Crushed With Kindness


Willamette Valley winemakers and grape growers have long been heralded for world-renowned pinots that rival even the best coming out of France, but that’s not the only way they’ve made a name for themselves. For the region’s leading vintners, today’s wines must be as easy on the earth as they are on the palate. In fact, all told, more than a third of the Willamette Valley’s 250 or so wineries are engaged in some form of sustainable winemaking and viticulture. Consider, for example, Doug Tunnel of Brick House Vineyards, who has been employing organic and biodynamic farming techniques—a rigorous form of organic viticulture—since he planted his first grapes in the northern part of the valley in 1990. Or Eric Hamacher, winemaker and owner of Hamacher Wines, who, in 2002, built the cooperative Carlton Winemakers Studio partly out of recycled wood (from a schoolhouse) and aluminum (from a dismantled Wal-Mart). Hamacher buys grapes only from vineyards that have been certified by Low Input Viticulture & Enology Inc (LIVE), a Salem-based organization founded in the mid-1990s that developed a system for rating and approving vineyards on the basis of ecologically sound viticulture practices. The owners of Dundee’s Sokol Blosser Winery also have certified their vineyards through LIVE, and last year, they installed a solar-panel system on the edge of their vineyards; it generates enough energy to meet at least one-third of the winery’s needs. We have the Willamette Valley’s counterculture heritage to thank, at least in part, for developing the green winemaking tradition. “The first people who established vineyards around here were essentially hippies,” Hamacher points out. “They understood that the weather was such that you didn’t need to use modern chemicals. We don’t have a lot of pests and diseases that other winemaking areas have, so it was easier for them to grow sustainably from the beginning.” And that’s a tradition today’s vintners are only too happy to continue. —CD