by Kristine Thomas, CBN Feature Writer
Cindy Grossmann of Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyards in Terrebonne, Dina Barker of Lava Terrace Cellars in Bend and Gina Maragas of Maragas Winery in Culver each bring their own unique style, ideas and goals to their individual vineyards and wines.
What they share is a passion for growing wine grapes using sustainable and natural farming practices and making quality wine in Central Oregon. They also truly love sharing their knowledge and joy of wine with people.
Spend a few minutes talking to the three business leaders and you’ll discover how much they love what they do and how dedicated they are to learning as much as they can about the wine business.
All three wineries have recently received prestigious recognition for their wines. In the 2020 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Maragas Winery received a gold medal for its 2014 Cab Franc and silver medals for its 2016 Malbec and 2016 Tempranillo. Maragas Winery has received medals consistently since entering the competition in 2004.
Faith, Hope and Charity and Lava Terrace Cellars both received medals in the 2020 Sunset International Wine Competition held annually in Sonoma, Calif. Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyard was awarded a gold medal for its 2017 Frontenac, a silver medal for its 2018 La Crescent and Leon Millot and a bronze medal for its 2015 Viognier.
In its first competition for its first wines, Lava Terrace Cellars earned silver medals for its 2017-barrel aged Marechal Foch and 2018 barrel aged La Crescent.
Gina Maragas said the awards attest to Central Oregon being a place to grow grapes to make high-quality wines.
“Central Oregon has volcanic sandy loam soils and rock — well draining soils.
The world’s best growing regions have this in common,” she said.
Here’s a look at each of the wineries growing grapes in Central Oregon:
Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyards
The agricultural land and the magnificent views of the Mt. Bachelor, Broken Top and the Three Sisters mountain range provided the inspiration Cindy and Roger Grossmann needed to start Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyard in Terrebonne.
“After considering that we had 312 acres of agricultural land and lived in a great tourism area of Central Oregon, I decided to dive into agritourism,” Cindy said. “I considered many crops but settled on wine grapes, mostly because of the romance of the vineyard and the wine.”
Growing up on a resort in Minnesota and being involved in tourism and construction, Cindy said she was familiar with the University of Minnesota’s viticulture program and its research on cold hardy grapes called French American varietals.
Eagerly, she began researching the varietals, the zoning laws and the requirements to produce and sell wine. The more she learned, the more she realized her vision for a winery and tourist destination in Central Oregon could be a reality. In 2010, after much research, they planted Marquette, Leon Millot, Marechal Foch, Frontenac, La Crescent, Vignole, Frontenac Gris and La Crosse. They also purchase grapes from regions in Oregon and Washington to make some of their wines.
During the last 12 years, Cindy and Roger have faced challenges and a steep learning curve on the vineyard and winery side. They are grateful for the many wonderful mentors that have guided them in their business.
Her most valuable partner is her husband, whom she has worked with for most of her life. “I was a designer, general contractor and developer and Roger was in sales before we moved to Central Oregon,” Cindy said. “ As with this business, Roger is always here for the heavy lifting, literally.”
In construction, Cindy could count on Roger to help with the lumber and roofing, top soil, sod, appliances and furnishings. “
Life has not changed all that much with the winery, vineyard and event center here at Faith Hope and Charity,” she said. “From irrigation, to moving soil, gravel, tables, chairs and barrels, to cutting lawns, fertilizing, working in the vineyard and working in the kitchen and on the woodfired pizza oven, this business could not run without his help.”
When Cindy and Roger Grossmann started Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyards, they were met with skepticism about the prospect of growing wine grapes in Central Oregon.
“We are proud to say Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyard is successful and it’s growing,” Cindy said. “Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyards is a perfect piece of Central Oregon paradise.”
She enjoys greeting visitors who are happy to have a vineyard and winery in Central Oregon to “call their own.”
“It is so gratifying to see people enjoying our wine and wood-fired pizza and everything else we have to share,” Cindy said.
The tasting room and event center are surrounded by the winery’s namesake of the Three Sisters Mountain range (or also known as Faith, Hope and Charity) along with 15 acres of vineyard, a pond and more. Plans include an on-premise winery production center, guest cottages, an amphitheater and a farm-to-table garden. The property is used for music concerts, corporate gatherings, weddings and other events.
“We have groomed and developed the 312-acre farm and are now selling five-acre homesites, allowing the new owners of these custom parcels to enjoy the beauty and benefits of the entire 312 acres and all the amenities included,” Cindy said.
Cherishing the incredible views she has of the mountains during the day and the stars at night, Cindy emphasized her goal remains to always to protect the natural beauty and resources of this beautiful piece of land.
“We love everything about the vineyard and the winery and the magic of bringing people together to enjoy our wines and property,” Cindy said. “It’s a lot of hard work and you are never finished. But it’s worth it because it’s something we enjoy doing.”
Lava Terrace Cellars
The love of wine and the joy of sustainable farming led Dina and Duane Barker to begin exploring how they could grow wine grapes on their five acres in Bend.
Already business partners with their company Brilliance in Branding, Dina said she and Duane have learned how to divide tasks based on their individual skill sets. She was tasked with researching what grape varietals would successfully grow in Bend’s high altitude and survive the cold winters.
“I learned we wanted grapes that would have a late bud break and early harvest,” Dina said. “Working with Inland Desert Nursery in Washington, I learned about the characteristics of each grape and the type of wine the grapes would make.”
Her research led them to plant Marechal Foch and pinot noir in 2012.
“We have learned from our trials and tribulations what works and what doesn’t,” Dina said. “We planted 20 pinot noir and today we only have three plants that are doing well because of where they are planted in the vineyard. The Marechal Foch flourished.”
In 2014, they added La Crescent, Brianna and Marquette and planted more Marechal Foch.
The greatest challenge of growing grapes is having patience, she said, because it takes about five years for the vines to produce good fruit to make commercial-level wine. In 2017, they had their first harvest to take to a winemaker.
“Everyone we talked with also told us that it takes basically ten years of investment in a vineyard before you start seeing a return on your money,” she said.
Dina shared she and Duane have the patience and desire to follow their plans for a thriving wine business.
“We always work with a goal in mind. We write down our goals and make a plan on how we are going to achieve them,” she said. What makes their business partnership successful, Dina said, is their respect for one another.
“It’s important to take the emotions out of the equation and always talk to one another in a respectful businesslike manner,” she said. “It’s also important to respect what skills you bring to the table. Without respect for one another, you are never going to do well together in business.”
She said Duane is the creative force while she’s the nuts and bolts. “He has the big picture ideas and I am figuring out how we pay for this and creating a strategic plan and how we are going to get from A to B.”
And whenever they are faced with a challenge, they work together to find a solution. “One thing we know for sure is how supportive people are in Central Oregon of local businesses,” Dina said. “We appreciate all the support we have received for our wine and we love sharing our adventure of growing grapes and making wine with people.”
The Barkers took their property that was mostly sagebrush, lava rocks and unusable slopes and transformed it into a vineyard with more than 4,000 plants.
“We want to encourage people to think about land that has unusable slopes and think of the possibility of planting grapes,” Dina said. “There are many resources for people who are interested in growing wine grapes in Central Oregon including the Central Oregon Wine and Grape Growers Association.”
“Grapes don’t want rich farmland soil,” Dina said. “They like rugged places to grow and do best when they are struggling.”
Looking back, Dina said it began with an idea to just grow wine grapes and make wine for their personal use and share with friends. Over the years, the vision has evolved as they realized the possibilities.
“I would tell anyone who has a passion about something to follow their dreams,” she said. “Don’t doubt yourself or say it’s not doable. Sit down, make a plan and make it happen. This has been a lot of hard work but we took a passion and pursued it and it’s also been really exciting and fun to share the amazing wine we are making in Bend with others.”
Doug Maragas’ family came to the United States from Crete, Greece while Gina’s paternal grandparents emigrated from Udine, Italy. And it was in Ohio, the two families grew to know one another, both sharing a long history of growing grapes and making wine.
Doug’s family began making wine in Crete, Greece centuries ago where his cousin continues to manage the family vineyard.
Anna and George Maragas, who are Doug’s grandparents, began commercially brokering grapes and making wine in Lodi, Calif., in 1941. Anna had rail permit to ship produce, and she quickly began shipping several thousands of tons of wine grapes she brokered from several vineyards to various wineries in California. She also shipped train car loads of grapes across the country to her husband in Ohio where the family had a grape processing facility where it crushed and pressed grapes for jug wineries in the Eastern United States.
“ When I met Doug, coincidentally, his grandparents sold wine grapes to my grandparents and my father told me the stories of years ago,” Gina shared. “Doug was fully invested in starting his own winery after having great experiences with his family’s grape brokering and winemaking business.”
Encouraged by his grandmother, Doug and Gina searched for a place they could afford and that had the potential for growing great wine grapes. They discovered Culver, Oregon and started Maragas Winery in 1999.
“Doug’s grandmother, Anna, and her practices in winemaking and the wine business are the mentoring fiber that brought the ability for Doug and me to be here today,” Gina said.
Gina shared Central Oregon has many similarities to the world’s best wine grape growing regions including the sandy loam soils and rock, which are well-draining soils.
“My husband’s family has grown grapes at the same vineyard in Crete, Greece that has the same volcanic sandy loam soil. Central Oregon also has a Mediterranean climate, dry, sunny summers, and wet winters,” Gina said. “Several European grape varietals grow like a weed here in Central Oregon.”
She said the question for others who are interested in growing wine grapes is deciding what varietal they would like to make wine with and having the patience to learn how to grow the varietals suited to this region.
Using old world methods of winemaking from Greece, Maragas Winery uses limited intervention.
“We make wine naturally with four ingredients. With the concept that we are the stewards of the grapes, yeast and wine, and Mother Nature is the captain and structure that facilitates all great wine, we have held close to these old standards,” Gina said. “Coincidently, following these standards results in the healthiest wine that can be produced.”
Doug and Gina were the first to grow vinifera grapes in Central Oregon. Learning how to grow the traditional, fine wine grapes originating in Europe required them to “put their scientist hats on.”
For 11 years, they experimented with test plots with 48 varietals, different spacing and pruning methods and cover crop arrangements to learn what grapes could grow successfully in the volcanic soil and climate in Central Oregon.
Gina said growing wine grapes and making wine is long, labor intensive work. It’s a complicated blend of science and art along with the unpredictability of Mother Nature’s weather moods. Add to that the challenge of working side-by-side in a business venture with a spouse. Gina said her advice to other women working with their spouse is to remember, “patience is a virtue.”
“We definitely divide the tasks according to skill set, and periodically, regardless of skill set, we give the other a breather on various tasks,” she said.
Celebrating 21 years in the wine business through two economic downturns makes Gina proud of her family’s business that sustainably and organically grows fine wine grapes and makes the best natural and low intervention wine within their grasp.
All while carrying on a family tradition to be shared with guests to their winery and the next generation.
This article was originally published in Cascade Business News and the PDF version can be downloaded HERE