Dec 05, 2016
Antiquum Farm sits on 140 acres at the southern end of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The high elevation/thin soil estate vineyard is a mere 21 acres. Despite its small footprint, Antiquum produces some of the most highly sought after fruit in the region. It is widely regarded as a richly distinctive vineyard that behaves unlike any other.
The core principle of this system is to farm the vineyard in total isolation without fertilizers, compost, or any other off-farm inputs. Instead the vineyard is fed through cycles of grazing with sheep, chickens, and geese. Everything happens naturally in a self-sustained eco-system. The sheep undergo a process called aversion training whereby they are trained to not eat grape vines, which in turn allows them to graze the vineyard year round. Scratch grain is pitched at weeds growing under the vines. This encourages a massive flock of hens to scratch out the weeds. These processes eliminate over a dozen tractor passes through the vineyard every year.
The entire Hagen family participates in the meticulously careful farming of their vineyard through agricultural methods of their own design, which they call “Grazing Based Viticulture.”
This grazing based system has launched the vineyard on a glorious tangent of mutation. Clonal selections are no longer recognizable. Nothing behaves as expected. The result is a vineyard clearly articulating something distinct, exotic, and profoundly delicious. These wines exhibit power, structure, depth, grace, and finesse in perfect balance. They speak in a voice that is born solely of Antiquum Farm.
Q: How did you choose the sites for Antiquum’s vineyards?
I trespassed all over this place when I was a kid. I had a pretty feral childhood and grew up about five miles away. My parents were great about letting me have my freedom. I was all over these hills and got to know them really well. This place was one of my favorite spots to steal trout. There was an old abandoned orchard here too where it always seemed the fruit was the earliest and particularly tasty.
I met my wife Niki when I was living in Los Angeles, and I took her home to meet my folks about a month after we met. We’d already decided that we were leaving Los Angeles and raising some kids where they’d have the same roaming wild childhood I’d had.
We’d joked around about planting a vineyard someday. The really fantastic thing is that the sites were hillside hay fields at the time. The listing realtor was simply out of step with what was going on. The high elevation south slopes were valued at $500/acre. Other vineyard owners laugh or choke when I tell them that. We didn’t know enough at the time know what the sites would become. We thought they’d be pretty good, but we had no idea how special they would really prove to be.
We saw that this place was for sale and it just kind of felt right. There wasn’t really any thought put into it. We just leapt.
Q: What is the importance to Antiquum Farm’s wine of the role played by the animals on your team?
The beauty of this system is that everything is working together for the benefit of the others and and to the detriment of none. This includes the vines. The vines themselves even provide for many needs for the stock. They provide shade and shelter from aerial predators for the fowl. The longer we farm inside of this grazing-based system; the more distinctive and dynamic the wines have become. The guard dogs Mike and Eva sit at the center of this wheel. Without them, the entire thing flies apart. They provide a safe and stress free environment so the sheep, chickens, and waterfowl can live without looking over their shoulder. That doesn’t only interpret into minimizing losses through predation. I’ve seen incidences of injury, disease, and parasite infestation decrease in relation to the introduction of the dogs. Like anything else- happiness begets health.
The guard dogs Mike and Eva sit at the center of this wheel. Without them, the entire thing flies apart. They provide a safe and stress free environment so the sheep, chickens, and waterfowl can live without looking over their shoulder.
Q: Lead us through a day of Antiquum Farm duties at this time of year, post harvest.
This is what I love most about farming and winemaking. I am a carpenter, mid-wife, stonemason, plumber, electrician, counselor, mechanic, fabricator, and alchemist. There is always a daily, weekly, yearly, 10 year, and 50 year plan. However, one sheep getting it’s head stuck in something or a thrown horse shoe, and all bets are off. It can be frustrating sometimes, but for the most part I love the challenge of it. I’m never bored. Tired, yes. but never bored. The progress isn’t always evident and sometimes it feels like nothing’s getting done. When I step back and take the long view, I feel pretty proud.
This is what I love most about farming and winemaking. I am a carpenter, mid-wife, stonemason, plumber, electrician, counselor, mechanic, fabricator, and alchemist.
Q: How do you think the 2015 vintage is coming along now that it’s had a year to develop? And how is the 2016 vintage shaping up on the other side of harvest?
The 2015 wines are simply stunning. No two ways about it. They are monsters, but they have a expression and presence that is undeniable. They are incredibly well framed for such a warm vintage. The fruit is definitely there and dancing in the forefront, but the structure holds it all in perfect tension. I’m really excited about these wines.
I think the ‘15s and ‘16s will be a toss up for our best work to date.
I’m also really excited about what we have in the barn for 2016. I think the vintage is actually very similar to 2015 in many ways. Maybe somewhere between ’14 and ’15. We expanded our program in some important areas and were able to increase the diversity of our barrel selections. We are working with some new coopers and forests that are, as of yet, untested on our fruit. I am very hopeful about the prospects and feel we made the right choices. We are getting better all the time at dealing with these warmer vintages. At present, I think the ‘15s and ‘16s will be a toss up for our best work to date.