Temperance Hill Vineyard:
Manager Dai Crisp on Grape Vines and Great Wines
by Alison Ruch, Avalon Staff Writer
It's no secret that the best of wines come from grapes grown in the best of vineyards. Those elegant, subtle Pinots noirs, those refreshing, citrusy Pinot Gris, those dense, earthy Cabernets - all of them - taste the way they do, in large part, because of where and how the grapes that characterize them were grown.
Some of Oregon's most distinguished winemakers are sourcing fruit from Temperance Hill Vineyard, a gorgeous and expansive site located in the Eola Hills. These wineries include Adelsheim, Belle Vallée, Chehalem, Elk Cove, Evesham Wood, J.K. Carriere, Mystic, Panther Creek, R. Stuart & Co., and St. Innocent. Vineyard Manager Dai Crisp uses Temperance Hill grapes for his own delicious Lumos wines.
So, what constitutes an excellent vineyard site? In a word: terroir.
The French word terroir, which literally means "soil," applies to grape growing in terms of altitude, aspect, climate, and any other conditions of a specific growing environment that may affect the vines. Dai Crisp adds that terroir is also, "some intention too - how you manage those plants..."
The Terroir of Temperance Hill Vineyard
The landscape at Temperance Hill is the product of an ancient volcano. Each slope can be attributed to this collapsed volcanic cone - now a caldera. The slopes are rocky, a reality Crisp's team is accustomed to being patient with. The sometimes-gigantic basalt boulders staked their claim on that land long before the grape vines ever did! The challenge of working around these monsters is well worth it, though, as is evident in the popularity of this site's grapes.
The soil of Temperance Hill is a little Jory, but mostly Ritner and Nekia, types that are typical of the Eola and Dundee Hills.
"The vines are on fairly thin soil," Crisp said, "which makes [them] struggle a little more." The payoff is in the flavor profile that these soils contribute to. "When the fruit is ripe, I see black fruits . . . dark fruit. We get some nuanced, complex flavors that come through."
At 700-800 feet, Temperance Hill is at a uniquely high elevation. (Most vineyards in the region are at 300-500 feet.) This makes for cooler temperatures and later harvests.
"We harvest later than the [Willamette] Valley by a couple weeks. There are people up north in, say, the Chehalem area, or the hills of Dundee, that get done before we start," explained Crisp.
"It's a risky site because of its lateness, but especially in these warm years it yields beautiful flavors because we get more hang time. . . . I think it all happens in the last two weeks, in terms of flavor. The difference between a 'grape vine' wine and an exceptional wine is the five more days of time on the vine. When things are getting very close - optimally ripe - if you can give it a little more time out there it can yield these fabulous flavors."
Crisp believes, "Temperance has - definitely - its signature [flavor]. It has some characteristics that make it distinguishable and people who taste a lot of wines - and know some of the vineyards - can pick out Temperance Hill fruit."
Michael Stevenson, winemaker at Panther Creek Cellars, described the "Temperance Hill flavor" as, "darker fruit, mineraly, earthy character; a little more structure than from the red hills; higher acidity." He likes that he can get fruit from older vines at Temperance Hill and that, with the high elevation, the grapes get lots of "hang time" to ripen to optimal intensity.
Russ Raney at Evesham Wood said of the Temperance Hill flavor, "We've consistently gotten a dark cherry . . . like black currant . . . more of a stone fruit character, but darker... It's high in acid and firm when it's young, but tends to age very well." He finds that Temperance Hill fruit has "a distinctive cassis flavor" that really differentiates this vineyard from other, generally lower elevation, vineyards in the region.
Mark Vlossak of St. Innocent praises Crisp's cultivation of an "identifiable and consistent purple flower overtone - like lilac." And Jim Prosser of J.K. Carriere calls the flavor, "Very classic; old school; very 'Oregon' - spicy."
Crisp is proud to manage such a sought-after, unique vineyard site. "It's a fantastic site," he said, "and it's really beautiful too."
Dai Crisp's Organic Management Style
Of course not all of Temperance Hill's success can be attributed to location and landscape. We must also consider this "intention" Crisp speaks of.
While winemakers certainly purchase fruit from Temperance Hill because they are aware of the high quality grapes this terroir yields, they also buy from this vineyard because they believe in supporting the organic farming practices Crisp has instilled there.
Crisp began working with grape vines in his parent's backyard in the mid '80s. He had been interested in organic farming for several years and kept up on the subject's literature. A few books he has found highly influential are The Gift of Good Land by Wendell Berry, the cooperatively written Radical Agriculture, and Adventures Along the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch. Crisp is skeptical of much modern agriculture and would rather use old practices in the vineyard (and the winery) that he knows are safe for the earth - and for humans - because time has proven it.
"It just makes sense" could be Crisp's mantra when it comes to sustainable farming.
"I farm all of this land in accordance with the rules of 'Certified Organic,'" said Crisp. "We use no herbicides, no insecticides or fertilizers that are not approved. And I do that because I believe in that kind of agriculture, and I don't want to expose the workers to any materials that could be potentially harmful."
"I also think wine is food," Crisp said. "I don't want to expose people to materials that I don't know about."
Crisp applied his organic philosophy as manager at Croft Vineyard (from '89-'98) and at Willakenzie (from '98-'99), and says he wouldn't do a project with herbicides. Temperance Hill Vineyard had not been farmed organically prior to Crisp's management (beginning in 1999), but owners Lin Shen and Eddie Koo were willing to let Crisp farm the site as he saw fit.
To fight off vine disease naturally, Crisp and his crew spray the crops with elemental sulfur. "We're spraying nine to ten times a season," he said, as he described some of the differences between organic and non-organic vine tending. "With some of the systemic sprays you can stretch those intervals out (maybe seven to eight times). You have to be more precise about schedule and you can't make mistakes."
"We are very careful about creating conditions that don't grow powdery mildew and botrytis," Crisp said. "We pull leaves to help keep air flow and sunlight exposure good. We try to minimize trips [through the vineyard]." He and his crew use machinery that will do several jobs in a single trip, so the rows are minimally exposed to engine fumes and tire treads.
Organic farming can be more costly than non-organic. Crisp said, "When I purchase fertilizer I buy certified organic materials and they tend to be more expensive." Still, organic is his priority. And he's always trying to be creative in his methods. He explained, "I'm interested in growing grape vine nutrition - composting what you grow between the rows." His goal is to, "create a whole system within the farm. If you can grow your own nutrition, why not till it in and incorporate it in the vine row?"
Temperance Hill Vineyard customers strongly support Crisp's organic practices. Mark Vlossak, who has been buying fruit from Temperance Hill for his St. Innocent wines since 1994, said, "I support wholeheartedly the push to farm organically and to minimize the use of chemicals. I think that's very important in quality - getting the most out of your site."
"When Dai took [the vineyard] over for the 2000 vintage it improved dramatically," Vlossak said. "He's a spectacularly good grape grower. He pays a lot of attention to balance and the health of the individual vines. As a result the fruit is more complex. The wines are more layered and more consistent in their quality."
Temperance Hill Vineyard Wines
Several of Crisp's customers have decided to stamp "Temperance Hill Vineyard" prominently onto their wine labels. They do this because they are proud of their fruit source and because wine buyers have begun to recognize and seek out the flavor of Temperance Hill.
While some winemakers choose to blend Temperance Hill grapes with fruit from other sites, many others are making vineyard designate wines exclusively out of Temperance Hill fruit.
For example, Crisp said that, "Rob Stuart has two different blocks and uses them in three different ways. He has an upper section of a very high elevation site, the top of which he uses for his sparkling wine. Then he uses the other section of fruit for his Big Fire Pinot Noir. And then the north Pinot field goes into a Temperance Hill Vineyard designate, and I think he blends that into some of his more signature wine, R. Stuart."
Mark Vlossak at St. Innocent purchases Pinot noir from Temperance Hill Vineyard. He said, "I make a Pinot noir each year that has Temperance Hill's name on it. The current and highly recommended wine is the St. Innocent Pinot Noir Temperance Hill 03. This year we've bought some fruit that we're using to blend into our Villages Cuvée. It'll be out next spring."
Michael Stevenson at Panther Creek Cellars regularly makes a Temperance Hill designate. He likes to let the flavor of the vineyard shine in his wines. "We're trying to show off the sites, not the winery," he said. Stevenson also makes a blend with Temperance Hill fruit (combined with that of the also much-sought-after Shea Vineyard and Freedom Hill Vineyard fruit), which he calls Stevenson Barrie.
Several of the wines derived from Temperance Hill fruit have experienced great success on the market. Jim Prosser's J.K. Carriere Wines Pinot Noir 01 received a score of 90 from Wine Spectator. St. Innocent's Pinot Noir Temperance Hill 02 sold out quickly at the winery, and there's only a little bit left at the Avalon store. Since its recent release, Vlossak's St. Innocent Pinot Noir Temperance Hill 03 has also been a big hit. The Avalon staff is anticipating that this vintage will sell out even faster than the 2002. Also, Dai Crisp's own Lumos Wines move steadily off Avalon's shelves. Staff and customers have high expectations for his future vintages.
The Vineyard Manager/Winemaker Relationship
When a winemaker chooses to buy instead of grow the grapes that go into their wine, it is crucial that they have great trust in the vineyard managers they work with. Temperance Hill customers are thrilled that Crisp and his team are willing to put in the extra hours to run the vineyard organically. Winemakers rave not only about the quality of the fruit, but also about the service they get from Crisp and his hard-working, long-term staff.
Michael Stevenson said, "We don't have any vineyards, so when we buy fruit we're buying management as well as site. Dai is thoughtful; we trust him. He loves what he does; he's got a real knack for [it]. We only buy fruit from people that we would want to have dinner with."
Jim Prosser had similar remarks: "I think you'd be hard pressed to find a man of a nicer nature and more integrity than Dai. . . . It's important. You're partners. You're both trying to sit at the same side of the table."
Winemakers are pleased with Crisp's flexibility and willingness to keep them informed of the latest at the vineyard. Russ Raney called Crisp, "fastidious" and said he's "very good about involving the winemakers in decisions about when to pick. He likes to have us visit often to track the progress of the vintage." And Mark Vlossak said, "[Crisp] is extremely committed to quality and he is willing to do what it takes to achieve that quality."
Temperance Hill Vineyard Wines to Watch for
One of the best wines from this vineyard every vintage is the St. Innocent's Pinot Noir Temperance Hill. This is always a beautifully balanced Pinot with elements of bright black cherry and blackberry - and it's very reasonably priced.
Also of note is Mystic's Pinot Noir Temperance Hill, characteristically a big, spicy, faintly smoky wine, complicated by notes of blackberry and currant.
And J.K. Carriere Wines has come out with a J.K. Carriere Pinot Noir blend incorporating fruit from Temperance Hill Vineyard. From start to finish this wine brings to the palate flavors of dark cherry, nutmeg, cranberry, cassis, and a hint of jasmine.
Some definite "must tastes" coming out of Temperance Hill are Dai Crisp's Lumos Wines. With the same care that Crisp manages Temperance Hill Vineyard, he also crafts some delicious wine.
Crisp is excited about the future of Temperance Hill Vineyard. He plans to continue using farming methods that disturb the earth his vines depend on as little as possible. He foresees working with the same group of talented winemakers for years to come.
In the glowing reviews Oregon winemakers give of Crisp and Temperance Hill, it's clear they're well aware of how fortunate they are to have contracted blocks from this vineyard. From the vine to the bottle, Temperance Hill Vineyard fruit is handled with exceptional care, by people who are always mindful of the ultimate goal: really great tasting wine.
After several years of working with vineyards, Dai Crisp decided it was time to try his hand at making wine. He and his partner, P.K. McCoy, started Lumos with the help of Rob Stuart of R. Stuart & Co. in McMinnville, OR and Barney Watson of Tyee Winery in Corvallis, OR.
"I wanted to make wine for years; it's just very expensive to start out," Crisp said. Fortunately, he had the right friends. "[There is] a certain amount of equipment that you absolutely must have - and the equipment is very expensive. Both Rob and Barney said 'get a product out there; figure out how to sell it - don't invest in the winery stuff until you've got wine moving.'" They allowed Crisp to borrow space and equipment until Lumos found its footing.
And it did. Crisp makes a quaffable and complex duo of Pinot noirs (Lumos Pinot Noir 02 and Lumos Pinot Noir "Guam" 02), a soft melon-flavored Lumos Pinot Gris, and a crisp, Burgundian-style Lumos Chardonnay, which, by the way, is stellar with grilled fish. Customers are often curious about the "Guam" Pinot. No, it does not have any connection to the remote Micronesian island. Crisp dubbed this wine "Guam" because it is made from fruit grown on the most remote plot in Temperance Hill Vineyard.
Crisp's winemaking philosophy is minimalist: "I try to keep it pretty simple. I try not to have over-extraction. I let the fruit show what it has to offer, let it take its course."
Crisp believes that much of what is great about wine happens in the barrel, in the aging process. "I don't want our wines to be about the wood and the flavors that it imparts on a wine," he explained. "I like what happens to the wine in the barrel. There's a very slow rate of oxidation that occurs because wood is porous, and there's also concentration over time because of the evaporation of water and alcohol through the barrel so, with time . . . it goes through a change that's remarkable. I like a lot of time in barrels, but I don't want you to be drinking firewood - too aggressive or oaky. I want you to taste the fruit, not necessarily the oak."
On future goals for Lumos Crisp said, "Hopefully we can make a very high quality wine that appeals to people... And we're trying to keep the pricing as reasonable as we can." So far, he has been successful at keeping prices low. His Pinot noirs are in the $20-$30 range (but they compare to more expensive ones) and his Pinot Gris and Chardonnay are bargains at only $13 and $15.
Temperance Hill Vineyard Varietals
Pinot noir 73 acres Pinot Gris 3.8 acres Gewurztraminer 3.5 acres Chardonnay 2.5 acres Pinot Blanc 1.2 acres