyard has a 3,000 square composting area, which is managed by Andrew Beedy, an Organic and Biodynamic farming consultant, who has implemented a robust biodynamic program. Beedy also consults with Cowhorn Vineyard, which also has an impressive biodynamic program (read about it here).
  • The vineyards have been managed by viticulturist Jason Cole of Pacific Crest Management since 2018. He also manages about 10 other Oregon properties.)
  • Cole has slowly transitioned the Troon property to young vines, pulling out the old vines post-harvest when the soils are dry.
  • The goal with water (which appears to be getting scarcer year by year) is to become “off-dry,”
    says Cole. The young vines require more water in their youth, but as they age they will require less.

Dinner by Fire + Wine

Mary Cressler and Sean Martin of Vindulge not only presented us with a copy of their newly published cookbook Fire + Wine, they also barbecued each and every course of our open-air dinner, from appetizers to dessert. Capping the evening, the aforementioned winds did sweep in, although not as robustly as per usual on this very warm evening.
outdoor dinner at Troon with authors Sean and Mary Cressler.
(From top left) Troon at sunset; Troon’s Piquette! 2020; Fire + Wine cookbook authors Sean and Mary Cressler.
Until next time,

Useful Links

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