LAND & HISTORY
A Brief, Incomplete Geologic History of Oregon
Roughly 400 to 100 million years ago, the west coast of North America was at the Idaho border, the land that composes Oregon did not yet exist. Enormous chunks of rock formed by volcanic activity hitchhiked across the Pacific plate, gathering pieces of ocean floor with it, and smashed against the continental shelf. Too big to slide beneath the continent, they were instead fused to the edge, further glued on by ensuing lava floes. Over a period of 130 to 50 million years ago, marine sediment piled up along the growing coastline, forming shallow, muddy swamps that extended the width of the state. This buildup of land pushed the subduction zone further west (to roughly its current position), creating a huge volcanic arc across much of the state. Eruptions raged from 50 million years ago to about six million years ago, covering the state in basalt and tuff, forming the peaks of the Cascade mountain range.
More rocks carried by tectonic plate movements continued to plaster themselves to the coast, creating additional framework for marine sand and mud to accumulate, compress, and develop deep strata of sedimentary rocks as sea levels rose and fell repeatedly over the next several millennia. At the end of the last Ice Age, 20,000 to 15,000 years ago, ice dams in Montana broke, unleashing a series of catastrophic floods that scraped topsoil from present-day Montana, Idaho, and eastern Washington and dumped it into the Columbia Basin and Willamette Valley. Repeated flooding occurred more than 100 times, periodically turning the Willamette Valley into a large lake. As waters receded, deep silt deposits covered the valley floor up to 200 feet.
A Land Acknowledgement
The earliest evidence of humans living the Willamette Valley are stone “Clovis” points, carbon-dated to about 13,200 years old, which are attributed to the ancient ancestors of the Kalapuya, the original people of this land. The Willamette Valley and northern Umpqua Valley belonged to the Kalapuya nations for thousands of years until the treaties of 1851-1855, after which the US Government dispossessed the Kalapuya of their homelands and forcibly relocated them to reservations. We acknowledge that all the vineyards we source from are planted on Kalapuya land. We respect the elders, both past and present, who have stewarded this land for generations; and recognize our role as uninvited visitors, illegal occupiers of this land. We seek to deconstruct colonial ideologies, disrupt narratives of “discovery” and “pioneering,” and de-center Western European aesthetics in the wine industry, these places where we live and work, and within ourselves.
This is our home site, our “estate” if you will (you shouldn’t). Jim Fischer Sr. and his brother Bill collected cuttings from neighboring vineyards and started their own nursery in 1999. The first vines were put in the ground the following year on a five-acre field with a gentle south-facing slope and the shallow, rockiest soils on the property. Jim and Bill originally named the site Crowley Station Vineyards to honor the historic railroad station located at the foot of Holmes Hill, itself a reference to Solomon Kimsey Crowley, a white settler who came to the area in 1855. In 2016, we renamed the site to Silvershot Vineyards, for the family horse of the same name that once roamed the land that would become the first vineyard block.
We farm fifteen acres of vineyards, fourteen of which are Pinot noir (114, 115, 777, Pommard, and a few "suitcase" clones of unknown provenance), with an acre of Pinot gris (Colmar clone). A few years into it, we discovered a smattering of Chardonnay inter-planted in one of the Pinot noir blocks. All of the vines are dry-farmed (no irrigation) and most are own-rooted (ungrafted), pushing through thin sedimentary soils and fractured sandstone that were once the seafloor during the Oligocene epoch. The site is south/southwest-facing on Holmes Hill at the exit of Holmes Gap (better known as the end of the Van Duzer Corridor) and gets strong, cooling marine breezes. Wines made from our grapes have that distinctive Eola-Amity quality: displaying great spice, structure and clarity of fruit with pronounced minerality from the old oceanic soils.
Tended by Luci Wisniewski and Tom Brown since the early 1980s, Sunnyside is a fun and funky mix of old-vine Gewürztraminer, Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Tempranillo, Dolcetto, and Auxerrois. The vines, like many older sites in the valley, are planted on an east/west orientation instead of north/south. This is now against conventional wisdom for getting the most sun exposure, but frankly, means that we can still get beautiful, later harvest fruit coming in at moderate sugars in ever-hotter years. Some of the vines were planted on the property as early as the late 1970s, but we primarily work with their Gewürztraminer, planted in 1984, arguably one of the worst vintages in Oregon’s short viticultural history (there was snow on Mother’s Day, for crying out loud). Vines are own-rooted into the brilliantly red volcanic soils on the gentle southwest slope of Sunnyside, about 630’ elevation. Luci and Tom still do much of the work themselves, and we are exceptionally lucky to work with such wonderful people and grapes.
First planted in 1976 by the Hudson family and known as Ellendale Vineyards, Ken and Becky Jacroux have owned and managed the property since the 1990s. Ken manages 16 acres of own-rooted, single-wire-hanging Pinot noir, Pinot gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and Niagara. At just shy of 600’ elevation in the wooded foothills several miles west of Dallas, Oregon, BeckenRidge is a beautiful, wind-swept site with soils transitioning between marine sedimentary and volcanic Jory soils. We are working with Ken, Becky, and our best-friends-and-also-winemakers, Ross and Bee Maloof, to get BeckenRidge on track for organic certification in the next few years.
Sophie’s Vineyard (aka Rebecca’s Vineyard)
The site is located in the upper northwestern corner of the Umpqua Valley, nestled into the eastern edge of the Coast Range, which means it behaves climatically much more like the northern Willamette Valley. Depending on who you ask, the vineyard was planted sometime either in the mid-80s or the early-90s, by Sophie Lerro, who has one of the craziest life stories you’ve ever heard. A native New Yorker, she allegedly fell in love with Oregon during a stint in a traveling circus. A career in the US Merchant Marine earned her enough to retire to Oregon and establish the vineyard. Nobody can say definitively who Rebecca was, or why Sophie named the vineyard for her. With some outside help, Sophie managed the vineyard herself for decades until she passed away in 2018. Her son, Chance, now manages the vineyard and has been in the process of transitioning to organic farming. In the spring, herds of sheep graze in between the vines. On steep slopes ranging from 400’ to 890’ in elevation, we work with Draper selection Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Pinot gris, and Semillon. Additionally, the vineyard is planted to Pinot noir, Gamay noir, and a little Riesling.