by Jean Yates
This article was written in 2005
We want to show the quality of wines that can be made in Southern Oregon,” says Don Moore, who with his wife Traute own and manage Quail Run-Griffin Creek Vineyards. “We want to show it to the entire nation.”
They got off on the right foot when their first release of Merlot under the Griffin Creek label was named by the Wine Spectator the best wine from Oregon in 1996.
“It was a good start for the brand,” says Don.
But for the Moores it was only a start. They have bigger plans.
“We’re constantly experimenting with clones and sites,” explains Traute, “to understand which varieties will grow best at which locations-what the right crop levels are, how to best irrigate, what the wines taste like. In the Rogue AVA alone there are so many different elevations, exposures, and climate variations… it is a never-ending learning experience-there is so much unrealized potential in Southern Oregon!”
Helping realize that potential-as much for their fellow Southern Oregon growers as for themselves-is a key focus for the Moores as they develop what has become one of the most respected vineyards in Southern Oregon.
Serendipitous Beginnings; Forceful Focus
They hadn’t originally planned to become vignerons; they hadn’t originally planned to stay in Oregon!
Back in 1989, the Moores were on a kayak trip on the Klamath River. They had decided to take a few more days to drive to the Olympic peninsula when their car was broken into. Unexpectedly delayed in Ashland while repair parts were delivered from Portland, they decided to spend some of the time looking at property.
Neither Traute nor Don, who was a professor of medicine at USC for 35 years and had a practice in Pasadena, California, were strangers to the kind of agricultural land they saw in the Rogue Valley. In Southern California they had just sold an Orange orchard they had farmed as a second occupation.
The realtor who was taking them around asked if they were interested in seeing a small vineyard. Don said that they had no interest in growing grapes. Traute said: “What could it hurt to look?”
Apparently, it could hurt to the tune of 12-acres, the size of the initial property the Moores purchased.
From the start of their Quail Run Vineyards, the Moores approached their growing with a clear vision to develop the highest quality grapes and cultivate the strongest possible market. In the service of that goal, they’ve gone far afield to get expertise from leading viticulturalists, and have innovated in both the vineyard and the management of their business.
“We began by keeping crop levels down and watering down,” says Don – a practice that even today isn’t as commonplace in Southern Oregon as one would suppose. Aiming for an average yield of 3-3.5 tons in a warm climate region where crops can easily get as high as 15-tons an acre, the Moores rigorously drop fruit in order to get the highest quality yield-not the greatest volume.
Likewise, the Moores have joined other innovative growers in changing the “textbook” recipe for irrigation. “If you look at the last edition of Winkler,” explains Don*, “it tells you to stop watering at veraison. We’ve learned that just the opposite is true here: you don’t put any water on until veraison, and then you do it very sparingly, just enough to keep the plant from shutting down.”
Similarly, the Moores have adopted so-called “quad” trellis systems in all their vineyards to maximize sun exposure, rather than simply adopt the easier and less expensive vertical trellises common in California.
These systems (the Moores use the Scott Henry trellis developed here in Oregon, and the Smart-Dyson developed in California with help from Australia) double the canopy by having two upward- and two downward-turning spurs per vine. “But the yield doesn’t double,” says Don, “and you have twice as much carbohydrate being produced. Plus, leaf-pulling is easier and you get lots of air circulation-we never have botrytis problems.”
“Over the years we’ve made so many different changes to get better fruit,” says Don. “We’re always learning from the winemakers we work with, from the international experts that our local winegrowers’ association brings in, and from our own experiments in everything from leaf-pulling to vine spacing.”
Quality and Savvy Lead to Growth
By paying attention to quality, Quail Run Vineyard quickly found a ready market for their grapes. “We decided early on that the best marketing strategy for our business was to sell to the best winemakers,” recalls Don, “which means we had to have the best grapes.”
By 1993 Quail Run was supplying grapes to a stable of 8 or 9 winemakers in both the Willamette Valley and Southern Oregon. But the Moores, looking for an economic incentive that encouraged quality winegrowing, added a new twist to the typical grape supplying contract-one that benefited the winemaker, the grower, and the consumer.
The Moores proposed that when the grapes a winemaker purchased went into a reserve-designated bottling, the grower should be rewarded for their quality by an appropriate bonus.
“When grapes go into a reserve wine,” explains Don, “the winemaker is going to make much more than on a vin oridinare. If they pay the grower a premium on those grapes of, say, $400, then the winemaker is giving back to their grower about $0.39 a bottle.
On a $25 bottle of wine, we’ve never had a winemaker who doesn’t think this is a good deal.”
The end result is that the grower is rewarded for investing in quality, the winemaker gets better grapes to work with, and the consumer can purchase a finer end product wine.
The intellectual and creative challenges of winegrowing intrigues Don Moore, a former physician and professor. A pioneer in planting new varietals in Southern Oregon, Don is also actively involved in the statewide wine industry.
Traute Moore happily inspects the vintage. The Moores are active in helping develop the quality of winegrowing in Oregon. Traute represents Quail Run-Griffin Creek in local winegrowers’ organizations, while Don sits on the statewide Oregon Wine Advisory Board.