When we looked in 1971 for land to plant grapes on in Southern Oregon, there was no commercial production and no wineries. We bought land that year and moved to the Illinois Valley knowing the property we purchased was not good grape land, but it got us to the valley where we could look for a plantable site.
We built a house and sold it when we moved to the present Foris Vineyards site. Our reason for picking the Illinois Valley was the price of land, forty years of temperature records at the Smoke Jumper Station in Cave Junction, and several years of ripening records at the Experiment Station in Jacksonville.
Having made home wine after college from grapes in Gilroy, California, the man who sold me the grapes said he had a friend in Roseburg, Oregon that was having success in ripening wine grapes – Bejellian Vineyards. The Gilroy grower’s advice was, “Move to Oregon. You can get started with a strong back and little money.” That described us. Part of the lure to this valley was a back-to- the-land movement that came out of the 1960’s. We soon learned self-sufficient had several draw backs – moss is not a good toilet paper, it causes rashes.
Boot Strapping – Grape Prunings
From the mid 1980’s to mid 1990’s, Meri, my late wife built a grape wreath business. At one point we had over 500 customers and employed up to six women who made the wreaths at their homes while they could watch their children. We delivered the prunings to their houses and they brought the wreaths to the winery for payment. This and nursery business of selling rooted grape plants helped us a lot in cash flow to get more vineyard planted and the winery started.
Boot Strapping Part Deux – Dijon Clones
Having bought Chardonnay cuttings that were grown for plants and planted in 1980, we discovered approximately 20 Pinot Noir plants that were mistakenly mixed. As this fruit ripened several years later, we kept a small production of Pinot Noir out of these mistaken plants for home wine making. The wine was terrible.
So when Oregon State released the Dijon clone selections to Oregon growers, we jumped at the opportunity to plant as much as we could because these clones were selected for wine quality, not for the absence of disease. We were able to get 25 plants of each clone, and through greenhouse propagation we turned 225 plants into a ten acre planting the following Spring. This put our production of Dijon clones, both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir years ahead of other growers.
For this reason, in 1991 and 92, when we approached California grafters we were able to sell all our prunings after we educated the grape propagators in California as to what a Dijon clone was. At this time in California, the failure of AXR root stock focused the industry on root stock and not the fruiting wood to be grafted on top. They soon learned there was to be a large demand for the Dijon clones and within a couple of years our market fell away as they had enough production for themselves.
Water is Life – Emerald Tunnel
There are two tunnels from Althouse Creek, which is on the other side of the hill south of the winery property. They were dug to dispose of creek gravel during mining operations from the early 1850s until late 1930s. Part of Foris winery property was the dump for these gravels.
The first tunnel, Emerald tunnel, was dug in the 1850’s and 60’s. It took four to five men ten years to dig the tunnel. The second tunnel was dug about 20 years later, and proved to be much more successful for the miner’s gold extraction. Today the water for the winery, the house, and gardens is supplied with no pump, but gravity flow. Multiple employees take this water home because of its high quality.