We talk to Adam Campbell and Heather Perkin, winemakers at US fine wine pioneers Elk Cove, about why a holistic approach to farming works wonders for their wines.
Adam Campbell, pressing grapes since '78
Adam, growing up on a vineyard must have been quite an experience! What did you learn that you've taken into your career as a winemaker?
I feel so fortunate to have grown up here at Elk Cove. During the infancy of the Oregon wine industry, I helped my parents grow grapes and make wine. I have the benefit of almost 50 years of experimentation, winemaking trials and grape-growing know how. A lot has changed in our industry over the years, but one lesson remains integral to creating special wines: site trumps everything else. Finding those truly special vineyards with steep south facing slopes and extremely well drained soils is the key to creating wines with complexity, vibrancy and palate length. Cheers to the next 50 years!
Your sustainable practices seem to go beyond the ordinary – Salmon Safe, work with the Oak Accord and the use of clover instead of nitrogen etc sound like pioneering ways of working with the environment. How do you think this symbiotic relationship with the wider environment of Oregon allows you to make better wines?
My family has a generational commitment to protect and nurture the land we farm as well as our surrounding environment. Sustainability isn't just our farming practices, but also our commitment to solar as our primary power source, bio-diesel in all our trucks and tractors. We also support broader community environmental efforts, like Salmon-safe farming certification to protect our watersheds, and the Oregon Oak Accord to protect threatened native forest habitat. We consider philanthropic donations to local non-profits part of our responsibility to help create a sustainable community. Our farmworkers are a vital part of this community, so we provide a living wage and healthcare benefits to all our vineyard workers. We do all this because it is the right thing to do and it makes Elk Cove a stronger and more sustainable business.
Harvest sunrise at the Five Mountain vineyard
You're a very philanthropic organisation – do you think that winemakers have a special obligation to contribute to their communities and workers?
Since our founding in the early 1970's, Elk Cove has been able to donate over 1 million dollars to charitable causes locally, nationally as well as overseas. We are so proud and fortunate to have a successful and sustainable business that can afford to give back to communities in need. We give to many causes but prioritize healthcare, education and the environment.
Elk Cove's Joe and Pat Campbell,
planting their first vine
Heather, you've spoken of 'elegant and robust pinot noirs I'm privileged to shepherd' which is a really interesting turn-of-phrase to use. Is this how you see your role – as an 'enabler' guiding the grapes in the right direction?
I see my role as maintaining the quality of our grapes from harvest to bottle. My co-workers do meticulous work in the vineyard throughout the growing season so they can deliver perfect fruit at harvest. To put it bluntly, my responsibility is to not screw it up in the final stretch! Turning juice to wine depends on several critical points for success and it's my job to make sure they all happen.
Does this apply to Elk Cove's philosophies in general?
Yes. We are so fortunate to farm in one of the perfect places on Earth to grow fantastic pinot noir. We diligently tend our vines to create incredible fruit. Then in the winery it's all about attention to detail to protect the inherent nature of the fruit.