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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Growing wine grapes in Baker County is a trial and error process

Growing wine grapes in Baker County is a trial and error process


Photo by Lisa Britton Vintner Travis Cook is bottling wine made from grapes grown near Keating, in Baker County.
Photo by Lisa Britton Vintner Travis Cook is bottling wine made from grapes grown near Keating, in Baker County.
By Lisa Britton

For the Baker City Herald

The crash of glass makes you cringe and look for shards, but no one seems fazed.

In fact, not one member of this volunteer crew looks toward the sound — they’ve bottled wine before, and they’re used to every noise.

Including the clank that comes when 12 empty bottles are shaken out of a box.

On this sunny, cold November day, Travis Cook and his crew are bottling a 2010 Syrah to be sold under the MotherLode Cellars label.

MotherLode Cellars is the winery and Keating Valley Vineyard is where the grapes are grown — both located on the Cook property near Keating, about 20 miles east of Baker City.

Travis graduated from Baker High School in 2003, and he earned a degree in horticulture and an emphasis in viticulture and enology from Oregon State University in 2007.

The vineyard was planted in 2004 with experimental vines.

Seven years later there are two and a half acres of vines, but growing grapes is still a bit experimental.

“It is still trial and error,” Travis said. “It’s been luck of the draw.”

Travis lives in McMinnville with his wife, Christa, where he works for a vineyard management company that oversees 20 different vineyards.

Though he returns to Keating as often as he can, his parents and grandparents tend the vineyard when he’s away.

The Syrah bottled Nov. 9 came from the 2010 harvest.

The wine process takes patience — waiting for the liquid inside the oak barrels to reach perfection.

The bottling was handled by Travis and his family and friends — his wife, parents Michael and Cathy Cook, friends Mary and Wes Kerns and his grandpa, Elton Cook.

You could tell they’d done this before.

Once the barrel of wine was at the proper height to drain by gravity — lifted up by a tractor — Travis fussed with the machine that can fill six wine bottles at a time.

New this year was a machine to cork the bottles — they simply fit the bottle in, pressed a foot pedal, and the bottle was lifted as the cork pushed down into the neck.

Prior to this, two people corked each bottle by hand with a tool that needed a little more elbow grease.

This time, they filled a case — 12 bottles — in about 45 seconds.

“It used to take 20 seconds to cork one bottle,” Christa said.

The corker cut their time in half — they bottled about 100 cases of wine in two hours, as compared to the usual four hours. Wax caps and labels were to be added later.

Currently, MotherLode Cellars releases 200 to 300 cases a year. Travis’ long-term goal is 1,000 to 2,000 cases a year.

Although he prefers to let the wine sit for about a month after bottling, the 2010 Syrah will be available by next week.

He’s also planning to release a Rancher’s Red soon. He mostly markets in Baker City, although he sells a bit in the McMinnville area.

To learn more about MotherLode Cellars, visit the website at motherlodecellars.com. 

 
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