2021: “shimmering and ethereal but also slightly cloudy, electric, juicy, and slightly raucous in a way that suggests Gamay, Pineau d’Aunis or some strange mountain grape. It is a perfect counterpoint to the Hiyu 2017 Halo “Perennial”. Both are compellingly wild and savage, but in one instance this is coming from age and patina and in this one from the vibrancy of
youth. Culture: Eating Charcuterie on the Deck of the Chalet,” Nate says.
Piglets frolic among the vines, cows graze on a neighboring pasture, the snow-covered summit of Mt. Hood floats in the distance; Hiyu Wine Farm surely delivers one of the most bucolic and Alpine sights to be found in the US. No wonder that Nate Ready, the estate’s co-founder, likens this area to the climate of European mountainous regions like Savoie, Valais or Val d’Aosta. Despite its rather low altitude, the proximity of the mountain can keep the vineyards covered in snow as late as May; on the other hand, this part of North Oregon also offers an unusual influence of the nearby deserts, causing the character of the vintages to swing from cool and acid-driven to warm and generous, depending on which natural forces prevail.
“When we began to look for a place to farm, more than 10 years ago, there wasn’t as much diversity in American wine terroirs as there is now; Oregon was kind of the place to be for the wine we wanted to do,” Nate recalls. “It wasn’t a very premeditated decision, though. It was actually rather spontaneous; we simply felt good here when visiting,” he describes how he and his business partner China Tressemer ended up buying the first 7 acres of vineyards, garden, and pasture of what’s now Hiyu Wine Farm.
Ready, a former somm for high-end California restaurants (including the French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley iconic restaurant) was drawn to winemaking and farming by his need to discover and live closer to the origins of food and wine. He completed multiple apprenticeships in various California, Oregon and Italian wineries, citing his stay with Maggie Harrison of Antica Terra winery as his seminal one. Back at Hiyu, they spent the first four vintages working without any mechanization, getting to know the estate little by little. China Tresemer – a former culinary tours manager who also happens to be a talented illustrator and makes all the estate’s graceful watercolor labels – gradually developed their hands-off farming system inspired by biodynamic / regenerative agriculture icons like Leroy, Humbrecht, Joly, Deiss or Fukuoka.
“We are very much on the ‘wild side of permaculture’,” Nate laughs, explaining that besides one winter pruning and some under-vine scythe work, their vines are pretty much left to their own devices. There’s no tilling and the vegetation is controlled only by the farm’s pigs, geese, chickens and other animals that live among them at various times of the year. Some of these practices wouldn’t be allowed if the farm was certified, which is one of the reasons why Hiyu pursues neither organic nor biodynamic certification; the reality is that their farming methods go way beyond the requirements, with 85% fewer sprays used than a typical organic or biodynamic vineyard. There’s also no sulfur used in the vineyards, and diseases are fought with natural compounds like cinnamon oil or mixed herbal teas.
Parts of the land are also moved into “food forests “ – fruit trees, bushes and other perennial plants planted in the wilder forest area in order to produce food. “It’s like creating a space for foraging, with food that tastes really different than from a garden, which is brilliant for our tavern. The forest has more floors, so I like how you can use the space more in 3D than just 2D,” Nate asserts; it’s also a more sustainable and resilient, although of course less productive agricultural method than classical field plantations.
Another intriguingly wild feature of Hiyu (btw the name comes from Chinook Jargon and means plenty, abundance, or big party of people, referring to the convivial power of food and wine) is the way their vineyards are planted: little by little, Nate and China have regrafted the original Pinot Noir and Gris plants onto no less than 80 different varieties and about twice as many clones, changing the estate into a field blend wonderland. The property is now divided into half-acre blocks, each planted to a different field blend inspired by a place or a moment in the genetic history of the grapevine, harvested and vinified separately. “I’m curious about all the grapes and their diversity,” Nate chuckles; no wonder that Hiyu releases about 40 different cuvées a year in several ranges. Hiyu wines come from the farm itself, while Tzum (to mark or locate in Chinook Jargon, a fitting name for single-vineyard wines) are made as “meditations on a particular place” and named after the several plots that Nate and his team lease nearby, such as Moon Hill Farm or Scorched Earth in the Columbia Gorge, where Eiru or Fionn come from.
Cellar-wise, simplicity reigns: when the given plot is harvested – all varieties together – the whole grapes are gently foot-stomped, fed into a big basket press and pressed directly into old neutral oak barrels of different sizes (for the whites). For rosés and reds, the grapes are left alone as whole clusters for up to two weeks, then gently stomped and left on skins for between a couple of days to as long as 70 depending on the wine, and then pressed on an old ratchet press. The wines ferment quite slowly, with indigenous yeasts only; some of them, named “Spring Ephemeral”, are bottled after a couple of months, but many wines (even the ones from the same plot and grapes, further adding to the diversity of Hiyu’s range) receive an elevage that’s much longer, lasting up to 10 years. Once done, the wines are bottled by hand, using gravity and 5ppm of SO2, unfined, unfiltered and ready to reach their lucky few customers. There are usually only 2-3 barrels of each wine, so we’re quite happy to be able to get our hands on a couple of them and share the Hiyu abundance with the East Coast lovers of esoteric wines from special places!
Wine Notes: Nate on this wine: “Oak Ridge is planted on a hillside above the White Salmon River on the way to Trout Lake. It is the Northernmost vineyard in the Columbia Gorge and the one most impacted by weather systems from Mt. Adams. It is farmed in a gentle and thoughtful way by Thomas and Marlene Woodward. The wine from the site is Alpine in a way that transcends its identity as Pinot Noir.”
Vineyard: Oak Ridge is the northernmost vineyard in the Columbia Gorge. Planted in the mid-’80s at 1400 feet ALS, in ashy loam site above the White Salmon River in the foothills of Mt. Adams. The Pinot Noir comes from one-acre parcel located mid-slope on the west side of the site. Farmed biodynamically “with monastic dedication” by Thomas and Marlene Woodward.
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