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Shea Vineyard Tour 2005

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 District AVA.

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 August 2005.

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 10. Scott Paul Wines makes Pinot from this block's fruit.

Here's a closer look at a Pinot noir cluster that's undergone veraison. Taken August 9, 2005.

The Tour

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 Paul Wines.

At the top of the East Hill is the Back Block, fruit from which is going to Arteur Winery in 2005.
Below, the view is up from below the block, looking at the very top of the vineyard's East Hill.

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.
Below is a view of the West Hill, showing the patchy young vineyards,
replanted over the last few years. Seen from the west side of Blocks 5 and 7,
both 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 Highlands.

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.

Another view looking down from Block Seven

And another view down from Block Seven.