YONCALLA — A second try at establishing a successful wine grape vineyard on the Applegate homestead property is proving fruitful.
That second effort was in 2014 when Jessica Applegate, a sixth-generation descendent of the Applegate family, and Nathan Wood, owner of Elkton Vineyard Management, prepped and planted the 3-acre Applegate House Vineyard. The vineyard was planted on what had previously been sheep pasture and hay ground. There are 2 acres of pinot noir and 1 acre of Albarino.
“You plant what you love to drink if it works for the land,” Applegate said.
The first vineyard planting on the homestead was in 1876. Pioneer Jesse Applegate planted a 12-acre vineyard about 30 years after migrating west. That vineyard was eventually destroyed by an insect invasion.
But now, well over a century later, a young vineyard is maturing on a southeast-facing slope of the property a couple of miles east of Yoncalla.
The vineyard is across the backyard of the Applegate House, the oldest home in Oregon owned by the same family since its construction in the early 1850s. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I think of this as a stewardship project,” Jessica Applegate said. “It’s a way for this old house to go into the future while still respecting its past.”
Applegate plans to eventually resume tours of the house and the vineyard after the COVID-19 virus is more controlled. Proceeds from the sale of Applegate wine will be used to maintain the two-story home.
“We want more of a boutique vineyard, not a mass-production operation,” she said. “We’re looking for quality over quantity, keeping it small and manageable for us and making sure we’re following our values for it.”
As the vineyard produces more grapes, Applegate said the wine will be sold at the house, off its website, and at a few select retail outlets.
Wood managed the vineyard for its first five years and Isabel Newlin has been the vineyard manager for the past two years. Newlin gained vineyard and wine experience working in France and New York before heading west and working for Elkton Vineyard Management before accepting the job with Applegate.
Applegate and Newlin are working to keep the vineyard as organic as possible. Newlin explained that a biodynamic spray has been used to renovate the soil and 70 sheep have been brought into the vineyard to eat the grass and weeds, and to provide a natural fertilizer.
“To have a successful, totally organic-practiced vineyard in Douglas County is something we can promote,” Newlin said.
A small harvest of grapes in 2018 produced the first Applegate wine. Because of the small volume of grapes, the pinot noir and Albarino were blended.
“The combination of the two grapes turned out well,” Applegate said. “Most of that wine has sold.”
Luke Wylde of Abbey Road Farm near Carlton, Oregon, has been Applegate’s winemaker since that first crush.
Applegate explained the 2019 grape crop was “off-kilter” because of a major snowfall early in the year and then birds invaded the vineyard the week before harvest, leaving nothing much to harvest. She said the 2020 harvest is expected to produce about 26 cases of wine.
Applegate is optimistic about the 2021 crop.
“I feel like this year the vineyard has turned a corner,” she said. “It’s looking very healthy. It’ll be exciting to see what it does. It would be nice to see it double its volume at harvest.”
The label on the Applegate House wine bottles features a shining sun over a rising moon with the Applegate House pictured inside the moon. The house and the vineyard are a combination that will take visitors back in time.