The expression, “What goes together, grows together,” is often used by chefs and winemakers to describe successful food and wine pairings. But in the case of Troon Vineyard, the expression also applies to their whole vineyard philosophy.
Troon is a place where vines have been replanted using the biodynamic model, additional crops have been added, animals have been introduced and staff are educated, all to create an improved biome that leads to better wines.
Founded by Dick Troon in 1972, the vineyard has changed hands several times and has undergone a complete transformation since its early days. Dr. Bryan and Denise White purchased the property in 2017, fully invested in a model of change, which was initiated by winegrower Craig Camp.
Camp fell in love with and saw the potential of the land in 2016. He envisioned a healthier estate but knew a long-term vision would have to start with a whole lot of science, data and experience. After a complete analysis of the property, soil and microbiology, they started planting with a plan. The plan included becoming a Demeter-certified Biodynamic property, a process that took three years.
According to Camp, “Biodiversity is key, it encourages a range of biome, and creates a more natural system.” To that end, Troon has now planted over 20 clones of heritage cider apples, creating an orchard with over 200 trees and a plan to plant more apple trees as soon as the organic nursery they work with propagates more for them. Their first cider production will be in three to four years. Apparently, apple trees are even slower to produce than grapes. They’re also working with local brewer to plant a grain crop for biodynamic beer.
Troon produces 200 tons of compost used in the vineyards and throughout the estate. They grow valerian, yarrow, horsetail, dandelions and other herbs utilized in their biodynamic preparations – some of which are applied to energize the compost pile. They bring in as little as possible from off the site and have developed relationship with their neighbors at Noble Dairy to supply manure for the cow horns they bury. (In biodynamic farming, each season, cow horns are filled with manure and buried where they ferment for months, producing a nutrient-rich organic compost. They are then dug up, ground up, mixed with water to aerate, and sprayed back onto the soils to improve the stability and enhance plant growth.)
To further their biodiversity, they’ve planted a two-acre plot of vegetables. And in addition to growing squash, okra, carrots, tomatoes and more, which they sell from their farm stand, they’re trying to develop heirloom seeds local to their area. They have chickens wandering around that scratch and loosen as well as fertilize the soil and sell the organic eggs at their farm stand as well.
Troon has also invested in bees, with three natural hives made from tree trunks that are then strapped to live trees.
“We don’t harvest the honey though, we leave it for the bees, supporting the population and encouraging pollination of our crops,” Camp says.
Their long-term vision includes introducing sheep this spring. But Camp says they first have to get the guard dogs bred and trained. They plan to start with eight sheep, which will graze in the vines during winter for weed control and in the pasture near the apple trees for the summer.
When they first started this process, Camp says the soil was like concrete. He believed they had a good site though, and that if they introduced the proper biome they could nurture the land and restore healthy soil. Troon stopped the use of chemicals, and went, as Camp describes, “cold turkey biodynamic” in 2017.
Camp worked with BiomeMakers out of San Francisco to establish a baseline of the property and see how it changed under biodynamics. Camp says, “We’ve already seen huge changes in just three years. You can see it in the plants already, but it will really take decades to really see the results.”
Changes are already apparent in the site’s native yeast. Initially, the yeast assimilable nitrogen (YAN), an indicator of the available nitrogen for fermentation, was so low, and with no saccharomyces (the sugar fungus commonly referred to as brewer’s yeast), that native yeast couldn’t function. Now they’re seeing levels over 200 mg/L, above the 150 mg/L needed for healthy fermentation.
Troon’s dedication for regenerative agriculture means a much more focused growing program, one with purpose and intent that creates wines that truly reflect a sense of place in the Applegate Valley.
Located in a distinctive growing area between the Napa and Willamette, the Applegate Valley is at 1,400 feet of elevation, surrounded by the Siskiyou Mountains and 60 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The cool ocean breezes that cut through the mountains thicken the grapes’ skins, creating wines with moderate alcohol and high acid.
Camp likens the style to wines from Mediterranean regions like the Rhone Valley in France. Their location is warmer and dryer than the Willamette Valley, but cooler and wetter than Napa. Camp says they have a shorter growing season than Napa, but get 70 minutes more of sunshine daily and no fog. As the days get shorter, sugar accumulation stops, resulting in fully ripened fruit and lower alcohol wines.
Troon’s commitment to its agricultural philosophy continues in the cellar. Their wine portfolio includes Vermentino, Syrah, Picpoul, Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Mouvedre, Tannat and Malbec, among 13 different varieties of white and red wines. Troon is well known for its orange wines (white wines that have had skin contact during fermentation to provide some color and texture), which now are aged in clay amphorae made by Oregon producer and potter Andrew Beckham of Beckham Estate Vineyard. Other wines are aged in mature French oak, enhancing the wine’s flavors.
The wine program is moving to larger barrels for aging, especially for varieties like Syrah and Mourvedre, and includes two large wooden upright oak fermenters that introduce more oxygen during fermentation. Camp describes the winemaking philosophy as “less is more.”
“We don’t use a lot of stuff,” he says, “we just put the grapes into containers and they start fermenting. We just don’t believe in manipulating them”.
Winemaker Nate Wall crafts a range of wine inspired by the Mediterranean coasts of southern Europe: the Syrah is more Côte-Rôtie in style, with bold in dark fruit with fine grained tannins, and co-fermented with a little Viognier. The estate Vermentino, and Kubli Bench Rolle (the Rhône interpretation of Vermentino) are aged on lees for one and a half years.
Wall encourages whole cluster fermentation on the reds, making a 30%, 50% and 100% whole cluster, which he then blends together. Troon experiments with blends such as Malbec and Tannat, a white dubbed Kubli Bench Amber combining Vermentino, Riesling, and Viognier and Kulbi Bench Rosé blending Tinta Roriz, Primativo and Grenache.
Troon has also introduced a sparkling wine program, focusing on three very different bottlings each vintage. In the laborious process, everything is hand-bottled and manually disgorged. Offerings include a Piquette, a lower alcohol wine typically made from the leftover skins and stems. Camp says they didn’t have to add much water to skins, because the wines are pressed so gently, there is plenty of juice left in the skins. Their Pet-Tannat is made in the Petilant Natural style (also known as Method Ancestral), one of the original methods of producing a sparkling wine, with the secondary fermentation taking place inside the bottle. This year, they are also making a dry sparkling Lambrusco, with a short carbonic maceration and no sulfur, aiming for a refreshing crowd-pleaser.
Troon also has invested in educating its people, with all tasting room staff undergoing Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) certification, through at lease at level 2. Camp describes is a creating a new culture.
“The part that everybody forgets about, the really interesting part of this process, is what it does for the people,” he says. He believes that staff feels a part of something bigger and greater, and by attracting like-minded people, Troon can grow and unite them as a team with shared purpose about the wines.
TAMARA BELGARD is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore. She is a regular contributor to www.satiatepdx.com and several northwest publications.
1475 Kubil Rd.
Grants Pass, OR 97527