Old School Vineyard’s 21 acres are tended by one full-time human employee, grower Stephen Hagen, and a crew of four-legged colleagues, including a team of Belgian draft horses, Ike and Olivia, who help Hagen cultivate under vine rows, till the soil and drill cover crops with precision and accuracy. Dotting the vineyard are a flock of Katahdin-dorper and babydoll Southdown sheep, which Hagen credits as the center of his farming philosophy: “Grow a wonderful, diverse cover crop — a mix of native plants and forage — and the sheep’s job is to make sure we never have to buy fertilizer off the farm.” Two stalwart akbash dogs, Mike and Eva, protect the sheep from mountain lions and coyotes. A Turkish breed, the akbash lineage as protectors of livestock goes back thousands of years. “And during lambing season,” Hagen adds, “Eva is an excellent midwife to the laboring ewes.”
“We’re trying to do something here that not a lot of people are doing,” says Hagen. “We’re not just organic, we’re not just biodynamic, we’re old school.”
The vineyard’s location west of Junction City, just a stone’s throw from where Hagen grew up, compelled him to grow pinot. “It’s the most exciting varietal of grape if you’re interested in growing in a site-specific way,” he says. “Pinot is genetically unstable. It has a tendency to mutate and adapt to the characteristics of where it’s grown. If you’re interested in well-rounded farming, focusing on the needs of the site, then pinot will give you the most rewards for those efforts.”
With a microclimate that carries the heat of the day and an elevation that promotes cooling at night, where vines tap deep into soil that’s at once volcanic and oceanic, Old School’s site and methods are producing a new range of flavors. “Old School fruit — even as it gets dizzyingly ripe — holds its acids well,” Hagen says. The result is a wine that’s well balanced between big, deep, dark fruit and vibrant, mouth-watering acidity punctuating a fine-grained tannin structure. “The floral aromas, the odd spice and earth flavors are rarely seen,” says Drew Voit, Hagen’s winemaker. “The site is doing something unique, something exotic, and we’re just trying to capture it.”
Old School designates are available through Rex Hill, King Estate, Harper Voit and Trathen Hall. A significant portion of their fruit can also be enjoyed in Antica Terra, as well as Broadley’s reserves. And this year, Old School launched its first bottle: a 2009, available through their website (oldschoolvineyards.com). Beacon Hill Winery in Gaston pours Old School, and folks can look for it in local wine shops and on restaurant menus soon.
Hagen invites anyone interested in tasting or learning more about the artistry of “old school” farming techniques to contact him, and come to the farm to see not just how this pinot’s grown, but how he grows it.
“I don’t want to make a lot of wine. I just want to make great wine,” Hagen says.