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  • Chrissie Manion Zaerpoor

Viticulture Handshake Leads to Friendship and Summer Wine

Updated: May 8, 2021

A pinot noir vineyard planted on the Kookoolan Farms property in 2013 … a long-time expat´s return home to the U.S. ... Farmer Chrissie’s Facebook post looking for help ... a late night December phone call from Bryan in the Mosel Valley in Germany to Farmers Chrissie and Koorosh in Yamhill, Oregon ... an e-handshake by email … this is the unlikely series of events that brought Bryan, Emily, Chrissie and Koorosh together to offer the 2020 Rosé of Pinot Noir!

Our farmworker Mr Lemus has been with Kookoolan Farms for 12 years - all except 2019 when he left for one year. Mr Lemus had come to us from Erath Winery, where he had been a vineyard worker for more than ten years. Taking advantage of his experience, we planted a one-acre pinot noir vineyard in 2013. We have always managed the vineyard with a certified organic spray protocol although we have never felt the need to have the vineyard certified organic.

Mr Lemus hard at work as always

In Mr Lemus’s absence in 2019, Chrissie spent the whole season working hard in the vineyard, doing all the farming herself. During this year I realized that I liked the idea of having a vineyard more than actually working in one. During the winter pruning in December, while Koorosh and Chrissie were working together in the vineyard, we hatched the idea to basically offer the vineyard for free to someone who would take over all the management and work as though it was his or her own vineyard, and in exchange they’d get all the grapes. We posted on a Facebook group for Oregon winemakers and got more than 20 responses, letting us take our pick of the most experienced, most serious, and most committed to organic methods. Of several great applicants, we picked Bryan Berenguer.

Bryan started in the research lab of a large pharmaceutical company, until an unexpected offer took him to work in a remote corner of Thailand. Bryan had been overseas for over 20 years—first working in agriculture development in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and later working in wineries in France and Germany. He had felt a pull to return to the U.S., just as strong as the pull he felt so many years ago to leave. While preparing to depart Germany, a friend sent him a link to a Facebook post looking for someone to manage the Kookoolan Farms Vineyard while they focus on other farm projects. That late-night international phone call resulted in a “work for grapes” agreement that also evolved into a friendship. New ideas constantly come up during long, delightful dinners between the four of us.

Farming By Hand

Bryan and Emily farm the Kookoolan vineyard entirely by hand (zero carbon) using all biodynamic practices. Not even a single tractor pass was made through the vineyard all year. Primary attention is paid to cultural practices, such as controlling the canopy and fruit load for vine balance, and improving soil quality through biodynamic applications, in order to improve fruit quality and control pests and disease. Organic sprays are used only as a back-up and are done sparingly. The winemaking is done with very low intervention to let the grapes tell the story of the season—the weather, the work and the energy of the place. Plans for the vineyard continue to bring it further into balance with the farm. We are all looking forward to moving Koorosh’s flock of laying hens into the vineyard in the next couple of weeks, where they will do all the weeding this year, also eating lots of insects and grubs, and fertilizing the vines. As the grapes start to ripen in August, the hens will be rotated over to an adjacent pasture area for the autumn, before being rotated back to the west side barn for the winter.

2020 Vintage

The 2020 season was a difficult one: Throughout the spring and summer, the four of us became friends in the most natural way: Emily and Bryan would be working in the vineyard while Chrissie and Koorosh were also working on the farm; Chrissie would make dinner, and Emily and Bryan would stay. The four of us were in lockdown together. Not only did Covid force an unusual social isolation, also the cold June weather reduced flower pollination, resulting in a lower than average harvest throughout the Willamette Valley.

The up-side of reduced fruit being smaller, are more concentrated berries great for making wine! Then of course, there were the fires: the grapes were harvested in August at the beginning of the fire season, and although it was difficult work in very smoky conditions (staying indoors during smoke was the luxury of town folks, as farmers we all worked outdoors, all day and every day, as agricultural workers all over the region did), luckily, the grapes show no sign of being affected by smoke. The fruit from Kookoolan Farms was crushed immediately after harvest and the juice kept with the skins for 12 hours. Afterwards it went directly to the press for a Rosé style wine. The must (or grape juice) was fermented partly in a neutral oak barrel and partly in a stainless steel tank. Bottling took place on the spring Equinox, also known as Norooz, the Persian New Year. The resulting wine is a luscious and versatile Rosé that accentuates almost all occasions.

August 2020 smoke hangs ominously over the farm. We all worked outdoors every day, and Bryan and Emily harvested the grapes the first few days of the forest fires, resulting in clean, untainted grapes for a fresh and vibrant rosé of pinot noir.

The Rosé

Menina Minha 2020


Rosé of Pinot Noir

Grapes exclusively from the Kookoolan Farms vineyard

Tasting Notes: Hibiscus, orange zest, merengue and acacia flowers. Friendly to all kinds of food, a perfect summer picnic wine!

$16/bottle or six bottles $90, available exclusively at the Kookoolan Farms farmstore

Bryan and Emily in the vineyard, summer 2020

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