Wine Consumer

Magazine

The Making of an Independent American Dream

ShelliesConsumption.com, Shellie Croft
10/19/2013

I did not inherit my family’s dream farm.  My husband, Bryan, was not trained up by his father in the wine business, nor was I.

The things I most treasure, that were handed down to me and Bryan by our ancestors are; grit and gumption.



It’s a good thing, too. Essential are these things, really, because my own personal brand of American dream living requires these two attributes.  In heaping helpings, every single hour, rain or shine, exhausted or freshly showered, babies, toddlers or children underfoot, day in and day out.

I mean to tell about the kind of grit that is sweat on your eyelashes, heaving chest, bleeding hands and “oh, my gosh, I’m getting too old for this crud” kind of grit.

My winemaking husband and I take on the sort of “down to IT!” stuff that has us both working so physically hard that it all, honestly, has me forgetting about my chronological age, mostly.

There’s simply not any time for that nonsense, and I find no room for defeatist thoughts of this sort anyhow.

Vain concern over the suppleness of the skin on my hands or my non-existent manicure as I help tend to the vines whether it is during crop thinning time just prior to harvest, or mid December start on the head-trained, cane pruned pinot gris.  

The hair and nails concerns fly out of my head as I breathe in the sweet, almost indescribably intoxicating fragrance of bloom floating through the warm air of early summer and allow myself the great pleasure of the beauty of October's color in and around the vineyards to swallow me whole.

All regard for cute, clean, fashionable shoes doesn’t even take a back seat in the Kubota during bird patrol, to the sturdy, work horse, all-weather black, rubber vineyard boots I now don most every day, complete with boot scraper as the only necessary accessory to keep me stomping along.

I figure while I am out here, living this incredibly blessed life, surrounded by several hundred acres of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling and a bit of Gewürztraminer that fortunately wasn’t zapped by this past spring’s frost, I owe it to myself and the spirit of the real pioneers in Oregon wine and farm country development, who pushed themselves beyond the limits of what everyone thought was reasonable to achieve the impossible.

I’m not saying that I do this completely to honor those who came before us, but in more of a receiving of the American spirit torch, and further investing this heart's values of another generation (or two or three if my children will then take up the task of the stewardship of this land) in something outside the mainstream of modern world living.


 Partly, I suppose, this kind of living could be considered a throw back to a time when women and men dreamed of nothing outside of cultivation of a piece of land and to create a life for themselves and their families wrought with adventure, sweat of the brow, working the earth to reap the rewards of the season's harvest where once the soil had been so non compliant.


I believe farming, whether it’s vineyard or cattle, sheep, goat or grain, is vital to not only our survival but our ability to thrive and create more goodness.  It’s said that there can be no culture without agriculture.

Viticulture and winemaking are certainly not necessary to living a happy and comfortable life, for any of us, but as the wonderful Jancis Robinson shares, “It takes just one sniff and sip…to make you realize that wine is capable of reaching not just your throat and nose, but your brain, your heart, and occasionally, your soul.”

This idea, for me starts before the wine is poured out to glasses.  Beginning in the great outdoors it is a dirty job in the literal sense, smelly and sticky at times, and just this very week I twisted my ankle so badly in a gopher hole, that I cried in front of my children (shouted a couple of words on my way to the ground they were unfamiliar with as well).

Here’s what else it is out here in Willamette Valley in western Oregon, USA…breathtakingly beautiful.

 

The really funny thing about living this bucolic dream, I’ve found, is that when my head and heart come together about any particular aspect of this whole scene, I begin dreaming bigger and bigger about learning more and more and then begin to crave grander, wilder experiences.

Like I just can’t get enough, and if I live to be 120 years old, I still won’t.


We’re in year four with the raising of vineyard soil scratching, sweet, free ranging laying hens, for example.

My husband, Bryan and also I raised up our very own turkey, that became our Thanksgiving holiday protein centerpiece. 


Our vineyard garden, which has yielded gorgeous organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts has been going strong with great successes and some failures for seven years now, and this week as I finish up this post, I'll continue to collect fall raspberries, artichokes, heirloom tomatoes and walnuts to turn into some of the best meals I have ever eaten.

If I had only one word to share, that fully describes the experience of living this independent life out here, and what it has meant to this American dreamer-gal, it is most definitely:

freedom.

Freedom to create everything from our very own garden into meals that nourish our body and fill my creative, culinary soul.  Freedom to naturally and happily educate our little son and daughter about growing things and tending gardens.  Freedom to wake up every morning excited to be alive, and sleep deeply, peacefully at night when my head meets my pillow after a really hard and honest day's work.  Freedom to harvest the grapes when they are sweet, balanced and ready, age the wine in Bryan's favorite oak barrels and share a bottle, when it’s time, with the people we love.

 

Tonight’s glass of  Pinot Noir will be raised in loving, grateful memory of my own Grammy who grew up on a farm here in Bend, Oregon and  Bryan's California winemaking grandfather.

Also, as this doozey of a harvest/crush season, (my Bryan's sixteenth) comes to a very welcomed close, we celebrate the real pioneers of Oregon winemaking who were driven and just wild enough to plant here in the mid 1960's; "Papa Pinot" David Lett, Dick Erath, Richard Sommers, Dick Ponzi, David Adelsheim, their wives, families and partners. I honor the hard-working hearts, constantly busy hands and can do attitude that has been a cornerstone to living my American dream.

Cheers to you, everything and everyone you love, until we visit again ~
Shellie

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