The Land

An abandoned gold mine, basketball sized boulders, Native American artifacts. The story of our vineyards is as interesting as the wines they produce.

Over 40 years ago, the Gerber family began planting their first vineyard on the terrace of the Siskiyou Mountains. Only 7 miles within the Oregon border, Foris is the southern-most vineyard in the Pacific Northwest. As one of the state’s grape growing pioneers, the Gerber family recognized the potential to grow high quality, premium vinifera grapes in the higher elevations of the region.

Foris Vineyards Winery was established in 1986. Surrounded by several pristine wilderness areas, Foris now boasts over 135 acres of estate vineyards, just 25 miles due east of the Pacific Ocean in Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley Appellation. Founding owner, Ted Gerber, has been nurturing the land since the early seventies. His commitment as a caretaker of the vineyards since the planting of the first vine to the last, is the hallmark of Foris and the foundation of our commitment to produce distinctive, high quality wines.

The Vineyards

Gerber “Home” Vineyard

  • 204 acres, 46 acres planted to grapes
  • Back of the valley at the base of a hill with 100 acres of trees blocking air flow
  • A hot-day & cold-night pocket giving extreme day to night fluctuations
  • Three feet of soil with clay underneath
  • Our best Gewurztraminer vineyard
“One Man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is never any truer than at the home vineyard site located next to the winery. On the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Survey of Josephine County, a good portion of our ranch is classified as a dump. The mining dump was created over a 50-year period during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and has produced a wonderful vineyard and winery site.

Gold mining was the big draw to the Illinois Valley when the first settlers arrived. In trying to search through and process the rock within existing and ancient stream beds, dumping grounds were created. Our ranch is covered with about 20 acres of placer mine rock tailings. The rock was washed from nearby Althouse Creek through two separate tunnels (the longest is 1200 ft) our 100-ft lower elevation than the creek created unlimited dumping capacity. What must have been a low-lying, Swampy piece of ground was transformed into a well-drained site. As the rock exited the tunnels and poured out the flumes that spread the material, the tailings became self sorted. There are three distinct gradations. 1. Big rock, basketball size and larger, which is closer to the tunnel’s exit. 2. Gravel 3. Silt

Today the larger rock areas grow trees, pine and cedar mainly. The winery and surrounding grounds are located on top of 10- 20 feet deep gravel deposits. The vineyard is grown on the gravely and silty areas. The rock tasting room at the winery is built from the mining tailings and shows the diversity of the rock. Oregon jade is one of the more interesting types that can be found.

Not only did the previous owners help transform our vineyard grounds into a desirable site, but history allowed us the ability to establish the grapes. In the early 1970’s when we got this crazy notion to grow wine grapes in a location no one had ever tried, farms in the Illinois Valley were comparatively inexpensive. Cattle and dairying were the only viable agriculture in the valley and they were on a slow decline in economic viability. We were able to purchase prime vineyard property for cattle grazing land prices. The historical change that allowed this opportunity was the advent of plastic pipe which provided an economic means of combating frost. Up until we planted our vineyard no one had tried commercial horticultural crops in the Illinois Valley because of spring frosts. Now it is a common practice to sprinkle water on frosty spring nights and the major obstacle for premium wine production has been conquered.

Presently planted at Gerber Vineyard:

  • Pinot Noir 11 acres
  • Gewurztraminer 11.5 acres
  • Early Muscat 2 acres
  • Chardonnay 3.4 acres
  • Pinot Gris 12 acres
  • Pinot Blanc 4 acres
  • Tempranillo 1.5 acres

First planting: 1975
Most recent planting: 2014

Cedar Ranch

  • 74 acres, 47 planted to grapes
  • At the back, upper most part of the valley along Sucker Creek
  • We farmed this ranch for the U.S. Marshall 20 years ago after a drug property seizure
  • Recently we bought most of the property, and custom farm the other portion
  • Three feet of soil with river rock underneath
  • With 20 years of growing knowledge, we expect Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Early Muscat and Pinot Noir to shine
We purchased this 74-acre property in 2008 after our bank said we were not borrowing enough money. “Okay, so lend us the cost of the ranch and some of the cost to plant it.” Considering the loan went through just after the “Great Recession” (November 2008) we were off cycle from the normal wine industry. Plant when nobody else is and you should come into production several years later when there is a lack of grapes coming onto the market. Our full planting of 46 acres was made in the spring of 2009.

We had a history with this ranch that is just one mile down the road from our Maple Ranch. In the late 1980’s the US Marshall confiscated the property because the owner, who they had been watching for 17 years, finally made a mistake in his marijuana import business and he quickly fled to Mexico. There were 7 ½ acres of Cabernet Sauvignon and 7 ½ acres Chardonnay on the property at this time and we told the US Marshall they needed to keep the vineyard in good condition until it was resold.

Thus, we farmed the old vineyard for the US Marshal for three years, and for the new owner for two years. Foris Winery bought the Chardonnay, which we almost labeled “Chateau Rico”, and sold the Cabernet. The new owner used the property for a summer retreat and soon abandoned the vineyard. He passed away and the ranch was resold to a couple who wanted a large tract for their 10 wolf hound dogs to run. Half of the then 150-acre ranch was sold to a Crescent City commercial fisherman and we tore out the old vineyard and planted 21 acres of grapes for Tom Timmer, the fisherman. We are planting another 15 acres for Timmer Vineyard starting in 2017. Timmer Vineyard adjoins Cedar Ranch, we do the books, farm and do everything for the owners other than take the profit. It is essentially an estate vineyard.

Cedar Ranch houses Terri’s daughter, Heidi and family. The 46 planted acres are frost protected by a one acre pond we constructed and is fed by Sucker Creek. In 1996, the creek flooded and took the 50 horse power pump, power pole, and transformer downstream to never be found. Knowing this, the present pumping system is well protected from the creek.

The surface soil is sandy, silt loam, probably too good for quality wine production, but beneath this surface layer is rocky creek remains. Well drained and not overly fertile, this vineyard is starting to produce some of our best wines. Having farmed, known and watched the ranch for over twenty years before making planting decisions was a gift.

Vineyard Acreage:

  • Pinot Noir 25 acres, half self-rooted and half grafted on ripairia gloire. Clones 113, 114, 115, 667, 777, Pommard.
  • Riesling 5 acres
  • Pinot Blanc 5 acres
  • Pinot Gris 5 acres
  • Early Muscat 6 acres

Maple Ranch

  • 112 acres, 43 acres planted to grapes
  • On the crest between two major stream drainages, on a bench at the back of the valley
  • Soil permeability is moderate to 5 feet and rapid below this depth. Red fractured rock, clay loam and gravelly loam surface layers with substratum gravelly, loamy sand. Great drainage that never puddles water
  • We consider this our best vineyard, especially for Pinot Noir due to several factors: Excellent soil, micro location, mix of several good clones
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:

  1. A mix of several good clones,
  2. The micro location at the back of the valley on a bench between two stream divides,
  3. 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.