Shea Vineyard has been declared one of only
ten "American Grand Crus" by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. The
vineyard's grapes make some of Oregon's top rated wines, including wines
from Beaux Freres, St Innocent, Penner-Ash, Broadley, Bergstrom, and
Francis Tannahill. The Shea Vineyard
name has become one of the most prestigious labels in Oregon, placing
it squarely among the elite terroirs of New World Pinot noir. Owners
Dick and Deirdre Shea are in the enviable position of picking and choosing
the wineries they supply. And in 1998, they started commercial production
of their own wines, under the Shea Wine Cellars label.
Shea Vineyard was
first planted to Pommard and Wadenswil Pinot noir wine grapes in the
late 1980s. Today Shea Vineyard is a 200-acre property with 140 planted
acres. 135 of these acres are planted to Pinot noir vines and the balance
is planted to Chardonnay. The south-facing vineyard sits at an elevation
of 400-600 feet, and the property lies at the heart of Oregon's new Yamhill-Carlton
Shea Vineyard fruit is highly
sought after, and the vineyard supplies Pinot noir grapes to some of
Oregon's and California's finest wineries. Roughly 10% of the Pinot noir
fruit produced each year by Shea Vineyard is used by Shea
Wine Cellars for its releases. The other 90% of the Pinot
noir fruit is sold to some of the finest winemakers in Oregon and California.
Shea Vineyard emcompasses two
hills, called "East" and West", separated by a steep valley
containing native plants and trees. Within the two hill's 33 blocks
are many areas of uncultivated native plants and trees. A dense groundcover
of native plants holds the soil in place.
Shea Vineyards, with Blocks Marked, as of Fall, 2005
Below, a list of which
wineries take fruit from which blocks.
Shea Vineyard sits on sedimentary
soil over fractured sandstone. The soil is Willakenzie type
which is shallow (1-2 feet of gray topsoil) and very well draining with
sandstone subsoil. Vine spacing is 5x7 yielding 1,245 plants per acre.
Shea was one of the early vineyards in this area of Yamhill County and
on this soil type.
The original Pinot Noir
vines planted at Shea Vineyards were all Pommard clone and were "Self-rooted",
that is, planted on their own roots. "Self rooted" plants are susceptible
to being killed by the famous vineyard pest, Phylloxera. Sadly, Phylloxera
hit Shea hard, brought into the vineyard on plant stock imported from
California, and was causing considerable damage by 1996. A program
of replanting has continued since then, and will continue for several
more years. Some of the original, Phylloxera infected plantings are
still in production, notably the Wadenswil vines used to make the Shea
Wadenwsil Pinot noir 2004.
The older Pinot noir
vines in the vineyard are Pommard and Wadenswil clones, and the newer
plantings include Dijon clones 114, 115, 777, and 828. The 135 acres
of Pinot Noir are divided into 33 blocks and represent many different
sub-terroirs within the Shea Vineyard terroir. Winemakers have favorite
blocks for their own "Shea Designate" wines,
and a surprising range of Pinot noirs are made from the vineyard's fruit.
Below, grapes from the edge
of Block 10 are shown undergoing "veraison" that is, color change, in
The crop load for Willamette
Valley vineyards in 2004 varied across the valley, with some vineyards'
crops almost lost completely. Shea Vineyard's crop level in 2004 was
about 5% below normal, and the 2005 crop looks to be about the same.
Below, an example of reasonable fruit set on a vine at the edge of Block
Pinot from this block's fruit.
Here's a closer look at a
Pinot noir cluster that's undergone veraison. Taken August 9, 2005.
Entering Shea Vineyard, first stop is the
big Oak tree, a welcome bit of shade and official meeting place in a
vineyard where the trellis is high enough to make seeing each other pretty
impossible in the summer. Below, from the Oak Block (where the oak tree
is located), a look uphill at the East Hill, towards Blocks 13,11, 9,
and 6, as you go uphill. Raptor Ridge, Panther Creek,
and Boedecker Cellars purchase the fruit of Block 11, while Block
13 goes to Torii Mor, and
Block 9 goes to Elk Cove, Bergstrom,
and Highlands. St Innocent purchases the grapes of Block 6.
Heading up a gravel road between
Blocks 12 and 13, The East Hill is divided into two sides.
The road is
shown below as we pass between Blocks 10 and 11,
just above Blocks 12
and 13. Block 12 is purchased by J.K.
Carriere, and Block
10 by Scott
At the top of the East Hill is the Back
Block, fruit from which is going to Arteur
Winery in 2005.
the view is up from below the block, looking at the very top of the vineyard's
Below the Back Block, further
east and lower on the slope, is Block Six, purchased
by St Innocent.
Maintenance and cultivation
happens continually thoughout the vineyard.
This tour is mostly of the
East Hill, as the West Hill is being replanted and much of it is not
yet for sale.
is a view of the West Hill, showing the patchy young vineyards,
over the last few years. Seen from the west side of Blocks 5 and 7,
of which are used by Shea Wine Cellars for their wines.
Returning down the East Hill from the Back Block, the
views are spectacular.
Looking southwest, the mountains of the Coastal Range are visible, along with
Ken Wright's home and his estate vineyard. Ken's home is in the far distance,
at about 1PM, the tiny white spot up on the hill. (Ah for higher resolution
on the web!).
Below, coming down from the
Back Block, crossing east below Block Seven, the rows of grapes in
Blocks 14 and 18 come into view. Block 14 is purchased by Loring
Winery and Francis Tannahill,
while Block 18 is taken by Elk Cove and
The darkly colored rows beyond
them are hazelnut
trees in an orchard across the road from Shea.
Oregon produces 96% of
the US's hazelnut crop.