Stories of Passion and Pinot: Ghost Hill Cellars
Wine and mystery go hand in hand, don’t they? How about a little ghost story? Take a sip from your glass, and say it with me: “It was dark and stormy night…” – now take another sip – do you taste the difference between the first one and the second? So here is a little ghost story for you. Legend has it that during the Gold Rush in Oregon (1800s), the miner was on his way to Portland with the load of gold. He decided to set an overnight camp on top of the hill. During the night, someone got into the camp, killed the miner and took his gold. Ever since, the miner (his ghost, of course) is wandering around that hill, looking for his gold; quite appropriately, the hill became known as the Ghost Hill.
In 1906, brothers Daniel and Samuel Bayliss purchased about 230 acres of land around that Ghost Hill, and started their farm. That farm is now staying in the family now for 5 generations, with all the cattle, sheep, hay, wheat and clover growing there. Being in the heart of Willamette Valley, it is hardly possible not to catch the Pinot Noir bug. In 1999, the Bayliss-Bower Vineyard was planted with the Pinot Noir. The Oregon wine pioneer, Ken Wright, once asked Mike Bayliss if he would sell the vineyard and how much he would want for it – as you can guess, the answer was “no”.
I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with Mike Bayliss and Bernadette Bower, his daughter and 4th generation owner of Ghost Hill Cellars, and ask them a few questions – here is what transpired from our conversation:
TaV: Ghost Hill farm is 234 acres, and the Ghost Hill vineyard today is 16 acres – do you have any plans to expand it?
GHC: At the moment, we have no plans to expand, but we are not ruling out expansion. We will have to see what the future holds. We have 90 acres deemed plantable to Pinot Noir.
TaV: How did you come up with the idea of producing Pinot Noir Blanc? Did you see/hear someone else do this (or maybe you even tasted someone else’s wine), or was it a pure moment of bliss?
GHC: Actually, the idea of Pinot Noir Blanc came from our winemaker at the time Rebecca Shouldis. She was talking to a fellow winemaker from France who suggested a Pinot Noir Blanc for our younger plantings of 115. He told us that in France, half of champagne is usually Pinot Noir Blanc, so that would be a good white option for us. We agree, it has been very successful for us.
TaV: You use Pinot Noir to its full capacity, producing white, Rosé and red, all from the same grape. So the only type of wine which is probably missing is sparkling wine, for which Pinot Noir is perfectly suitable. Do you have any aspirations to start producing your own sparkling wine?
GHC: We have discussed it, but we have no plans to start production of a sparkling in the near future. Again, you never know what the future holds!
TaV: Did you ever meet the ghost of the deceased miner, looking for his gold?
GHC: The presence of the miner has been felt many times. Neighbors have seen and felt the presence of the ghost at dusk while riding horses. They will not ride in that area anymore. When the kids were little, Mike used to tease the kids and tell them he could see the ghost on the hill, but that is as close as we have come.
TaV: Do you have any plans to start growing other grapes, such as Chardonnay or Pinot Gris, for example, or do want to stay Pinot Noir all the way at the moment?
GHC: At the moment, we are staying Pinot Noir all the way. We have been considering Chardonnay for future planting, but nothing has been decided.
TaV: Do you have any plans to convert your vineyards to all organic or biodynamic?
GHC: We will not go to all organic or biodynamic. It takes away too many tools to deal with emergency situations in the vineyard, but we are certified sustainable and salmon-safe, and plan to continue those practices, as sustainability is very important to us.
TaV: On your farm, you grow more than just grapes. Is farming for the grapes much different from all other plants?
GHC: Yes and no. Some of the same rules apply to farming other crops, but grapes are incredibly labor intensive, much more so than other crops we have grown. Grapes need your attention all the time.
TaV:Did you ever regret not selling the land to Ken Wright?
GHC: Depends on which day you ask us… But really, no. We want to keep the land in the family. 110 years is a long time, we aren’t ready to give that up. The land holds so many memories for our family, we would feel lost without the farm.
TaV: Your life had been intertwined with the farm pretty much forever. With the grapes or not, but I’m sure you got some interesting stories to tell. Can you share some of your most fun (or most dreadful) moments
GHC: When we were raising beef cattle, the cattle were always getting out and had to be chased. We appreciate that the grapes never escape or have to be chased. Our daughter will tell you her least favorite day was the morning the cattle got out and she was out chasing them in her pajamas when the school bus went by, full of her friends who were laughing at the whole situation. Our vet from the cattle days is writing a book and has promised to devote an entire chapter to The Bayliss Farm.
TaV: You use only the very best of your wine to produce the Prospector’s Reserve. Was there a year when you decided not to produce the Prospector’s Reserve, or do you see such a situation possible?
GHC: For the 2013 vintage, we do not have a Prospector’s Reserve as we did not have enough grapes to make a reserve blend. We will only be releasing 2013 Bayliss-Bower.
TaV: When you are not drinking your own wines, what other wines from what producers and what regions do you like to drink?
GHC: Of course, we drink Hamacher. We are discovering fabulous new Oregon wines all the time, there are so many new producers in the region.
2014 Ghost Hill Cellars Pinot Noir Blanc Bayliss-Bower Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA (13.9% ABV, $25)
C: light copper, reminiscent of Rosé
N: initially intense, yeasty, Granny Smith apples, citrus, then evolving to the notes of honey and then showing hint of gunflint
P: creamy and round, touch of strawberries, minerality, lemon, green apples, good structure, good acidity, medium long finish, with acidity prevalent
V: 8, very enjoyable
Here we go, my friends. I can’t tell you if the ghost of deceased miner is affecting the wines – you can try to find out on your own, by either visiting the Ghost Hill Cellars or, at least, drinking their wines. And, of course, stay tuned, as more of the Passion and Pinot stories are coming out soon. Cheers!
To be continued…
P.S. This post is a part of the “Stories of Passion and Pinot” series <- click the link for more stories.