Although Kirk and Kimberly Drake had spent time in Southern Oregon before, they found a new wine scene when they returned to the area in 2015. Many vineyards had been planted in the years since Kirk had moved away. Seasoned winemakers and viticulturists were moving to the area, elevating the quality of the wine. The potential of the region was clear.
Not content to make basement-quality wine in their new state, Kimberly resolved to get a winemaking education. That starts with chemistry. A year’s worth of chemistry, as it turns out, at Oregon State University. Next came a multiyear winemaking program through UC Davis’s department for continuing and professional education.
Of course, no one really learns to make wine from a book. Kimberly found her way onto the winemaking teams at two local wineries. She sampled, sorted, pressed, racked, punched down, tested, topped, adjusted, blended, barreled, unbarreled, bottled, and, for the most part, cleaned.
(Don’t worry, there was plenty of recreational tasting, too.)
All of this learning stripped the blinders from Kimberly’s eyes, and she saw wine in a new light. Those bland, forgettable wines that she tried to avoid on retail shelves and casual restaurant wine lists? They were largely the result of industrial-scale winemaking practices. Overcropping. Mechanical farming and harvesting. Unsorted fruit. Overpressing. Additives. Recipes to make wines that taste the same year-to-year. Things that you never see in a tasting room, but can see in the winery when you know what to look for.
Kirk and Kimberly hadn’t traversed the country to make forgettable wine. They resolved to make wine worth going out of your way for. But with so many vineyards and wineries taking shortcuts for profit and efficiency, could they do it? And could they do it in Southern Oregon?
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