Just begging to grow grapes, it took Maple Ranch about 125 years after the first settlers arrived in the valley to fulfill this calling. When we bought the ranch in late 1986, small wild or old time planting of apples, plums, grapes, pears, quince, walnuts, cherries, elderberries, and the weed-like blackberry grew over much of the ranch. Today, most of the farmable ground is planted to wine grapes, predominantly Pinot Noir.
The first human residents of the ranch left their traces in the form of arrowheads and the like. Obsidian is not a locally found rock, so you know you’ve found Native American workings even if it’s just a little chip. Some time just before the Civil War, James Buchanan deeded the land to early settlers.
Looking for gold, copper and other minerals, their efforts left rock piles along the banks of the several streams that flow through. One can still walk several hundred yards into the mountain through a hard rock mining tunnel. Although the local area was rich in gold, Maple Ranch was a bust.
Farmers cleared and prospered on the farm from the late 19th century until World War II. The hand hewn beams in the big barn & granary show some of the efforts the Johnson family made. This was quite a musical family of fiddle players with a pump organ at the main house. Folk, ragtime, and flapper music was the predominant style played at the local grange hall. Violin making was also a sideline of the family. One maple tree fell in 1932 and supplied about 60 violin backs, and some of the instruments have sold for up to $25,000. As of 1996, one of the Johnson girls still played in the symphony in Paris, CA at age 80.
From the early 1940’s until the early 1970’s, Maple Ranch slowly declined. Farming had become a sideline to working in the lumber mill. In 1972, new owners brought new life to Maple Ranch, although they called the place Rainbow Ranch. For 14 years, they remodeled, repaired and built, getting ready to farm. The three families consisted of Grandma & Grandpa, son & daughter with their respective spouses and six granddaughters. Grandpa had played with several well known big bands during the early ‘40’s, but spent most of his adult life at GM. Maple Ranch was a great place to retire. The son & daughter taught school in Cave Junction, but soon retired to farming. Maple Ranch again was prosperous as a farm, only this time instead of pigs and cows it was an Herb. The several greenhouses were called starter boxes, and the attics were drying rooms.
Still today in the granary, that was remodeled to become a house, one corner is sealed closed: an inside growing room for the Herb – no floor, just dirt, insulated and reflective walls, electrical plugs for grow lights, and a watering hose. Hired as a farmer to occasionally work up the fields, I later learned I was just making the farm look active. While plowing, I drooled over Maple Ranch as a vineyard site. The place was a natural, including creek banks growing native grapes – Vitis Californica. This is its northern native range. The Herb farmers eventually got nabbed and the ranch was put up for sale. In the fall of 1986, wanting to expand our vineyard, I, Ted Gerber and my late wife Merideth formed a partnership with my mother and stepfather, Bob and Marge Maple. The name Maple Ranch is not only for the native big leaf maple trees found along the three creeks, but also for the owners that feel fortunate to be care tending this piece of ground.
There are 112 acres on the ranch. Grape plantings are 46 acres. Fall from the top grape planting to bottom is 150 feet with six distinct fields separated by creeks or roads. All but the top four acres are gravity fed frost protected from a pond at the top of the ranch.
- 32 acres Pinot Noir with 12 clones on 8 rootstocks plus self-rooted vines
- 7 acres Pinot Gris
- 1 acre Chardonnay
- 3 acres Riesling
- 2 acres Pinot Blanc
- 1 acre Gewurztraminer
The soil permeability is moderate to five feet and rapid below this depth. Clay loam and gravelly loam surface layers with substratum gravelly loamy sand. Never is a puddle of water seen on the surface.
What makes the wine from this ranch special, especially Pinot Noir, are several factors:
- A mix of several good clones,
- The micro location at the back of the valley on a bench between two stream divides,
- The soil which has rock and clay loam, not too deep or rich – and with 35 grape growing experience in this valley, this is our preferred grape growing soil.