Like elsewhere in the northern latitudes of the United States, summertime in the Pacific Northwest is greeted with great fanfare. After nine months of rain showers, the sunshine brings long and leisurely days. Afternoon heat gives way to languid evenings and pink-hued sunsets that make us want to savor every moment outside; time, at last, is on our side.
As many vineyards and wineries have diversified to mixed-use farms, many are also enticing food and garden lovers with reasons to road trip to wine country for more than the wine. That may mean farm stays and farm stands or movies in the vineyard and farm-to-fork dinners. The wine-country spots here invite guests to seize the summer.
Working Horse Winery, Vineyard, Inn and Organic Farm, is a historic 22-acre property in the Okanagan Valley, 10 minutes from the evocatively named town of Peachland in southeastern British Columbia. The property is the last large parcel of farmland in the area, and the owners, Tilman Hainle and Sara Norman, are dedicated to preserving farm life; the couple recently hosted screenings for “FRESH” and “Dirt! — both times serving organic popcorn (locally grown, of course).
The farm began as a vineyard in 1973, when Hainle and his father planted some of the first vinifera wines in British Columbia. In 1978 the two collaborated on the first official icewine made in the new world.
On any given day, two glorious golden Suffolks — a rare breed of draft horse — can be found stately treading up and down the vineyard rows. “The draft horses [cause] less soil compaction compared to a tractor,” says Hainle. “Plus, they are so much more affectionate.”
Tilman Hainle tends the Working Horse vineyards with draft horses.
After working, the horses at Working Horse kick back in the corral.
A year ago, Working Horse opened two rooms to offer a bed-and-breakfast stay on the property, sparked by the desire to share the farm experience. “We grow the organic vegetables, herbs, have the chickens, and so when people come to stay at the B&B, almost everything they are eating is from the farm,” says Norman. The B&B also helps offset the costs of running the farm.
“Farming is a mysterious way of life for most people,” she says. The B&B is an effort to bridge this disconnect. “It’s something people do as a rite of passage to really understand where their food comes from.”
The Summertime Sipper: 2007 Tilman Ice “Barrel Aged.” This is a sweet, nuanced wine, with a nose of peaches and apricot. Sip it as an aperitif with Roquefort, then drink it after dinner as a digestif, paired with a tart berry dessert.
At Vista D’oro Farms, located 45 minutes from the city of Vancouver, British Columbia, the revolution began with fruit. Following a career change in 1997, Patrick and Lee Murphy began restoring an age-old orchard with heritage fruits like Cox’s Orange Pippen apples and Santa Rosa plums.
The couple then began cultivating coveted heirloom tomato varieties, including Vintage Wine, Wapsipinicon, Amish Gold, and Flamme. “In the past, we’ve grown as many as 50 varieties,” says Lee. “Now we’ve honed it to our top 12, with best tasting and early ripening being the factors that make them the winners.”
Lee Murphy with her seasonal, artisan preserves crafted in the on-site cooking studio. Summer picks include peach and lemon verbena with champagne and black cherry and pinot noir.
The century-old historic dairy barn and future winery at Vista D’Oro Farms in British Columbia.
The Murphys sold the fruits of their labor to Vancouver farmers’ markets and restaurants from 2002 until 2005. The following year, they decided to cut the commute and entice city dwellers out to the country instead, opening a small market called the Farm Gate Store. Today, their country getaway includes the farm, a winery and tasting room, and a cooking studio, with a bistro in the works.
City slickers head to the farm to sit in the sun and stock up on kitchen herbs, heirloom vegetables, and wine, plus a line of artisanal preserves that Lee launched in 2002, inspired by the work of Christine Ferber, a fourth-generation French pâtissiere renowned for her jams and jellies.
Meanwhile, Patrick tends 10 acres of Alsatian grape varietals planted in 2008, including maréchal foch, ortega, schönburger, and pinot gris. The winery, though, is known for its D’oro, a port-like wine fortified with brandy infused with green walnuts. It’s based on an old French recipe from a friend that dates back to 1796.
The walnuts for the wine are harvested on Bastille Day from century-old walnut trees and then macerated in brandy. After the wine is pressed off, the same nuts are used two more times. First, the walnut husks are soaked in pinot noir, producing a non-vintage, sherry-like Pinot Noix. Then they find their way into Green Walnut Preserve, which has a kick from a secret ingredient: grappa.
“I call it a poor man’s caviar,” jokes Patrick. “It’s great with cheese and crackers and fantastic with scallops. A little boozy, but really good.”
The Summertime Sipper: 2007 D’oro. This is the winery’s flagship fortified walnut wine. Pair it with aged Cheddar cheese, almonds, and dried fruits such as figs and dates.
The renaissance of farmers’ markets and the emergence of eaters wanting to know where their food comes from has led to many creative ventures, including the concept of fine dinners served on the farm. The intent is the simple (and always delicious) reconnecting of diners to the land, farmers, and artisans who cultivate food.
One such wildly successful venture is the Farm to Fork dinner series, which features the farmers, chefs, and artisans of southern Oregon. This summer, the series hosts a dinner on a vineyard and farm: Cowhorn Vineyard and Garden, located in the Applegate Valley.
Owners Barbara and Bill Steele first planted food crops — tomatoes, potatoes, and corn. The vineyard, which is farmed biodynamically, was planted in 2005, and the first asparagus acre — their asparagus is coveted in the area — was planted in 2006.
The Steeles carefully considered which crops to plant, focusing on perennials and crops that would not compete with the local farmers. When Steele asked local co-ops and chefs what vegetables they needed, asparagus was a top pick. The Steeles now tend more than 15,000 plants of the Purple Passion and Jersey Knight varieties and expect to pick about 125,000 spears this year (around 8,000 pounds).
Locals and visitors to the Rogue Valley will find Cowhorn asparagus available at the Ashland Co-op and on the menu at New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro. This season the couple is cultivating spinach to serve for their twilight dinner on the farm; in other years, they plant annual crops, such as watermelon and squash.
Four years ago, after a visiting mycologist discovered a plot of soil with the ideal pH for truffles, the Steeles planted about half an acre of hazelnut trees inoculated with the Périgord black truffle. “The theory is that truffle production would begin close to year seven,” says Bill Steele. “We shall see.”
Unlike the mystery of enigmatic truffles, the pleasure of summer in the vineyard with picnics and plates under stars is undeniable.
The Summertime Sipper: 2010 Spiral 36. This Rhône-inspired blend of viognier, marsanne, and roussanne is a dry and food-friendly white that pairs perfectly with the silky summertime soup asparagus vichyssoise.
Kerry Newberry is a wine and food writer based in Portland, Oregon. She believes a good glass of wine is a story of people, place, and time. Join her here as she seeks out the personalities, politics, and poetics that craft a wine from vine to table. Follow her online and on Twitter @KerryNewberry.
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