By Barbara Barrielle
Craig Camp seems to be universally respected in the West Coast wine industry. He made great wines at Cornerstone Winery in the Napa Valley and Anne Amie Vineyards in the Willamette Valley, but Camp’s latest chapter in life might turn out to be his most influential and, ultimately, fulfilling. He is resurrecting a pioneering vineyard that had been neglected, overplanted and overworked, producing wines that had become an afterthought in the wine industry.
Winemaking experience in California, Oregon, a few years in Italy, and a history of building wine distribution companies in the midwest means Camp knows just about every aspect of winemaking and wine marketing. Camp is now charged with getting deep into vineyard management, making the neglected Troon Vineyards and Winery into a biodynamic powerhouse and, subsequently, turning out wines from grapes planted in healthy soils that are appropriate for the vines planted there.
At the 100-acre ranch, 45 acres are planted to wine grapes and the existing vineyards are being replanted in a rolling process as the soil recovers. Initially a short-term project when Troon was looking for a buyer, Camp stayed when he realized the commitment of the new owners.
Denise and Bryan White, from Arlington, Texas, were visiting their daughter in Oregon and started looking at vineyard properties. With the purchase of Troon Vineyards in 2016, they started “a new entity, on a new voyage, with a new mission,” and set about bringing the neglected land back to life as well as giving new life to the brand, which had languished in recent years. They kept the name Troon to honor Dick Troon and his pioneering of the Applegate Valley. Troon acquired the land in 1972 and planted the first grapes in the Valley since Prohibition.
“Agriculture is a slow motion business,” says Camp. “Rejuvenating existing vineyards is more difficult than planting new. Weakened plants get diseases and the plants could not be returned to full health. We did a deep study of vineyard cellular technology by digging 75 five foot pits with a bunch of Ph.Ds who studied genetic sequencing of the soil. There is tremendous potential in this Kubli Bench vineyard.”
Troon’s reemergence as a biodynamic brand is not going unnoticed. “Troon’s resurgence is giving wine professionals and fine wine consumers from around the world another reason to discover Oregon. Craig’s leadership is propelling the winery and the Applegate Valley into prominence with a focus on exceptional Rhone style wine quality and regenerative farming and business practices,” says Oregon Wine Board President, Tom Danowski. “The winery’s Demeter certification for biodynamics demonstrates the investment being made to differentiate Troon and signals an enduring commitment to sustainable winegrowing. Innovators like Craig and his colleagues at Troon are expanding the market for Oregon wine by building on the state’s reputation for Pinot Noir with superbly crafted Syrah, Grenache and Tannat.”
Crucial to recovery was the wholehearted adoption of biodynamic practices. And, at Troon, the new team did not hesitate but went straight to the heart of revitalizing the land through concentrated regenerative efforts. Camp is no doubt the backbone of the winery’s efforts, and his relationship with renowned biodynamic winemaker, Bill Steele, at Cowhorn Winery, planted the seeds for Troon’s renaissance.
Bill and Barbara Steele went from Wall Street to carving a path of land preservation for future generations. They were advised by biodynamic expert Alan York who told them to “show everybody everything you do,” and the Steeles firmly believe that they are there to assist others with their commitment to biodynamic farming. “If we can’t help Troon, then what are we doing as a community partner,” says Steele. “I have known Craig for three years, and I can’t say enough about him. The new owners bought into biodynamics and healing the earth, and that property is healing itself day by day. The earth is amazingly resilient.”
In a brief time, Troon has gone fully organic and sustainable, even earning a coveted Demeter certification for biodynamics after only a couple years. To achieve this, the nourishing of the land was crucial as well as replanting and even making older vines healthier as vineyards are waiting to be replanted in the ongoing rotation. They have phased out the existing Troon wines in the marketplace and are now solely creating wines from healthy grapes, some of the fruit coming from Cowhorn until they are able to fully sustain estate bottlings.
Troon’s wines are making waves, obtaining awards and recognition as well as distribution in 18 states. With 1,000 club members and measured increases in production, Troon will possibly grow from 5,000 to 9,000 cases and “be a small niche brand which connects with wine shops and wine bars with an interest in biodynamic and natural wines,” says Camp.
He is thoroughly enjoying the challenge and the possibilities at Troon, almost giddily exclaiming about the return of life, birds and worms. “There is an apple orchard, so we plan to produce a range of ciders, have redeveloped the pastures, grow grains for local brewers, raise chickens, and are developing two areas for heritage vegetable varieties,” says Camp. “We have bee habitats for native bee species and are propagating our own seeds. Troon is reminiscent of southern France with their Rhone varieties and healthier plants through biodynamics.”
Camp is having fun in his role, creating not only Rhone-style wines but others that are unusual for the area. The estate Vermentino, is Kubli Bench Rolle (the Rhone interpretation of Vermentino) aged on lees for 1 ½ years. Troon Grenache is wildly popular, and the Kubli Bench blends are a staple of local restaurants, like Peerless in nearby Ashland. Camp loves to co-ferment whenever possible in the true Cote Rotie style with a little Viognier to round out the Grenache and Syrah. Troon even makes an Orange wine that is aged in clay amphorae and has a fanatical following. Camp is experimenting with bubbles, too, and has a pet nat and a piquette in the line-up.
“Three years ago I began working with Craig and Troon Vineyard to help them transition the vineyard from a conventional farming model, to a fully certified Organic and Biodynamic farming ecosystem,” says Troon’s biodynamic consultant Andrew Beedy. “I have been inspired by Craig’s distinct and wholehearted passion for the quality of wine that a Biodynamic farming system can produce….Craig’s leadership should not be underestimated.
“The team at Troon vineyard, led by Craig, is a benchmark example of how to build a fully integrated Biodynamic and Organic viticultural ecosystem.”
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