Creating the 2014 SLOW Pinot Noir

Slow Food caught up with Don Oman to ask him a few questions about the 2014 SLOW Pinot Noir project that he developed and has been working diligently on for the past six months.

SF: What brought you to the idea of creating a Pinot Noir for Slow Food Oregon?

There were a number of things that came together to make this idea more than a ‘pipe dream.’

The idea really came out of the 2014 vintage in Oregon. 2014 was a very desirable vintage. The producers I know dropped a lot of fruit prior to the harvest to ensure a good quality and a ripe fruit vintage. But despite this they still had not only a ripe, forward vintage due to the excellent weather in August and September, but they also had crop levels that exceeded normal by 20- 25%!  With this abundance of excellent fruit, I saw an opportunity for wineries to share this great vintage with the community… in this case Slow Food Oregon.

When I shared this idea with my friends that were producers, everyone was very receptive and, in many cases, very enthusiastic. And when I explained that we would be compensating them, it became an easy decision for everyone. With Slow Food’s mission of helping support small farmers, we naturally wanted to compensate producers for their efforts. We set a price for the fruit based on where we saw the market for the best fruit in the Willamette Valley. The price, in the end, was actually better than what was paid for the vintage because there was excess fruit in the valley based on the high yields everyone experienced. Most producers ultimately gave fruit from excellent sites, many offering up wine from their best barrels.

Bottles of juice used in the blending.

Juice from the various wineries lined up and ready to be used in the blending. Photo by Jeff Cole.

We actually selected producers based on three criteria. We wanted fruit from excellent, sustainably grown vineyards, made by highly respected winemakers, from smaller producers who wanted to support the work of Slow Food Oregon. Everyone we approached was eager to participate, and a few we didn’t approach insisted on being in the project. (Initially we planned on eight producers offering up one barrel each, but ended up with a total of eleven.)  We had to cut it off at that level, because, while we realized the wine could be great, we knew selling even the best wine could be a formidable undertaking.

Also I thought it was time for Slow Food in Oregon to celebrate over twenty-two years of activity in the state promoting good, clean and fair agriculture from the first Oregon member in 1992 (perhaps the first dues paying member in the USA!) to the more than one hundred Oregonians who’ve traveled to Torino during Terra Madre to share their food/agricultural stories of Oregon with farmers and restaurateurs from around the world.

What were the logistical challenges associated with taking on a project like this?

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Don, along with Kayt Mathers, a food and wine publicist, considers the blend.

There were many things to consider. Initially we had to consider the blend. The vintage, for some producers in the Willamette Valley, offered up some challenging fruit. Some wines produced had high alcohol levels and lower acidity. These two potentially troubling factors were primary concerns in putting together the pinot noir blend. Fortunately farmers that focus on sustainable vineyard practices tend to fare better in years such as 2014. Our producers tend to be dry farmers (most shunning irrigation in their vineyards).  So the barrels offered up for our project came in with alcohol levels below 14% and ample acidity to support the abundance of forward fruit from the vintage. We expressed a desire for barrels that exhibited those two traits and nobody let us down.

John Grochau looks at the bottles of wine.

John Grochau, Grochau Cellars, checks out the wine from the producers. Photo by Jeff Cole.

Ultimately a tasting panel of three people from the wine world and three Slow Food members from Portland and Corvallis came up with the final blend for our SLOW Pinot Noir 2014.  Frankly all the barrels offered up a very unique offering and each could have stood on its own as far as making a delicious wine, but the final blend was the unanimous choice of all tasters. Though a very young wine indeed, it showed complex flavors and a formidable structure, both interesting to drink now, but easily a wine that will reward a few years of aging.

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John Grochau and Kayt Mathers measure the wines to blend. Photo by Jeff Cole.

Barrels were collected at the beginning of August. The tasting panel convened a week later. Bottling commenced on August 26 at the Bjornson Vineyard Winery under the direction of John Grochau of Grochau Cellars who capably ushered the wine from the barrels to the final bottling.


Certainly that speaks to the wine making and blending, but were there other factors in this process?

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The 2014 SLOW Pinot Noir!

Sure. First, we had to come up with the capital to fund all the costs up front to pay for the corks, bottles, label design, the bottling, the labor associated with all the moving of barrels, the blending, the bottling and packaging, and moving and storage of the pallets. Some work was donated, but, for the most part, we wanted to fairly compensate all involved, including use of the winery and costs associated with the physical production of the final product.

Secondly, a small cadre of Slow Food folks worked to come up with a label to put on the bottle, and a poster to help promote the wine, the project and Slow Food Oregon. At every juncture we had some volunteer labor and some discounted prices from professionals like the label designer and the printers. All the while the Slow Food folks were beginning to formulate some strategies to market the wine…some 270 cases of stunning elegant Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2014 from some of the finest vineyards growing Pinot Noir anywhere in the world!

Thirdly, my company, Casa Bruno LLC, provided the all-important support, from computers to the vans that hauled the barrels back and forth around the Willamette Valley. Capital for the project was from Casa Bruno, as well as from our producers who gave us extended terms for payment for the barrels. And, most importantly, Casa Bruno provided a team of office, sales and delivery people to distribute the wine. I would like to thank my business partners Elaine Testa and Reed Oman for their support in this and other community minded efforts.

Tell us about how the wine will be distributed.


Slow Food Portland Board members enjoy a first taste – everyone thinks it’s a winner! (L to R) Eric Gray; Victor Willis; Russell Ruscigno, Chair; Don Oman, co-founder Slow Food Portland and instigator of the Slow Pinot Noir project; Diane Corson, Antonella Aguilera-Ruiz, and Emily Richie.

Slow Food has many members, friends and supporters in Oregon who have been very supportive of the idea around SLOW Pinot Noir 2014. With the help of Nostrana, Kathy Whims’ and David West’s internationally acclaimed eatery, Slow Food hosted a press release/tasting at the end of October. Jason French of Ned Ludd and Elder Hall hosted the public release on November 8th at Elder Hall for members and the public. Official release of the wine was November 2, although rumors of the first case trickling out to Pastaworks (home of the first Slow Food cell in Oregon) a few days early have been circulating. As of this writing, Gathering Together Farm is planning a SLOW Pinot Noir dinner celebration for early December. Slow Food Corvallis is assisting with this event.

Independent retailers have begun to stock the wine and numerous restaurants have begun pouring the wine by the glass. We hope to have a couple dozen restaurants pouring Slow Pinot during the holiday season!

THANK YOU Don for the immeasurable time and talent you have volnuteered to make this project a reality!

Find SLOW Pinot Noir at these locations.

The Future of Food is The Future of the Planet

A message from Slow Food Portland’s new Chair Russell Ruscigno.

Since Slow Food’s inception in Italy over 25 years ago, the world of food has changed both for the good and for the bad.

On the positive side, biodiversity, organic, and sustainable have become more than buzzwords, they now represent widespread movements in the United States and around the globe. Farmers markets, community support agriculture (CSAs), grass fed and pasture raised have new resonance in the national conversation, on the plate and in the marketplace. School gardens, urban gardens and community gardens are seeing unprecedented growth with more communities digging in each season.

At the same time, we see more food-borne outbreaks, more processed food, more unhealthy children, more PR and advertising campaigns from mega companies promoting questionable farming and processing practices, and less enthusiasm from politicians to take on these issues that may not fit with their fundraising efforts.

And here we are, Slow Food Portland, an all-volunteer organization with passion, commitment and ideals ready to foster the mission of “Good, Clean and Fair Food for All,”—a worthy mission, no doubt, but perhaps a bit too broad and a bit too global for each of us to grasp. So the challenge, today, is how can we translate that mission into action we can take, embrace and own? Own as individuals, as family members, as members of our community and our planet.

Am I a contributor to the solution or a bystander to this moment in time?

As a member of Slow Food Portland, you have an opportunity to attend events and participate in programs that are fun, informative and create an atmosphere to discover the impact you can make. By supporting the efforts of farmers, ranchers, fishers, chefs and educators through outreach, fundraising, instruction and advocacy, our individual efforts combined with those of others create camaraderie and help move the food system closer to “Good, Clean and Fair Food for All.”

Slow Food Portland, together with Slow Food USA, Slow Food International and hundreds of local chapters around the world allows each of us an opportunity to build communities dedicated to a sustainable planet that can continue to provide nutritious, delicious, affordable food for ourselves and future generations.

So make a difference. Plan on attending any or all of the fun and delicious events highlighted in the newsletter. Volunteer to help the cause, keep your dues current, make an additional donation to help us stay financially sound and talk to family and friends about the importance of local family-owned farms.

Let’s keep the future of food and the future of the planet on our plates everyday.

I look forward to working with all our members to promulgate our mission, “Good, Clean and Fair Food for All,” and to make Slow Food Portland an important contributor to the future of food and the future of our planet.

Eat, Drink and Think Healthy
Russell Ruscigno

Edible Paradise: Winslow Food Forest

I met Winslow Food Forest founders Melissa and Teague Cullen at our annual potluck and became intrigued when they said they were farming in a very different way, and indeed they do. They agreed to share their story of what sounds like a veritable eden. I also discovered Teague was the talent behind the adorable illustrations on their business card. —Jane Pellicciotto

SF: You call your farm a food forest. What does that mean?

Winslow Food Forest illustrationA food forest is an edible garden designed to act like a forest ecosystem. Imagine wandering through a flourishing forest where nearly every plant is edible.

Overhead you see fruit and nut trees, plums, pears, apples, walnuts and almonds. Below, hazelnut shrubs and berry bushes sprawl between the trees, yielding blueberries, currants, goji and cornelian cherries. Scattered throughout the landscape are wildflowers, edible native plants, herbs, and vegetables. You can use vertical space by vining kiwis and jasmine. Even the cool forest floor is blanketed with vegetation such as chamomile, nasturtiums and mushrooms.

A food forest embraces biodiversity, with each organism playing a role. Food forests are designed to function as a closed-loop ecosystem with each element of the system supporting the whole. The complexity of relationships happening in a food forest results in a resilient ecosystem which largely self-maintains by:

  • producing food, fiber, medicine, materials, fodder
  • building soil and accumulating nutrients
  • self-fertilizing, self-mulching, self-balancing
  • sequestering carbon, offsetting climate change
  • providing habitat for all living organisms, including pollinators and beneficial insects

When did you create your edible paradise?

Melissa and Teague CullenSince we broke ground only a year ago, Winslow Food Forest is quite young in terms of food forests. A young food forest produces more annual veggies and, as it matures, it transitions to primarily perennial crops. Once established, food forests have the potential to last for many generations. Food forests are likely the worlds oldest form of gardening, as established ones can thrive indefinitely with human guidance.

Can you put how you farm into the context of farming as most of us know it?

There are many reasons to be concerned about the long-term sustainability of conventional agricultural systems. In fact, we now recognize conventional agricultural practices to be a major contributor towards climate change, environmental destruction and desertification. Food forests are living perennial proof that industrial agriculture is not the only way to feed the world.

Conventional farms are often planted as a monoculture, which is the cultivation of a single crop. When monocultures are planted on a large scale, the result is the removal of entire ecosystems. Top soil is lost through tilling, and water systems are polluted through the use of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides. This unnatural imposition on the land results in fragile landscapes that depend upon a staggering amount of inputs in order to operate. The end result is land that is all used up, depleted, and deserted.

On the other end of the spectrum lies a food forest, which is by nature a polyculture, meaning a diverse mix of plants. While organic farms have taken enormous strides in healing our food system, many organic farms are still based in annual vegetable crops, halting the succession of the forest ecosystem at ground level.

Do you have specific goals moving forward?

Yes, our plan is to develop a multi-story perennial system of food production, taking things a step beyond sustainable. We are powered by solar panels, well and rain water, and we plant and harvest by hand. We interrupt several local waste streams by taking in cardboard, wood chips and yard debris to cycle into our natural system.

Tell us a little about yourselves? How did you come to farming?

This is an emerging grassroots project started by 3 people, Teague and Melissa Cullen, along with Teague’s cousin Nick Eymann. We were all involved elsewhere prior to starting Winslow Food Forest.

I have a background in psychology and social work, while Teague has a background in music and audio engineering. Nick has a culinary background. Growing up, Teague spent a lot of time at Nick’s family Cactus Nursery in Phoenix, Arizona. Similarly, I grew up visiting my great grandma’s farm in Illinois. These early experiences had an impact on us all.

Teague had the idea of starting a Plant Start CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and in 2013, with the help of a small business grant from Mercy Corp NW, we grew and delivered edible seedlings to the doorsteps of Portland gardeners.

We ended up in Boring, Oregon, because a woman named Paulette Spencer heard about us. Paulette was intrigued and offered us the opportunity to expand our project on her land in Boring. We gladly accepted and moved into a log cabin apartment on her land in late 2013. This move coincided with the completion of our Permaculture Design Course with Toby Hemenway.

As certified Permaculture Design Consultants, we began planting Winslow Food Forest in late 2013 and have nearly two acres planted. We have eight acres here, and will continue to establish more food forest!

What does your farm offer?

Melissa Cullen holding seedlingWe have both a farm stand and CSA shares.

Harvest Share: Enjoy a weekly box of seasonal heirloom veggies, greens, herbs and eggs from our heritage hens. Berries, flowers and orchard fruit will also be included throughout the season.

Seedling Subscription: Organically grown veggie seedlings for your garden, delivered monthly at the ideal outdoor planting times.

Farm Stand:
Open April through October, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am–5:00 pm.
We accept SNAP on site.

We’re located at the end of the scenic Springwater trail at 12525 SE 272nd Ave, Boring OR, 97009