By Jade Helm
Anyone who knows Wayne Bailey knows how important farming is to him. It is where his life began, the son of an Iowa sharecropper. And it is where his life has lead him. Through years of business success as an engineer and a consultant to high profile companies like McDonald’s, Bailey’s work eventually lead him to the vineyards of Burgundy. This was a turning point for Bailey and what began as a three month consultancy expanded into two years in the vineyards of Beaune. “The vignerons there consider themselves farmers,” he remembers, “and so do I. I gravitated toward that. I spent time in the vineyards there and my mind was imagining growing grapes and making wine.” Bailey returned to farming life making Youngberg Hill in Willamette Valley home and livelihood to the Bailey family.
Bailey purchased the 50 acre estate in 2003. The property had been a family farm since the 1850s. There were 11 acres of own rooted Pinot Noir originally planted for Oregon wine legend, Ken Wright, in 1989. Bailey considers himself a modern-day steward of the farm, a stewardship he takes very seriously. He began to care for the land through his own sustainable, non-interventional approach. This began with a conversion to organic farming practices and then to a holistic method that Bailey compares to homeopathic care of the body. Bailey explains that organic farming allows things he won’t do to the soil. “The goal is not certification or marketing. This is just the right thing to do.” While he employs some Biodynamic philosophies, Bailey describes his farming as more pragmatic than prescriptive. He remembers the way farming was in Iowa in his childhood. “It was similar to the way many farms are in Willamette Valley today before Iowa farming became monoculture.” He also employed the traditional knowledge and practice, cultivated over hundreds of years of grape growing, that he absorbed while in Burgundy.
It takes three years of farming organically to leach out the residual chemicals in the soil and surprisingly Bailey found this process to be fairly easy. “The vineyard built its own defences quickly and started getting healthier even in the early stages.” The biggest challenge for Bailey is keeping his hands off. “It is man’s nature to try to fix things and we think we are smarter than Mother Nature.”
A proponent of farming that encompasses balance with the whole environment, not just the vines and vineyard, Bailey allows biodiversity at Youngberg Hill. “Farms are a holistic entity – crops, animals, gardens – that can be self-sustaining through biodiversity.” Again, it is more about what he chooses not to do. Only 20 of the 50 acres are planted to vines. This allowed riparian areas to remain and left room for pasture and cows. Bailey’s cows, curly haired Scottish Highlands, are almost as attractive as his healthy vineyard rows. Another example of trying not to intervene, Bailey describes himself as being “particular.” While he would normally want to see everything mowed beautifully, he refrains from mowing between rows because those plants are homes for beneficial insects.
- Practicing organic farming since 2003
- LIVE certified since 2005
- Practicing biodynamic farming since 2011
- Advocate for sustainable and biodynamic farming
Bailey’s passion for sustainable farming goes hand in hand with his view of wine as an agricultural product. Bailey explains that wine does not come from UPS or a store, it comes from a farm. It all starts with good grapes “We spend months growing grapes and then, other than barrel time, weeks making the wine.”
Bailey’s minimal intervention farming techniques spill into his winemaking philosophies. He likens his approach to raising children: you don’t make a rocket scientist out of a child with the skills of a music teacher. “I am allowing the vines to produce the best fruit they can and translating that into the winery.”
Bailey chose Youngberg Hill specifically to grow grapes with a story he could translate. Knowing he wanted cool climate Pinot noir he chose a sight “on the fringe of the fringe.” Youngberg Hill is a high altitude site on the western edge of a cool AVA positioned to experience the cool afternoon Pacific Ocean breezes. The family vineyard blocks produce four distinct estate Pinot Noirs each year, plus estate Pinot Gris and Chardonnay. The original 11 acres of own-rooted Pinot Noir are divided into two distinct blocks. The Natasha block is planted with Pommard and Wadenswil Pinot Noir clones. The soils are marine sedimentary. Clay mixed with the sand and rock allows the vines more moisture, thus a fuller canopy. Bailey explains the attributes of the Wadenswil clone are accentuated with more spice, white pepper, and brighter fruit in the wine. The Jordan block, only 300 yards away, sits 200 feet higher and is an average of 2 degrees cooler. Here the same Pinot Noir clones are planted on shallower volcanic rock. The vines are more stressed and produce less vegetation. This highlights the Pommard qualities of black fruit, depth, complexity, earth and mineral in the wine. Bailey gives an analogy for the differences, “The wines are like two daughters, raised the same, yet distinctly different.”
Here is where an even deeper meaning to sustainability surfaces for Bailey. Natasha and Jordan ARE his daughters and the vineyard blocks are their namesakes. The Pinot Gris and Chardonnay grow on a block named for the youngest, Aspen. Next to the vineyard sits the family home. Garden vegetables grow to fill the dinner table. And one day, if the Bailey girls are meant to be winemakers instead of rocket scientists or musicians, Bailey hopes to pass the farm to them.