Thoughtful farming reigns supreme at Upper Five Vineyard in Talent, Oregon – OregonLive

Thoughtful farming reigns supreme at Upper Five Vineyard in Talent, Oregon – OregonLive

Thoughtful farming reigns supreme at Upper Five Vineyard in Talent, Oregon – OregonLive

Winery spotlight: Upper Five Vineyard
Terry Sullivan and his partner Molly Morison own a 3.5-acre vineyard in Talent, Oregon. Their plot of land at 1,920 feet above sea level in the Rogue Valley American Viticultural Area is the first certified organic vineyard in southern Oregon. In 2018 they earned biodynamic certification from Demeter USA. Their elegant, restrained wines are made by the highly-skilled John Grochau at his winery in Amity, Oregon.
Upper Five is best known for: Farming practices that include minimal, if any, irrigation and the refusal to destroy beneficial organisms by tilling the vineyard soil. “It is like a Hippocratic Oath for the land. Organic farming is ‘first, do no harm.’ Biodynamic farming is ‘then do some good,’” Sullivan said.
Innovation: Deploying a beneficial insect to keep grapevine leafroll disease out of his vineyard. Grapevine leafroll disease can reduce crop yields by upwards of 20%, and its presence in southern Oregon is a significant problem.
When Sullivan learned mealybugs are the disease vector, he looked for a natural solution to control them. “Most vineyards will spray insecticides, which I won’t and can’t do. Then I discovered farmers in California were having great success with a predatory ladybird beetle known as a mealybug destroyer,” Sullivan said.
Even though Sullivan stopped adding mealybug destroyers to his vineyard three years ago, they are still out there doing their job. The Upper Five Vineyard remains mealybug and leafroll-free.
“Must try” current release: 2020 Upper Five Vineyard Grenache ($28). I have always loved how the grenache at Upper Five tastes more like southern France than southern Oregon. Sullivan is particularly excited about this upcoming release because it is made in giant clay pots. “I think grenache made in amphora will become our flagship wine,” Sullivan said.
Biggest failure or success: Sullivan is proud that he has significantly reduced the use of fungicides such as elemental sulfur or knotweed extract to control mildew. “Most folks around here spray six times a year, and this year I sprayed twice,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan attributes the reduction to a lot of laborious canopy management work in the vineyard.
Last book read: “The Critic” by Peter May. “It’s not high-brow, but it is a fun read about a murder at a vineyard that’s trying to go organic,” Sullivan said.
History: Sullivan, an oceanographer, and Morison, a botanist, began their wine journey by buying the upper five acres of the historic Bagley pear orchard in Talent, Oregon, in 1999. They planted tempranillo, sauvignon blanc and syrah vines in 2003. In 2006 they added grenache.
For the first several years, they sold their fruit to Grochau Cellars. In 2010 they released a tempranillo as the first wine under their own label.
What we don’t know: Sullivan once located a sunken ship laden with gold. He was hired by a couple of treasure hunters he refers to as “pirates” to find the S.S. Islander, which sank in 1900 in 365 feet of water off the Alaskan coast. The steamship was reportedly carrying 30,000 pounds of gold at the time. “After I found it they offered me one percent of the treasure or my usual $800 per day fee,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan took the fee, which turned out to be a smart move. The treasure hunters were tied up for years in maritime court, fighting another company for rights to the wreck. The competing company eventually sold $4 million worth of gold in 2012. “I almost didn’t get rich off of oceanography,” Sullivan said.
Biggest inspiration: Doug Tunnell, the owner/winemaker at Brick House Vineyards in Newberg. “We discovered his biodynamic wines early on in our journey and they inspired us. They are on a different level,” Sullivan said.
Official winery motto: “More pretty than powerful.” Sullivan assures me the motto refers to the wines.
Where to buy: Even though Upper Five’s production is only 700 cases a year, you can find them in several locations around Ashland and Portland. The winery also offers bottle sales and the “U5″ wine club through their website.
The Ashland Food Co-Op offers a wide selection of Upper Five wines in Ashland, while Amuse and Larks serve them by the glass in their restaurants.
Numerous Portland retail bottle shops sell Upper Five wines, including Blackbird, Flying Fish Co. and Cellar 503. For dining experiences with Upper Five in northern Oregon wine country, head to Newberg to eat at Ruddick/Wood, Social Goods and the Newburgundian Bistro.
Outside Oregon, Upper Five’s lone location is Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax and Mill Valley, California.
upperfivevineyard.com or 541-285-8359.
— Michael Alberty writes about wine for The Oregonian/OregonLive. He can be reached at malberty0@gmail.com. To read more of his coverage, go to oregonlive.com/wine.
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