JancisRobinson.com recently finished their summer 2020 Wine Writing Competition (WWC20) and published 75 entries on Sustainability Heroes in the wine industry. I was honored to have all three of my submissions published. Although, I did not win the final, one made it onto the shortlist. For your re-reading pleasure, I will re-publish each over the following days.
Hiyu Wine Farm: Oregon’s Sustainable Utopia in the Columbia Gorge
If sustainability needs mascots, Nate Ready and China Tresemer would fit perfectly. In floppy hats, with Nate’s druidical beard and China’s proud grin, they grow the most complete whole farm vineyard on Oregon’s northern fringe: the Columbia Gorge. Their minimal approach at Hiyu Wine Farm makes Biodynamics look conventional. Here, native plants grow higher than vines, animals seem to do more work than people, and you almost forget this is viticulture. Nate admits that they are “trying to nudge the system as close as possible to a wild system, and it isn’t a wild system, but we try to make agriculture look a little more like nature”. Any visit confirms this.
In 2010, China, a top Chef, and Nate, a Master Sommelier, left behind two decades in the pressure cooker of cuisine, including stints at The French Laundry and New York’s La Cuisine Sans Peur. They found The Columbia Valley Gorge: a freshly minted appellation that runs 40 narrow miles along the riverbank and holds nearly every microclimate imaginable. They bought a thirty acre, cool, alpine-like site riven with silt loam on basalt, twenty two miles below the shadow of Mt. Hood’s summit and just overlooking the town of Hood River.
Nate took the ten-year-old organic vineyard of standard Pinot Noir, Gris, and Syrah varietiesand started sourcing, grafting or own-rooting clones from UC Davis. Today, resisting any whiff of monoculture, Nate notes, “there are over 80 different varieties of grapes and many more clonal selections planted on the farm”.In an effort of historical preservation, each half-acre block has plots planted to different moments in vinous history: “one plot is composed entirely of grapes planted in the 16th-century kingdom of Savoie. Another replicates a Southern Italian vineyard from 200 AD. There’s even a block devoted to the origins of cabernet franc at the Abbey of Roncesvalles in Basque country”.However, to avoid imposing order on nature, Nate admits, “there’s no map” and the vines are “not even labeled”.
Hiyu’s viticulture is the least invasive imaginable. Instead of mowing or tilling, Nate only rarely clears weeds with a scythe, and allows the pigs, cows, chicken, ducks, and geese to do most of the work throughout the year. They never green harvest, irrigate, or leaf pull, and only make one vine cut at pruning in order to not interrupt the vine’s growth cycle.They gently guide cover crop diversity by seeding directly into the dense growth or behind the pigs as they root around. Hiyu sprays eighty five percent less material than Biodynamic or Organic farms, uses no sulfur and instead controls mildew with cinnamon oil and mixed herbal teas. They use a light all-terrain vehicle (a mere 2,000 pounds instead of a 10,000 pound tractor) to avoid compacting the soil.
In addition to Hiyu’s 14 acres of vines, four acres provide pasture, another four acres of forest are in transition to a food forest, with a pond. However, the heart of Hiyu beats in its half-acre market garden that China maintains. She applies what she learned from her parent’s biodynamic farm in Vermont. All the heritage vegetables, fruits, and herbs she grows get crafted by China and chef Jason Barwikowski into striking dishes paired to tasting flights, The Winefarmer’s Lunch, and weekly reserved dinners. This involves the livestock labor as well. Their five to ten Guinea Hogs not only maintain the cover crop but provide pork, their goats make milk, while their Jersey cows make 5 gallons of milk a day for cream, butter, a farmer’s cheese, and ice cream, and occasionally meat.Hiyu takes farm to table seriously, by creating a self-sustaining farm and restaurant, where wine is but one small part. As Nate states, “The grand vision, it’s just biodiversity […] It’s meant to be this vibrant landscape with all these different life-forms. It’s more than the grapes. It’s about expanding palates and the ecological implications of that”.
At harvest, they hand-pick each historic block into small baskets with multiple passes. Nate avoids sorting them as to not damage the clusters. Eachblock with multiple varieties ends up together in the fermenter, free to become whatever they please. The native yeast biome ferments everything, so Nate only cleans with water, “to encourage a diverse microbial environment in the winery just like we’re encouraging it out in the field”.The reds native ferment at ambient temperatures with minimal foot treads in open-top wooden vats, while the whites ferment in barrels of different sizes. If issues arise, Nate just moves the vat or barrel to a warmer or cooler part of the winery or varies his pigeageregimen. Once ferments finish, a small manual wooden ratchet press squeezes juice and gravity urges it to the lower, cooler cellar (Nate sold their hydraulic presses from Mondavi in California and Southern Oregon, because they were too extractive). They do not filter or fine any of the wines. The only additive, aside from Nate’s feet, is less than 10ppm SO2before the bottle.There are no pumps, no bottling lines, no mobile bottling trucks. All bottles are hand-filled with gravity and a six-spout filler, then hand-labeled with China’s watercolor landscapes.
Hiyu crafts around 30 cuvées, with 12 complex field blends. The styles range from light whites, to skin-contact orange wines, light carbonic reds, to “May 1” a tannic 100-day macerated, four vintage solera red, and blends reaching beyond ten varieties like 2019’s “Avellana” of Blaufrankisch, Kadarka, Pignolo, Schiopettino, Corvina, Gamay, Vugava and many clones of heirloom Zinfandel. Vintage variation can even lead Nate to flip a wine’s style from white, to orange, and even red like 2018’s one-acre Aura Pinot Noir and Gris. Meanwhile, Hiyu’s second label, Smockshop Band, sources and supports other growers in the Gorge.In all, the wines require nearly no resources but labor and serve mainly to enhance Hiyu’s expertly crafted dishes.
Hiyu means “big party” in native Chinook. Nate and China strive daily to create a dynamic, sustainable environment not only in the vineyard and farm but in the community with events and magnificent feasts. They say it best, “we live on a farm with plants, animals and all the beneficial creatures that inhabit the soil. From this culture, supported by a network of local growers, we cook food and make wine. We’ve built a place where you can gather at the table and experience life on our farm”.That is something worth sustaining.
Alberty, Michael “At Oregon’s Hiyu Wine Farm, A New Kind Of Tasting Room”, Sprudge,
11 October 2017 https://wine.sprudge.com/2017/10/11/hiyu-wine-farm/
Celce, Bertrand, “Hiyu Wine Farm (Oregon)”, Wine Terroirs, 19 August 2018 https://www.wineterroirs.com/2018/08/hiyu_wine_farm_oregon.html
DeNies, Ramona, “One of the Northwest’s Most Talented Winemakers Is Hiding Near Hood River”, Portland Monthly, 10/17/2018 https://www.pdxmonthly.com/eat-and-drink/2018/10/one-of-the-northwest-s-most-talented-winemakers-is-hiding-near-hood-river
Hiyu Wine Farm, website https://www.hiyuwinefarm.com/
Tunmer, Sally, “A Look Inside Hiyu Wine Farm”, The Vintner Project, 18 MAY 2019
The Viticole Podcast, “TTGL #5 Brian Interviews Nate Ready of Hiyu Wine Farm” January 2020 https://soundcloud.com/viticolewine/ttgl-5-nate-ready-mixdown
The Viticole Podcast, “TTGL #5 Brian Interviews Nate Ready of Hiyu Wine Farm” Jan 2020 https://soundcloud.com/viticolewine/ttgl-5-nate-ready-mixdown
Ramona DeNies, “One of the Northwest’s Most Talented Winemakers Is Hiding Near Hood River”, Portland Monthly, 10/17/2018
Sally Tunmer, “A Look Inside Hiyu Wine Farm”, The Vintner Project, 18 MAY 2019