Placing importance on place
You've probably heard of Racine, community in Wisconsin. It's situated a bit north of the Illinois border, right on Lake Michigan. Milwaukee lies 40 miles north and Chicago 60 miles south.
Not incidentally, Racine means "root" in French, which brings us to the basis of this story. You see, Chris Berg, co-owner and winemaker of Roots Wine & Vineyard, was born in Racine.
Fond recollections of his childhood inspired him to name the vineyard he planted and the wine business he built with his wife, Hilary, after his birthplace. In fact, he did it twice.
He adopted the city's French translation — Roots — for his vineyard and winery. Then he adopted the name Racine itself to grace the labels of reserve pinot noirs he produces only in selected years.
Closeness to place and family have influenced every step in the evolution of Roots. In fact, were it not for his parents, Chris might never have pursued winemaking as a career.
Chuck and Dian Berg love to travel, experience new things and enjoy good food and wine along the way.
They introduced their son to this lifestyle at an early age. He readily admits that even if he had not chosen wine as his life's work, it would have remained very much a part of his life.
They lived in Wisconsin, Idaho, Pennsylvania and Illinois by turns when he was growing up. And their interest in wine eventually led them to buy some vineyard land in Oregon.
In fact, Chris and Hilary Berg owe the spectacular view they are enjoying from their hilltop home on NE Woodland Loop Road, northeast of Yamhill, to that decision.
The 20-acre property, situated at just over 600 feet elevation, beckoned in 1996. After buying it, Chuck and Dian built a house and began putting in a vineyard.
Chris was integrally involved in the preparation and planting of seven acres — a well-drained southwest-facing section featuring Willakenzie soil. He began in 1999 by taking the lead in clearing an overgrown tangle of small trees and brush, which covered the entire slope originally.
Pinot noir Dijon clones 114, 115 and 777 were planted, along with a couple rows of pinot gris clones. All the estate wines carry the Yamhill-Carlton AVA designation.
The Roots estate vineyard is situated on the same hillside as the Shea, Dussin, Deux Vert and Lenné vineyards.
The senior Bergs went on to purchase a business in Tualatin, then shut it down when things didn't pan out as hoped. At that point, they decided to retire to Arizona and leave all of the leaf-pulling and cane-training to their son.
Chris and Hilary married in 2003 on the campus of University of Kansas in Lawrence, where she earned her degree.
Returning to the school and the city where they had met five years earlier seemed only fitting for the event. And Hilary, a Wichita native, was treated to a large turnout of relatives and friends.
By that time, the Roots brand had begun to take hold. Fruit from their own estate vineyard was in its fifth year, and enology classes at the Northwest Viticulture Center had given Chris a foundation to build on in crafting his wines.
He had always admired the works of Swiss artist Paul Klee, so he honored the abstract expressionist by creating a new brand. Hilary, a graphic artist who gets to put her talents to good use as editor of the Oregon Wine Press, designed the label using a variation on a Klee motif.
The Klee brand is positioned as a competitively priced option. It encompasses syrahs from Southern Oregon and the Columbia Valley as well as pinot noirs from the Willamette Valley.
for his more upscale Roots label, Chris not only sources from his estate vineyard. He also contracts with other Willamette Valley growers for grapes of the riesling, viognier and melon de bourgogne varieties, and for the grapes used to create six vineyard-designated pinot noirs.
For three years, he made his wine at ADEA in Gaston. They the opportunity arose for him to become winemaker at Laurel Ridge Winery, just east of Carlton.
Chris went to Laurel Ridge in 2006, and has produced both his own wines and those of Laurel Ridge at the winery ever since. He also does custom crush for other clients, including The Pines 1859 and Sierra Ridge.
In this position, Chris had the opportunity to significantly advance his learning curve in two special areas of winemaking — fortified and sparkling.
Before his death in 2005, Laurel Ridge's original owner and winemaker, David Teppola, had committed the winery to a both a fortified port line and a sparkling line.
Chris has continued fortified wine production. He is currently offering a stylish vintage 2004 cabernet franc port from the Rogue Valley in 500 ml bottles.
He inherited both the inventory and equipment devoted for sparkling wine production as well, including a much sought after dosage carousel and a machine that compresses the cork, applies the capsule and wires up the cage.
Making sparkling wine is a discipline all its own. Several smaller producers are tackling the challenge on a limited basis, likely motivated by the reward of being able to open their own bottles of bubbly some day.
But lacking specialized equipment, they are forced to do everything by hand. As a result, numerous wineries seek out Berg for assistance with dosage, capping and cellaring, the latter done en tirage.
Not surprisingly, Roots has developed an excellent but very limited production of sparkling wine of its own. The Bergs have given it a very special label — Theo, after their 3-year-old son.
Can a wine named for Roo, their lovable Australian sheep dog, be far behind for Roo-ts?
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 403-687-1227.