Finding their place in the sun
The Mail Tribune
August 1, 2006
By Jennifer Strange
|Steve and Mary Gardner are developing a new vineyard off Highway 62 near Eagle Point. (Mail Tribune / Roy Musitelli)|
Couple bring Shady Cove’s only winery to the forefront of the region’s burgeoning industry
Editor’s note : The original version of this story gave an incorrect name for the winery from which Crater Lake Cellars received its first tanks. The reference has been corrected below.
SHADY COVE — This town’s not just about rafting and fishing anymore.
Thanks to the husband and wife team of Steve and Mary Gardner, Shady Cove has joined the ranks of other winery-rich Rogue Valley communities.
Crater Lake Cellars, in Shady Cove’s old District 4 fire hall next to the Union 76 station, has been open for wine tasting from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily since the tasting room opened in November.
Specializing in “big-bodied, fruity Italian wines” made by the couple from Rogue Valley grapes, the tasting room offers 14 vintages from 2004 and 2005, including chardonnay, pinot gris, grenache, cabernet sauvignon, pinot blanc, muscat, gewurztraminer and three styles of merlot.
“We have some fun, different styles of wine that others don’t do,” Mary said. “Our Italian passito-style wine is made by drying red merlot grapes in the barn before pressing them. This imparts a flavor that is a vanilla espresso kind of taste and gives the wine an interesting color. And we’re getting ready to release a recioto, which is like a port, but pure wine. It’s very, very sweet with merlot grapes.”
The brain behind the blends belongs to Steve, who loved to make wine and beer as a young adult. He earned his college degree at the University of Texas, then met his future wife, a Phoenix High School graduate, at the University of Oregon.
“I was studying marketing and he’s a chemist so this is a good fit for us,” Mary said. “It has been our long-term goal and for the last 15 years we’ve been studying and preparing to do this.”
The Gardners’ first step was for Steve to ransack the bookstore at the University of California-Davis for every textbook he could find on wine. “I read all of them, then went to dozens of wineries, asked lots of questions, and started researching online,” he said.
In 2000, the couple bought a 37-acre hay farm in Eagle Point just up Highway 62 from the Wood House. Now called the Eagle Point Vineyards, the property also features their home and a “big, beautiful old barn,” said Mary. “I would guess the barn is turn-of-the-century; it was built around the same period as Wood House.”
A year later, the Gardners began planting grapes, starting out with cabernet sauvignon, merlot, pinot blanc and chardonnay. “We got cuttings from a lot of vineyards around here,” Mary remembered. “Everybody helped us out a lot.”
Being outside in the sun, surrounded by growing things and wildlife, turned out to suit Steve just fine. “I find it fun to watch the vineyard grow every year,” he said.
It’s also a kick for him to hire local kids from Eagle Point during the fall to pick grapes alongside his 8-year-old son. “We do it all by hand and buckets, moving it all around,” he said.
As their crops increased, the couple turned to a friend in Grants Pass who has 40 acres. “Now we do all his farming, do our own and then buy from some local vineyards or grape growers,” Mary said. Crater Lake Cellars’ menu has grown to include tempranillo, viognier, cabernet franc, malbec, syrah and muscat.
In 2004, the Gardners made their first vintage using a press and a couple of tanks they’d purchased from Hillcrest Vineyard in Roseburg.
While waiting for their grapes to grow and wine to age, the Gardners turned to the tasting room. They owned the old building, as well as the gas station next door, and wanted to transform it into something special.
“We were using it for storage and thought, ‘Let’s just get started here,’ ” recalled Mary. “It was just an ugly old eyesore building full of junk, so we prettied it up and now it’s just cute.”
As the first winery on Crater Lake Highway, the Gardners were eager to play up the region’s natural beauty and built-in tourist traffic. To that end, they combined Mary’s photographic eye with the rich history around them and developed “Postcard from the Vineyard” labels that they said appeal to their clientele.
On one label is Crater Lake, the area that produces much of the snowmelt used in the winery’s processing. On another bottle is a photo of the couple’s tractor, a 1948 model handed down from Mary’s grandfather, who was a fruit farmer in Eugene.
Crater Lake Cellars’ popularity is growing as fast as their vines.
“To me it’s the Southern Oregon lifestyle right here in Shady Cove,” said Alma Spicer, coordinator of the Upper Rogue Regional Tourism Alliance/Upper Rogue Shady Cove Chamber of Commerce.
The winery will feature tastings at the Aug. 13-14 Shady Cove River ArtWalk and at the Sept. 16-17 Wood House Art Show.
Jennifer Strange is a freelance writer living in Central Point. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org