MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE
Written by Sofia Torres McKay
Photography by Ingrid Moriarty
I am a proud native of Mexico. In 2002 I moved to San Francisco to further my career in the IT industry. A one-year contract turned into three, and during that time I met Ryan McKay, a native of Eugene, Oregon and a wine enthusiast who worked three cubicles from me. We married after two years of dating.
Ryan’s passion for pinot noir began while working as a wine buyer in his early 20s. When we started dating, he shared with me his passion for wine and cooking (he is a great cook!). I met pinot through Ryan and fell in love with both, leading me to learn more about wines from Oregon and the different AVA’s there. We started traveling together to wine country, and he expressed his desire to one day grow grapes and make wine as a little home family experiment. At the time I thought it was a nice idea to own our own vineyard, but we did not know anything about wine growing, and we did not have money to invest in one, so we left it as a lofty dream.
After our first son Mateo was born in 2005, I took a break from my career, while Ryan accepted a promotion that took us from San Francisco to Toronto, Canada. I was excited for the two of us to share in the experience of being immigrants. After the birth of our second son Jonathan, we relocated to Vancouver, BC.
In Vancouver, I resumed working for my previous employer, and discussions during family dinner time increasingly focused on buying a vineyard. Ryan wanted to go back to his roots in Oregon, an idea that appealed to me as I wanted our boys to grow up surrounded by family. In 2010 we started formally looking for a small place where we could develop our dream and passion for wine growing.
After several trips to Oregon, we spied a “For Sale” sign on a 10-acre farm on Worden Hill Road in the Dundee Hills overlooking the Willamette Valley. The Dundee Hills are special because they offer optimal cold air drainage during the colder fringes of the growing season in spring and fall. We closed on the property in 2011, and in 2012 we began planting at an elevation of 500-to-600 feet. Since we did not have the money to plant our land all at once, we started little by little, which gave us the opportunity to research what clones and rootstock have the best potential to grow phenomenal wines.
Today, five acres are planted to pinot noir, all of which are unique soil and clone/rootstock combinations. Our clones are a mix of the best clones from Oregon’s first pinot plantings (Pommard), Dijon clones imported from Burgundy (667, 777) and rare clones such as 122 from Vosne-Romanée, a ‘Grand Cru’ vineyard in Burgundy. Our one-acre of chardonnay had its first harvest in 2018. To honor the heritage of our grapes, we decided to name our place Cramoisi, which translates to “crimson” in French.
Ryan continues working his day job and helps at the vineyard as his schedule permits. In 2017, I left the IT world to devote all of my efforts to our family venture and raising our two sons. I am proud to say than I am one of the few Hispanic women vineyard owners in the Willamette Valley.
Cramoisi Vineyard is farmed biodynamically; we believe than if you take from Mother Nature you need to give back to her. We are not yet certified but looking to do so in the next two years. Our wine maker is Drew Voit, who has produced some of the most esteemed and highly rated wines in the Willamette Valley. Drew asks lots of questions about the style of wines we want to make, so it is about our own style and not his style.
In 2014, our vineyard produced enough to make one barrel (25 cases) of wine. The following year, the first formal vintage, we produced 200 cases. Production increased to 300 cases in 2016 and 600 in 2017. Our goal is to top out at 1,000 cases by 2022. We are focused on quality versus quantity, so that we can grow one of the best wines in the Dundee Hills AVA.
Since the business is very small, I perform numerous roles in the vineyard, including vineyard management, marketing and sales, event planning, relationship building and management, and administration, among others.
Being a Latina woman in this business is not always easy, and potential clients often ask me about my origins. Some verbalize their surprise that I am Mexican woman who owns a vineyard rather than simply working in one. While these remarks are exasperating and frustrating, eventually I learned to embrace my unique perspective, life experiences and heritage, which includes the color of my skin and my accent, and I now feel happy that people continue to be interested in my unique story.
Because there are not many people like me in my position, being able to turn the tables and use my background as a positive virtue allows me to view myself as a channel to help others and work together as a community. This work includes being active with ¡AHI VOY! and ¡Salud!, two non-profit organizations dedicated to supporting the education and ambitions of winery and vineyard laborers, with a wide range of programs from English-language classes to cellar training.
When I came to this business and committed myself 100% to my family venture, I was looking not only to grow grapes and sell wine, but also to tell the story about what is behind the bottle and the years of work that come before the first bottle is even filled. Cramoisi wines have a body, a soul, and a different energy that tells you a story. That story is not only about the owners and the wine maker, it is also about the vineyard stewards who spend the time in the vineyards, rain or shine, hot or cold, up or down, early or late, to complete the story.
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