The original idea for growing grapes dates back 15 years or so. But it was more about the visual appeal of a house surrounded by grapes vines than it was about growing grapes or making wine. In 2008 we bought 5 unimproved acres about half way up the Old Spiral Highway. Barren, rocky, windy and exposed, friends thought we had lost our minds. Board by board, tree by tree, plant by plant, our “Shangri-La” began to emerge. In 2012 we revisited the vineyard idea. This time around it was more about a love of gardening and a desire to utilize some of the land for something productive. My good friend Shane Hyde and I agreed we could likely sell grapes to wineries in town. We were well aware the L-C Valley wine industry had come back to life more than 100 years after prohibition wiped it from the map. With encouragement from some of the local wine makers and a pledge to buy all we could grow…if they were of good quality… Shane and I, with the help of family and friends, planted our first acre in 2014 and a second acre in 2015. About June, 2016, the vines were growing like crazy and fruit clusters were forming. However, we had not yet added the top support wires on the trellis system.
Then the world stopped.
A lump my wife Becky discovered turned out to be breast cancer. Our daughter Amy had long ago moved to Hawaii and Becky wanted to recuperate from surgery at her place. Three months went by and when we returned home, despite plenty of effort from Shane and others, the grapes were sun burnt. The missing top row of trellis wire allowed the plants to kind of fall over on themselves and expose the fruit to the blistering late August/September sunshine. Although the grapes could still make decent wine, they did not look good. When grapes get sunburned their skin develops a tough brown “chatter” that is visually unappealing. Our chance for a good first impression with potential buyers evaporated in the brutal August sun. There was only one choice left. “Let’s get some equipment and make some wine.”
So we did. We learned the basics and bought the equipment we needed. Other wine makers from around the Valley helped us a lot. We even saved a bunch of bottles from recycling death and spent weeks scraping off old labels, cleaning and sterilizing. In the end we produced about 700 bottles of dry Riesling from our first harvest of 2016 sunburnt grapes. Then we gave it all away. We gave wine to anyone who even remotely acted like they might drink it. There was one condition though, we wanted their honest opinion of our efforts. As it turns out even a novice winemaker, when using grapes grown in what may be one of the best wine grape regions in the country, can make decent wine. Feedback started rolling in about how good our dry Riesling was. So different from what people had expected from a Riesling. Not sweet and heavy, but rather crisp, tart and refreshing. The vinting hook was set forever. Making wine is really enjoyable. Another decision was made. Shane and I abandoned the idea of growing grapes for others and decided to build our own brand. Spiral Rock Vineyard was born! In 2017 we harvested enough grapes to make 100 cases of dry Riesling, won a silver medal at the Cascadia Wine Competition and sold out. This year, as the vines continue to mature, we harvested grapes to make about 300 cases of dry Riesling which will be bottled in February/March of 2019. We also made a small quantity of Sparkling Rosé, Syrah, Rose of Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sometimes one doesn’t have to look very far to find the silver lining of tough situations. Had Becky not developed breast cancer, we may never have launched Spiral Rock Vineyard. It wasn’t planned. It was by accident. But from disaster sprang a passion we didn’t know we had. We have learned to enjoy life as if today may be our last and we endeavor to make and drink more wine!
Stuart & Becky Davis