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'Epic' Harvest Kickstarts Oregon Teaching Winery

Students to process Syrah from Cooper Ridge Vineyard

by Peter Mitham
cooper ridge vineyard
Students at Umpqua Community College will make Syrah from Cooper Ridge Vineyard (above.)
Roseburg, Ore.—Weather is cooperating to deliver what vineyard managers and winemakers across Oregon are calling an “epic” harvest and “banner year,” it also is helping kick start production at the teaching winery at Umpqua Community College’s Danny Lang Teaching, Learning and Event Center.

While the college previously had a small winemaking facility in temporary quarters, the new Lang Center boasts a winery within a purpose-built teaching and research facility. Its capacity is 3,000 cases—six times that of the previous shop.

Chris Lake, director of the Southern Oregon Wine Institute that calls the Lang Center home, told Wines & Vines the vision was for a winery that would replicate the standard small winery in Southern Oregon.

While the facility far larger than what students require, it will also provide room for new graduates to produce wines, effectively serving as an incubation center for new local wineries.

Among the initial grapes processed at the teaching winery is a ton of Syrah from Cooper Ridge Vineyard. Lesa Ray, who operates the vineyard with her husband Robin, is a student in the viticulture and enology program at the Southern Oregon Wine Institute. The grapes, which are registering sugar levels of approximately 24° Brix, are set for harvest this Friday.

“We let (institute director) Chris Lake know that we had some extra Syrah,” Ray said. “The students in the enology department are going to help process that.”

Ray began with the viticulture portion of the program, studying online and attending the college for a weekly lab. The courses have helped hone her skills in the vineyard, which in 2011 yielded its first crop of two tons. A second crop this year is forecast to be about 12 tons. Varieties include Merlot, Pinot Noir, Tempranillo and Syrah, as well as Grüner Veltliner and Viognier.

The location of the college made it well suited for Ray, giving her the opportunity to apply lessons directly to what she was doing in the vineyard. It has also produced several networking opportunities, from wine-tasting groups to work crews that have helped members of the Southern Oregon industry to coalesce.

Good harvest conditions in the Umpqua Valley have been seen across the state.

While some growers have had touches of frost, dry conditions have, for the most part, limited disease pressure and kept flavors developing well into October.

An update from the Oregon Wine Board on Wednesday offered that the vintage may be one of the best in past 20 years, if not the past 50. Wines are expected to be rich, with a good balance between sugar and acidity.

Perhaps the most-quoteable description of the harvest’s potential came from Jerry Murray of Van Duzer Winery in Dallas, Ore.

Describing the fruit as coming close to the kind that produced the 2002 vintage, Murray quipped in the wine board’s update: “We could end up with wines equally suitable for both aging and early consumption....Voluptuous, curvy, but still balanced, fresh and elegant. These wines will wear dresses, but in bigger sizes.”

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