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Balcombe Vineyard: Vineyard Focus

Patricia Green Cellars' Balcombe Vineyard
by Jean Yates

Balcombe Vineyard is only 7.25 acres, but its importance to PGC, and to Oregon pinot noir lovers, is greater than its size would suggest. From this vineyard, divided into five sections, come some of the best Pinots made by Patty.

The Balcombe Vineyard was named by owner Matt Cooke for his grandfather, who plied the Pacific between Japan, SF and Seattle as a trader in the 19th century. Matt was a pilot, based in Japan and Hawaii, before settling in Oregon and starting the vineyard. He was one of the first vineyard owners in his Dayton area to plant wine grapes onto phyloxera resistant rootstock.

Balcombe is adjacent to the White Rose Vineyard, and Patricia Green (pictured here with a bottle of Balcombe PN) was managing that vineyard in the mid 90's. Matt literally talked over the fence to her vineyard manager about Patty taking over the Balcombe Vineyard. In 1996, she bought Balcombe fruit, and in 1997, she took over the vineyard management and began purchasing all the vineyard's grapes. Previous to Patty's management, the vineyard was farmed by Willamette Valley Vineyards, and the grapes went into their Willamette Valley Pinot noir.

About the Vineyard

The Balcombe Vineyard is planted entirely to the Pommard Clone of Pinot noir. The Pommard clone of pinot noir is sourced from the Pommard district of Burgundy. It is historically one of the two dominant clones of pinot in Oregon, along with Wadenswil. Pommard ripens somewhat earlier than other clones, so it was selected for this cooler site. The berries are smaller than those of the Wadenswil and somewhat looser, but there are more clusters per vine. Yields are similar to the Wadenswil. The Pommard has traditionally contributed aromatic blackberry flavors to the pinots of Oregon.

1997- First Year of Management

Patty took several initial steps in her management of the Balcombe Vineyard. First, she divided it into five parts (shown at right). She says she does this with every vineyard she starts working with, to make the vineyard easier to organize, and to permit different viticultural practices to be performed more easily in selected "Blocks".

The vineyard had been cropped at 3-4 tons per acre, a lot of fruit for a young vineyard to produce, and in the first year that Patty managed the vineyard, she cropped way back to give the vineyard a rest. She raised the trellis to provide more canopy and began studying the characteristics of the site.

Soil and Sun

The soil of Balcombe Vineyard is volcanic Jory soil, bright red in color, typical of the Dundee Hills Appellation, which Balcombe lies just west and south of. Dundee Hills soils are reddish, silt, clay, loam soils derived from Columbia River basalt flows and provide moderately deep and good water-holding soils. Patty estimates that the soil in Balcombe is over 3 feet deep.

Cultivation and cover cropping was started by Patty in 97, with the goal to increase the humic matter in the soil. Organic compost is currently added each year.

Sun exposure was managed by different leaf pulling regimes for different parts of the vineyard. The vineyard is at 600-650 ft elevation, and air movement and exposure are critical factors for grape ripening. At 600 feet, the vineyard cools off quickly at night. The leaf canopy is altered to allow for sun exposure and to allow the ground to receive heat from the sun to warm it up and encourage growth.

The Blocks of Balcombe Vineyard

Each of the five blocks of Balcombe Vineyard have different characteristics. Block 3 has the most "vigour"- it produces lots of leaves and fruit, and requires the most frequent and largest amount of pruning to keep the crop load small. Blocks 2A, 1A, and 2B all produce similar Pinot noir, and are used to make the "Balcombe" Pinot noir each year. The vineyard produces about 2-2.5 tons of fruit per acre under Patty's management, with the exception of Block 3, whose problem with vigor makes lower yields essential to maintain fruit quality.

After adding the Block 1B pinot to the overall Balcombe wine in 1997, Patty found that its different characteristics overwhelmed the feminine, spicy quality of the 2A, 1A, and 2B blocks. Balcombe Block 1B is the warmest, most sun exposed part of the vineyard. It has shallower soils than the other blocks, and ripens earlier than the other sections. It makes a darker, richer, more full bodied wine that is prized for its qualities. Balcombe 1B also has especially good lees (the seeds and bits left in the bottom of the barrel after fermentation) that have the scent of blackberry yogurt. Patty has been "adding back the lees" of the Balcombe 1B for several vintages, to add tesxture and flavor to the wine.

At A Glance Balcombe Vineyard

Location: Off Breyman Orchard Road, Dayton, Oregon

Planted: 1990
Size: 7.25 acres
Appellation: Eola Hills
Soil: Volcanic Jory
Root stock: 3309
Clone: 100% Pommard
Owner: Mort Cooke

PGC manages and harvests all the fruit from this vineyard.

First harvest under PGC management - 1997.

Wines Produced:
PGC Balcombe
PGC Balcombe 1B

Some juice may be used in "Oregon" or "Reserve" bottlings

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