Investing in a Stranger’s Future

Agriculture is cyclical. Season flows into season. Vines flower then a hundred or so days later you harvest their fruit. Animals and farmers live their life cycles together on land that sustains them both. Nature wraps us in the cycle of life.

In January we begin to think of pruning and worrying about frost. What happened last vintage is behind us and only the potential of the next fills your minds. After all, the wines in the cellar are committed to their course and it is only our role to shepherd them home. That vintage is over.

There are few things other than agriculture where you so firmly press the reset button on the first of January. Of course, we build on the experience bestowed upon us by Mother Nature each year, but that’s all nuance compared to the cycles of Nature, which make all the most important choices.

We are facing a lot of new hurdles at Troon Vineyard as we begin a ranch-wide replant designed both to correct the viticultural sins of the past and to proactively move forward by selecting better varieties and then planting them in better sites. To move forward you must be willing to break ties to the past. At Troon we’ve decided to race towards the future.

New plantings will be decidedly focused on the varieties made famous by the Rhône Valley, Languedoc and Provence. These vines have proven their proclivity for our Kubli Bench terroir. Now it’s our turn to take what we’ve learned and focus on creating some truly special wines - some of which may be a decade or more away.

To some it may seem odd to embark on a voyage knowing you will not arrive at the destination, but that is farming and winegrowing. There is never any end to the cycle of seasons and you are only part of a chain that passes the baton ever-forward in a never-ending relay race. Nothing fires my passion more than knowing that I can make a perfect baton pass to the next generation. If they can make great wines from the vines we plant, I will have done more than my job. That is my goal.

For the time remaining to me, I will become a small part of the life of this vineyard and hope that I am still around to taste at least the potential of the vines we plant over the next years. We each get our vintages and it is our responsibility to enjoy every one and to hope that our work today will be rewarded with wines we will never taste made by people we never knew. They may not know us, but the vines we plant today will speak for us in the wines they make.

Every glass of wine we drink from an old vineyard carries the voices of those that planted and worked it over the decades. Listen to us, we deserve your attention.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album – Troon Vineyard in Oregon’s Applegate Valley

Mother Nature was very kind to us in 2018. Rain and cool weather are things you expect during harvest in Oregon, but not this year! All during harvest we were given warm, dry weather under beautiful blue skies. This perfect weather meant we could harvest each variety at the ideal moment. There was no pressure from the weather so our pace was almost leisurely compared to a normal vintage. It was a harvest to remember as will the wines!

Picking tinta roriz, this is our last vintage of this variety as these vines will be pulled and replanted next year.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Picking starts at dawn with the vines still in the shade of the Siskiyou Mountains, which are already brightly illuminated.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Some picure-perfect vermentino.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Banele and Jesus picking malbec as dawn breaks.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

The Applegate Valley during harvest.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

In a biodynamic vineyard, the leaves are fully turned color and falling off when it is time to pick the fruit. This is the natural cycle of a vine.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Vineyard manager Adan Cortes bundled up against the morning cold as he harvests vermentino.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Associate winemaker and biodynamic team leader Nate Wall fills cow horns to make biodynamic preparation 500. They will buried until next spring. Making BD 500 is something you do during harvest in the fall.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Banele, our harvest intern from South Africa, places the filled cow horns in pit to be buried until next spring. The BD 500 they will produce will be sprayed on our vineyards.

Harvest 2018 Photo Album - Troon Vineyard in Oregon's Applegate Valley

Grape pomace, fresh from the press, is added to our compost pile. All the leftovers from harvest are added to our biodynamic compost piles and returned to the vineyard.

Vineyard Venom

When I first arrived at Troon Vineyard, the then vineyard manager reviewed the previous year’s vineyard applications. Other than the usual nastiness like Roundup, one product immediately grabbed my eye - Venom. I was not familiar with this product, but, with a name like Venom, I did not expect anything good. 

A trip to the manufacture’s website confirmed my worst fears. Venom proved just as nasty as it sounded, “This compound is toxic to honey bees. The persistence of residues and potential residual toxicity of dinotefuran in nectar and pollen suggest the possibility of chronic risk to honey bee larvae and the eventual instability of the hive.” for the complete manufacturer information sheet click here

That’s right, it kills honey bees. All of them.

There was no more Venom or anything like that used at Troon from then on. Today, now that we have converted to biodynamic agriculture, we use products with much gentler names and impacts on the environment. For example, now we use products with names like Regalia, an organically certified biofungicide that works by strengthening the plants own defenses rather than poisoning anything and everything whether good or bad. It does not seem to be a coincidence that conventional chemical agricultural products often have scary names as, indeed, they are dangerous to everything - people as well as bees.

Products like Regalia not only sound less threatening but are less dangerous in the long-term as conventional chemicals tend to create fungicide-resistant strains that then require even more powerful chemical applications to combat them. Organic products like Regalia are based on bacteria that are already in the environment, which trigger the plant's natural defense system. In other words, we are only encouraging the plant to does what it does naturally

“When treated with Regalia, a plant’s natural defense systems are activated to protect against attacking diseases. Research shows that plants treated with Regalia produce and accumulate elevated levels of specialized proteins and other compounds known to inhibit fungal and bacterial diseases. Regalia induces a plant to produce phytoalexins, cell strengtheners, antioxidants, phenolics and PR proteins, which are all known inhibitors of plant pathogens. Regalia provides synergistic properties between a plant’s natural ability to protect itself and the effectiveness of antifungal and antibacterial protection.“ Marrone Bio-Innovations

Humans consider themselves smarter than plants, but we’re not. When it comes to producing grapes, the vine understands more about producing beautiful ripe grapes than we’ll ever know. It is arrogant on our part to believe we can do better. That arrogance has led to the use of chemicals that destroy a vines natural ability to feed and defend itself and to weaker plants addicted to fertilizers and chemicals. A weak plant does not produce the kinds of grapes that produce great wines. The single most important thing for quality wine is a strong, healthy grapevine. Our job as winegrowers is to help the vine do its work, not to do its work for it. When it comes to growing grapes, we are the apprentice and the vine is the master craftsman. This is a good thing to remember in this era of cult wines and winemakers. It is the vine and the soil that create memorable wines, not people. People are quite capable of producing commercially successful beverage wine products, but only vines and vineyards can give you sublime, individual wines. In a well-farmed vineyard with healthy vines and good soils, the winemaker's role is more as a shepherd than artist or technician. If you are not humbled by nature you are not connected to it, don’t understand it and can’t transform that power into wines that are anything other than industrial.

Biodynamics finally clicks in your brain when you realize as a farmer you are not a general in charge of a battlefield, but just another cog in the gear that makes nature work. Arrogance and chemical interventions have led to disaster. Farmers who realize their place in nature produce better and healthier foods and wines. This is a mindset that can be achieved by farmers large and small. 

Now at Troon, instead of destroying honey bees we are building three aviaries with accompanying pollinator habitats. The bees deserve this respect as we are just two of the myriad of intertwined pieces that make a farm a whole. We owe them something for the past sins of our predecessors. It will be an honor to welcome them back home.

Turn, Turn, Turn

January at Troon in Oregon's Applegate Valley 

For everything, there is a season. There is a flow to the year that is defined by what is being harvested. Moments defined by what we eat and drink. As these seasonal treats start arriving at the farmers market, they mark your place in the year. Peas and asparagus in spring, summer brings peaches and tomatoes, fall brings squash and, for those of us who make wine, grapes. Each of them gives you a sense of time and place. 

The wines I drink dance across the calendar along with the foods I find at the market. Cold weather brings stews, risotto, pasta, root vegetables and bolder wines - Barolo, St. Joseph, Bandol, and Tannat appear on my table. The arrival of summer often brings vegetables and simple grills into staring roles and white wines - vermentino, roussanne, Sancerre, Muscadet, Soave along with wines of wildly varying shades of pink often become my wines of choice. For reds, pinot noir, Valpolicella, grenache and, most of all, Beaujolais  - all wines that love a light chill - bring perfect pleasure. 

Things that grow react to the season and wine is no exception. Obviously, drinking a Barolo on a hot day in August is not the same sin as insisting on buying tomatoes in January. Yet, I think the full pleasures of a Barolo are more likely to show themselves with Osso Bucco on a crisp fall evening than with a caprese on a hot summer afternoon.

Wine is food, and it is more enjoyable when served in the same way.  We are drawn to certain foods at different times of the year and should apply that same common sense to wines.

I’m always mystified when people tell me they don’t like white wine or they only like big reds - the wine world’s equivalent of picky eaters. To me wine is wine, and the color is decided by the food, the season and, of course, my mood. There is no arguing with taste, but I’ll argue those picky eaters and drinkers aren’t tasting at all. They’ve already made up their minds.

The more you pay attention to what you taste the more diversity of experience you crave. That terrifying question I’ve been asked many times, “If you could only drink one wine for the rest...” - is more nightmare than fantasy. The other question I’m often asked is, “what’s your favorite wine you make” or, perhaps even worse, “what’s the best wine you make” leave me speechless. They are questions without an answer. 

Each wine we make at Troon has its moment, its meal, its season. What’s my favorite wine? The one in my glass. 

Becoming One with Wine

Uploaded by Craig Camp on 2018-03-27.

The world feels somehow different today at Troon Vineyard. I guess you can’t reinvent a vineyard without reinventing yourself. Reinventing and reinvigorating people and a vineyard at the same time is about the simplest way I can explain our transition to biodynamic farming. Everything just feels more alive.

Over the last week what was all planning, items on a Trello board, started to become real. New equipment, new ways of thinking and a new spirit all converged at Troon Vineyard this week. The first step was just a simple piece of string

Twine ties in a block of our vermentino

After years of plastic ties in the vineyard, many of a particularly noxious green color, we have replaced them with hand-knotted pieces of twine. The contrast between the bilious green of the old ties and the warm, earth tones of the twine ties running down the rows tying the canes to the wires could not be more obvious or meaningful. A simple change that tells of significant changes to come, we are becoming entwined in nature.

A somewhat physically more prominent change was the arrival of our Clemens radius weeder or “weed knife”.  While a big financial investment, an efficient tool to control weeds is necessary if you are going to forgo chemicals like the seemingly ever-present Roundup. Many may debate about the evils of glyphosate, and all too many sustainable certifications allow it, but common sense tells us that chemicals like these are just not part of nature’s plan.  It’s hard to describe how well the Clemens does its job as it fluidly dances the blade around each vine almost in slow motion - we actually it is in slow motion as the tractor can only go two and a half miles an hour while doing this work.

Other new mechanical arrivals include the Clemens multi-clean undervine brush, which, as the name implies, literally whisks away suckers and weeds around the base of the vine. Then there is a tank-like Domries disc and a Domries tri-till cultivator. We now have the tools to do the job right.

Becoming One with Wine

Creating a vortex while stirring BD 500

Then there was the really good shit, literally, which arrived this week. Now living in Southern Oregon, that phrase tends to refer to other local agricultural products, in our case, it was actually shit. This was the famed BD 500, the cow manure aged in buried cow horns. For this first application we had to purchase some finished BD 500, but by next spring we’ll have buried and fermented our own. The finished preparation does not remind of the original state or aromatics of the raw materials as it looks and smells more like very rich potting soil. To prepare 500 for application requires stirring it a very particular way. Troon winemaker Steve Hall selected one of our oldest barrels (for the history of place it had experienced) then after adding the 500 to around forty gallons of water we begin the stirring process. Steve and I alternated during the hour long process. First you stir in one direction until you build a deep vortex then suddenly reverse direction going violently from order to disorder. You repeat this process over-and-over for the full hour. This was a uniquely satisfying  experience as you bond with the preparation that will become one with your soil. A very different experience than wearing haz-mat gear demanded by standard vineyard applications. Once prepared we poured the BD 500 into the sprayer and as the week came to a close our entire property had received this application. 

Just knowing that the first biodynamic preparation is in our soils gives me both a sense of peace and accomplishment. We are on an entirely new voyage with a new mission. Just as the vines are reborn each spring, this spring Troon Vineyard is reborn along with them. Soon the buds will break into a whole new world of winegrowing. 

Biodynamics will reinvigorate our soils and our vines, but it is also reinvigorating us. It is those combined energies that will be expressed in our wines. Wines full of energy are exciting wines and we could not be more excited about making them. Our desire to make special wines from what we know is a vineyard, a terroir, with exceptional potential is what started us on this voyage to begin with. 

We are at the starting line of a long struggle to achieve our goals. Now that we have taken our first steps we feel like a sprinter whose energy has just been released by the starting gun. 

The vines, the soil, the place, the wines and the people are all becoming one.

Becoming One with Wine

Alberto spraying BD 500 in a block of zinfandel

Natural Selection

Perfectly ripe vermentino at Troon Vineyard 


Vintages come and go and with each passing harvest your focus slowly edges away from tanks, barrels and technique to dirt and climate. For wines of character and individuality, it all comes down to the vineyard, all the rest is background noise. In the cellar, it is your job to get out of the way. Actually not out of the way, that’s too simplistic. An artisan winemaker’s job is to know what to do, when to do it and to do nothing more than is necessary - minimalist winemaking is the term I prefer over “natural”. In industrial winemaking, intervention is the rule not the exception, which is the correct strategy if your goal is to produce commercially reliable wines that taste the same year-after-year. 

There is little we know for sure in winemaking, but one thing I do know for sure is that if you don’t have the right dirt in the right place and the right vines in that dirt, you might be able to make good wines, but you’ll never make compelling memorable wines. 

It is very simple. If you want to make exceptional wine you have to have the right grapes in the right place farmed by the right people. The right people is easy, it’s you if you have the passion, resources and discipline to do the work in the vineyard. The variety and place are much more complicated matters. 

While visiting the east coast a few years ago, wondering about what it was like to grow grapes in such humid conditions, I asked a viticulturist how often he sprayed his vineyard. His response was every week - almost up to harvest. Another time I was talking to a grower from a famous west coast AVA who was farming “organically”. Asked about his spray program, he revealed that they were applying forty pounds of sulfur per acre every year. I was equally shocked in both cases because extreme measures had to be taken to grow grapes wine grapes on their sites. (Obviously calling that vineyard “organic” is a stretch of the imagination.) The vineyard on the east coast suffered from a climate unfavorable to wine grapes. The west coast vineyard was in an ideal climate, but either that individual site was less than ideal or the variety they had determined to grow in it was wrong for the site - or both.

The range of soils that can grow great wines has proven to be much broader than once thought. For example, you have pinot noir grown on high pH, alkaline soils in Burgundy, while Oregon’s Willamette Valley is dominated by low pH, acidic soils. Yet in blind tasting after blind tasting skilled, experienced wine tasters are fooled and confuse the wines of Burgundy and the Willamette Valley. However, the climate is much less forgiving than the soil - assuming healthy soils. Selecting the wrong variety for the site is almost as bad. Try to grow cabernet franc on too cool of a site and you’ll end up with pyrazine tea. Grow pinot noir in too hot of a site and you end up with a very expensive version of MD 20/20. Differences, I assure you, even amateur tasters can spot. You have to have the right variety in the right climate, the right terroir to make exceptional, memorable wines vintage after vintage. 

I am always confused by terroir deniers. Any farmer knows terroir exists no matter if they are growing wine grapes, apples, asparagus or tomatoes. One major difference between wine grape farmers and other farmers is that winegrowers will insist on growing a crop that is not economically viable in their growing conditions. Or, worse yet, will insist on overcoming nature and selling wine produced from chemically abused vineyards using every winemaking trick in the book to produce commercially and critically acceptable wines. 

The surest way to know if you’ve got the right vine in the right place is that the vineyard can be farmed year-after-year using ultra low-input agriculture. If you have to blast your vineyard with chemicals every week just to stop the grapes from rotting with mold before you can pick them perhaps you should rethink your choice of crops. Just because you can grow wine grapes does not mean you should. 

If each year you are in a battle with Mother Nature, you will eventually lose the war.

A First, Deeper Look at Dirt

 An electromagnetic soil scan of Troon Vineyard 

An electromagnetic soil scan of Troon Vineyard 

We received our first, very preliminary, electromagnetic soil scans this week. At this point, the main use of these scans will be to determine where to dig the many, up to 80, five feet deep trenches that will we will be digging in April for analysis by Dr. Paul Anamosa of Vineyard Soil Technologies. This information will guide us as we move forward in selecting varieties for new plantings and areas for grafting. It will also provide invaluable data for rootstock selection in our new plantings.

One very fascinating point to me at this stage is that you can see denser soil patterns in long lines that coincide with vineyard rows. These certainly come from years of tractor compaction and we will be working to open up those soils as we move forward with biodynamics. 

Electromagnetic Soil Scanner

Electromagnetic Soil Scanner

Our soil studies at Troon Vineyard started today with Nick Madden here for the day to do a complete electromagnetic soil scan of our vineyard blocks. We've retained Dr. Paul Anamosa and company to do a complete analysis of our vineyard blocks. Armed with this scan data we will be selecting locations for about eighty 5 feet deep pits to fully map our soil types. This data will help us select the proper varieties as we add new vineyard blocks and replant old ones. The scanner is on the sled behind the ATV. Here is some information on exactly what Nick is doing

Get Set, Go!

Biodynamic consultant Andrew Beedy and Troon winemaker Steve Hall on the spot selected for our compost program.

This is the spot that will become the most important place of the vineyard. We’ve chosen the spot for the compost piles.

There is a day that dreams, plans and goals become a reality. On your mark, get set, go! As we crossed the starting line this week, we were firmly aware that we were starting a marathon, not a dash. This week we took our first steps to converting Troon Vineyard to organic and biodynamic agriculture. We have our eye on 2020 to achieve our first organic and biodynamic certification, but that will not be the finish line. In agriculture, there is no finish line.

We had already taken some steps forward as we had received our L.I.V.E. and Salmon Safe sustainable certifications, but we have now committed to biodynamics as our vision for the future of Troon. Our first big step was to secure the services of Andrew Beedy ([]). Andrew's speciality is designing a complete plan that looks at your property as a whole, not just as a vineyard. Andrew has spent his entire life immersed in biodynamics as he was born on a biodynamic dairy farm in Pennsylvania. He attended a Steiner elementary school that was attached to a biodynamic farm. As a teenager, he worked on an organic farm in England. After university, he moved to California, where he worked with his mentor, the famed biodynamic consultant Alan York, who also was the biodynamic consultant for our neighbor, Cowhorn Winery, here in the Applegate Valley. Today, Andrew’s clients span the entire nation coast-to-coast.

After walking for hours with Andrew through our vineyards and our entire farm property, you can feel your perceptions began to change as you start to look at your farm as a whole rather than as simple blocks of vineyards. This extends beyond our property lines as you understand that the Applegate Valley itself is included in a whole farm, holistic plan for farming.

With conventional agriculture you identify problems and then apply various applications. Many, many of these applications are nasty indeed. While they may solve one problem, the collateral damage they cause slowly, but surely kills your soils. Soil is the plant’s foundation, and dead soils cannot produce great wines. When you farm biodynamically you eschew these chemicals, which means you have to deal with the threats to your plants before they appear. In other words, biodynamics is all about prevention. A healthy plant can better resist diseases and pests than one living in dead soils relying on chemical fixes to deal with each and every problem.

Our new compost piles will be the heart and soul of the vineyard as this is how we will be bringing our soils back to life. One way I like to explain biodynamics is that it is organic agriculture with probiotics. It is the bacteria and fungi surrounding a plants roots that allow it to take nutrition from the soil. Conventional agriculture destroys this natural system. The power of biodynamics is that it brings the microbiome of your farm back to life, which brings your soils and plants back to life.

I will be chronicling the process of bringing Troon’s soils back to life here on this blog. Over the next weeks, we are evaluating our soils and the microbiome of our vineyards, and we will be carefully monitoring and documenting the changes in our soils and vines as we practice biodynamic farming over the next years. It is a story I am very excited to be sharing. It is a process that will change our farm, our vines, our wines and us.

It will be a steep learning curve. Could anything be more exciting?

Here is a link to the Demeter Biodynamic Farm Standard for certification.