Diversified vineyard plantings pay off for Oregon’s Fries family

By on October 8, 2013

Greg Fries conducts a media tour of his family's Willamette Valley plantings in the South Salem Hills.

Greg Fries conducts a media tour of his family’s Willamette Valley plantings in the South Salem Hills. (Eric Degerman/Great Northwest Wine)

DUNDEE, Ore. — Greg Fries and his father, Doug, know how important it is for farmers to diversify, and the 2013 vintage continues to prove to the family why it grows grapes in three distinct regions of the Northwest in support of their wineries in Oregon and Washington.

The hot vintage in Washington’s Columbia Valley made harvest a veritable breeze for their Desert Wind Winery in Prosser. And their young plantings of Pinot Noir in the Umpqua Valley for Duck Pond Cellars in Dundee, Ore., have proven to be a wise move and reduced stress during a year when the family celebrated the 20th anniversary of Duck Pond.

“In short, most everything in Washington is in, except we haven’t started with the Cabs yet,” Fries told Great Northwest Wine on Monday. “For us specifically, the acidity on the reds has been a little lower than last year, which represents a little more balance with the rest of the fruit maturity.”

It’s easy to find Washington winemakers who agree with Fries about the lower acid profile in grapes from 2013 because the summer nights remained warmer than normal, preventing the grapes from fully resting and hanging on to the acidity that’s critical to cellaring red wines.

“In Oregon, we finished harvesting in the Umpqua right before the weather went down hill, around Sept. 21,” Fries noted. “Fruit had reached full maturity around 25 brix.”

That Coles Valley Vineyard fruit north of Roseburg will be an important ripe strawberry and black cherry component in bottles of Pinot Noir — not just those under the Duck Pond label but in wines made for others and juice sold to other wineries. The flavor profile of those grapes will be blended with those from the Willamette Valley, and the Fries family owns several vineyards near Salem.

“In the Willamette, we didn’t start until last Wednesday — after the big rains had passed,” Fries reported. “Brix are low — around 21 — but acidity is still in a good range 6-8 grams per liter. The color of the Willamette Pinot Noir has been a present surprise in that it’s not light. That’s most likely due to the low yields we are getting, about 1.5 tons per acre. We should finish picking in a few more days.”

Their plantings in the Willamette Valley’s South Salem Hills span 277 acres with sites such as Delaney, Hylo, St. Jory & Willow Creek vineyards.

Last year, the Fries family ranked as Oregon’s fourth-largest wine producer.

Duck Pond — named as a tribute to the street they call home in Sunriver — targets about 46,000 cases produced each year. Desert Wind makes 12,000 cases, primarily from Bordeaux varieties. Last year, the family produced more bulk wine (62,000 cases) than they produced for their two wineries combined.

And that doesn’t include the 1,235 tons of grapes sold on contract to other wineries.

About Eric Degerman

Eric Degerman is the president and CEO of Great Northwest Wine. He is a journalist with more than 30 years of daily newspaper experience and has been writing about wine since 1998. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest with Andy Perdue and served as its managing editor for 15 years. He is a frequent wine judge along the West Coast and contributor to Pacific Northwest Golfer magazine, the region's longest-running golf publication.

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