Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to visit Keeler Estate Vineyard, in the Eola-Amity Hills sub AVA of the Willamette Valley. Upon my arrival I was greeted by gracious hostess and owner Gabriele Keeler riding an ATV, with a heavy accent and broad smile, directed me to park in the back, the heart of the estate. She and husband Craig bought their 200 acre property back in 1990 and told me the entire place had been abandoned and was covered in blackberries. They moved here from Sherwood and lived for a time in a camp trailer with two kids and two great dane dogs. Over the past two decades, they have worked wonders on the entire estate.
From the beginning, Craig and Gabriele knew they wanted to keep pesticides and other harmful chemicals off the estate. Their goal was to develop a holistic environment that would attract insects, owls and raptors, all the better to grow grapes using organic, Demeter biodynamic, LIVE certified and Salmon Safe practices. They’re satisfied that being good stewards of their land will preserve it for future generations.
People scoffed when they chose to plant vines along the lower elevations of the land but the Keelers’ persistence has paid off, a block of Pinot noir clone 115 has not only thrived but now produces some of the best fruit in the vineyard.
Scattered around the property are a total of 30 acres of grapevines, in uniform blocks made up of Chardonnay, Pinot gris, Pinot noir and a small planting of Riesling, a tribute to Gabriele’s German heritage.
Near the highest point of the property lays an inviting observation deck scattered with colorful adirondack chairs made by Craig that overlooks a new block of grapevines with views to the coastal range.
On our way up there, we pass several vegetable and herb gardens (because you can never have too many fresh veggies) as we bump along on kubota tractors with the Keelers’ two dogs barking and nipping at the tires.
Back down near the lowest corner of the estate, past a long stretch of sunflowers, visitors may get to see the pride and joy of the Keelers, the gigantic compost pile. Everything from the estate that is compostable finds its way here and by the time the pile is finished with it, the rich compost material is filled with life (and worms), ready to enrich the grapevines, vegetable gardens and plants throughout the property.
Exploring the rest of the estate, a nearby trellis of table grapes creates a secret garden of sorts, luring the curious to duck under its full canopy. An exotic dinosaur plant adds to the unusual atmosphere found throughout the Keeler Estate.
Back to the wine grapes, the Keelers utilize a unique trellising system developed by Scott Henry, that trains the vines to grow in a lower and upper row. It’s not one commonly found in vineyards but Gabriele and Craig believe it helps to produce an excellent product, one they are proud to use in their wines and sell to their single winery customer.
Pinot gris and Chardonnay grapes, farmed with care, using organic standards, results in wine in which you can taste the love!
Pinot gris (made two ways), Chardonnay and Pinot noir are all extremely food friendly and easy to pair with all types of dishes and palates. Gabriele Keeler is a big fan of the 2011 vintage, describing one of the whites as “dancing” on her tongue. I couldn’t agree more!
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Keeler Estate Vineyard grapes as harvest approaches