INTERVIEW with WINE MAKERS Bryan and Shellie Croft

coupleThey are known as Shellie and Bryan Croft, who have a great passion for delicious wine making and healthy, organic living. They live, work and grow their two beautiful children in Oregon, USA. They are keen in motivating others through their own example to grow organic food, raise animals, nurture Mother Earth and to live a healthy, well balanced life. The wine they make comes from the labour of love and pure dedication. Their wine making business is a modest family affair but very much appreciated by their family, friends and locals.

Please introduce me to the way your wine is born from its beginning to the moment you put it into the bottles.

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Our wine is conceived as the leaves unfurl in the spring, then bud break occurs followed by bloom and self pollination. In the same way that we care for our family, we must tend the vines and the soil to ensure all is better than well.
When we have fruit-set in very late spring/summer we concentrate on all things to do with weather, track the vines closely, and add nitrogen to the soil where we can. Through the summer we may pull some leaves from the vines to allow for the sun to ripen more evenly, we may also drop some crop (clusters) to make for more delicious, concentrated flavours in the fruit. We wait for veraison, which is the colour change in the grapes to bless us with first thrill of thoughts of what harvest will bring.
At harvest time we carefully monitor the brix (sugar levels), acid, Ph, flavours, skins and seeds, until we feel the time is perfect to bring in the grapes. We crush and destem (destem means a removal of the stems that hold the clusters of grapes together. We don’t allow these to ferment with the grapes as it adds an extremely bitter quality) the fruit and send it into a tank when we inoculate with yeast and track twice per day as well as perform punch-downs of the cap of skins that forms at the top of the fermentors as the yeast eats the natural sugar in the grapes and releases CO2 and creates alcohol.
When the wine is dry (absent sugar), we press the skins and seeds and we now have our wine, which is transferred into the French oak barrels from our favourite cooper (barrel crafter). Through the winter we will top up the barrels with more wine because the barrels allow for an evaporation of small amounts of the wine and we must be diligent about not allowing oxygen to break down the quality of the beautiful fruit flavours and aromas.
We age the Pinot Noir for anywhere from 18 months to 36 months, depending on our taste and thoughts about the wines development. Prior to bottling, we filter and then into the glass it goes. We will wait for a short period to allow the wine to get over its “bottle shock”, and then we enjoy!
In other words, our wine is born in the vineyard, raised in the cellar, enters into maturity in French oak barrels and ages in the bottle.

wine 3Do you grow your grapes organically?

Yes, and we are certified L.I.V.E. as well, which is Oregon’s “Low Impact Viticulture and Enology” program.

I feel this vineyard is like an extension of your family, your love for goodness of Mother Nature. How does it feel to you?

Shellie: In one simple word…Perfect.

Bryan: It feels the way it is supposed to feel when you’re doing the right things. Our family, lifestyle, choices are all parts of nature, so we must act out of respect and love for the gifts.

Could you share how did your journey began regarding wine making, organic healthy living? Why did you choose such way of life? What purpose does it serve to you?

Shellie: Bryan’s journey began with his grandfather. Bryan’s mother grew up in the winery/vineyard environment with her father and tragically lost her mother to cancer at a very young age. While her father did his best by her, she began to resent the wine industry and ultimately extracted herself as soon as she married Bryan’s father. She never enjoyed or consumed wine, including to this day. Bryan always says the interest in the wine industry skipped a generation. However, Bryan attended college at U C Davis, which is this country’s most renowned university for Enology and Viticulture. He was bitten by the bug. Davis is quite close to Napa and Sonoma wine regions, and he would spend weekends visiting wineries as well as learning more about wines of the world while working through college at a fine dining restaurant.
We have both found it to be true that our interest was sparked and the passion came naturally out of our having been exposed to such great wines. As college students, we did not “Drink” to get drunk. We fell in love with wine and also the marriage of food with it. The communion and great conversations that flow while sipping and enjoying wine are our favourite experiences.
Our paths and hearts converged in Napa Valley where all of our passions were gathered in one place, including how we felt about each other. The thoughts we had about uncompromising quality in everything: Life, wine, food, literature, film, art, architecture, relationships, family and experiences lead us to pursue our dreams in this vein.
We have found through studying and learning every moment of every day, that it is true what Maya Angelou says, “When you know Better, you do Better”, and while pursuit of our dream has not been easy, never have we considered giving up. Living organically is not something new and we didn’t choose to live this way, we simply choose not to buy into the garbage our country has been serving up to its people for the last 30 to 50 years. Our food and wine growing, cooking and animal raising are very close to what our grandparents and great-grandparents did.

wine 2What does it take to become a good wine-maker?

Bryan: I do not know what it takes to become a good winemaker. I aspire to greatness in my craft. This, so far, has required patience, knowledge, a deep understanding of vine and grape, commitment and courage.

Shellie: I add from my perspective of wife and partner that it also requires a kind of passion in this art/science that would have Bryan place being a winemaker above the money he would make off of the product.

Do you have many competitors in wine making business? How do you deal with it?

We feel competition only with ourselves. We push very hard to create a beautiful, clean, delicious wine and we aspire to make excellent wine all of the time while focusing on making it to share with everyone who wishes to enjoy. We wish to price our wine so that we can stay in business and build it, for ourselves and our children.
The world is filled with good and excellent wine, which we enjoy as well. We delight in and celebrate all of our wine country communities and do not buy into the notion of competition.

Bryan, please tell more about the prize you have received recently regarding the wine you produce from your grapes.

The most recent accolade is from The Beverage Testing Institute, and the Pinot Gris received 90 points. Just prior to this, we received 3 gold medals for 3 different varietals from the 2010 Sommeliers Challenge. We also received 7 medals for 7 different wines entered in our Oregon State wine competition. This has been an excellent year for praise of our wines, and I am very happy. I must say that while I enjoy the awards, it’s the pleasure that my wine brings to people’s palates that is most satisfying. I make wine for the people not the critics.

What is the name of the wine your make?

Our label is Southcroft Farms. South because a southern slope is most desirable for planting vines here in Oregon (for sun exposure and water drainage). Also Bryan and I are from California wine country which is south of Oregon. Croft – because it is our family name and the meaning of the word Croft is “a small rural out-cropping of land”.

wine 6From your inspiring pictures I see that you are a great promoter of healthy, organic living. What inspired you to follow this path?

Shellie: When I learned that I was expecting the incredible blessing of our first child, I devoured everything I could get my hands and eyes on about eating perfectly to contribute to my baby’s health in the womb. The more I read and learned, the more I wanted to read and learn. So much resonated with me about eating closer to the earth, it all made complete sense. I made all of my children’s infant food from scratch, and then after my second child was born, put in a large vegetable garden, fruit trees, and started a flock of free ranging chickens for eggs and a turkey for Thanksgiving (my favourite holiday). Living this way feels Amazing and right.

How do your children find living the life that you create?

Shellie: This is their normal. It is still challenging to get them to eat raw fresh vegetables, but I will take the time to steam them, puree them and incorporate veggie goodness into breads, baked goods, and juices. In fact, I just roasted one of our pumpkins, and will be making soup for tonight’s dinner.

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Good wine is always worth attention. I am wondering whether you perform any rituals before beginning the harvest and afterwards? Are there any traditions you follow in particular in regards to successful wine making?

Bryan: We do not perform any rituals before the harvest, but we always try to bring the children to see the parts of the process we believe they would be able to grasp. Also, it is important that they have a chance to see their mommy working in the winery to develop a clearer picture of what she is capable of.
The traditions I follow would be the things I have learned that are tried and true and influence great winemaking. To be very honest, I consider my winemaking style more innovative over traditional. Cleanliness and safety in the cellar are paramount. Care and sanitation of our equipment and barrels is crucial, and there are practices we employ annually prior to harvest, but this is the “unglamorous” part of the business.
We never put our feet or legs into the grapes to crush them, although some wineries here do a small fermentor or more this way. Things that shed off of human bodies is not what I find desirable or delicious.

Where do you distribute your wine?

We do not distribute out of our immediate area at this time, as we do not produce a great deal. We sell out to some very loyal fans, friends and restaurants. It is in our future to grow though, but carefully so as to be able to grow our business safely and guarantee that is stays in our family.

What advice would you give to people who might consider turning to more sufficient living – growing their own vegetables, crops, animals..?

The best advice is first to do loads of research, which is easy these days with the internet. Find local farmers who are committed to this good way of farming and make them your mentors. Allow yourself the pleasure and blessing of using your hands in the soil and on the plants and animals over use of chemicals. Get Dirty! Enjoy nature every day, support farmers markets and above all, live in GRATITUDE for all that the universe offers.

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More information about SouthCroft Farms you may find on Shellie’s Blog .
They can also be found on Facebook under Shellie Croft name, where they eagerly share their life, pictures of delicious homemade foods, healthy organic living, wine making and more.

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One comment on “INTERVIEW with WINE MAKERS Bryan and Shellie Croft

  • Don and Linda Dodson , Direct link to comment

    Never a doubt you two would make it, but most importantly by not giving up your true beliefs.
    Our love and prayers are always with you.
    Don and Linda Dodson

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