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Thoughtful agriculture reigns supreme at Upper Five Vineyard in Talent, Oregon

Terry Sullivan and his partner Molly morison own a 3.5 acre vineyard in Talent, Oregon. Their plot of land at 1,920 feet above sea level in America’s Rogue Valley wine region is southern Oregon’s first certified organic vineyard. In 2018, they obtained biodynamic certification from Demeter USA. Their elegant and sober wines are produced by Jean Grochau in his cellar in Amity, Oregon.

Upper Five is best known for: Agricultural practices that include minimal or no irrigation and refusal to destroy beneficial organisms by plowing vineyard soil. “It’s like a Hippocratic oath for the land. Organic farming is “do no harm first”. Biodynamic farming is about “doing good then,” Sullivan said.

Innovation: Deployment of a beneficial insect to prevent leaf roll disease from entering its vineyard. Grape leaf roll disease can reduce crop yields by up to 20%, and its occurrence in southern Oregon is a significant problem.

When Sullivan learned that mealybugs were the vector of the disease, he looked for a natural solution to control them. “Most vineyards will spray insecticides, which I won’t and cannot do. Then I found out that farmers in California were having great success with a predatory ladybug known as the mealybug killer, ”Sullivan said.

Even though Sullivan stopped adding mealybug destroyers to his vineyard three years ago, they are still doing their job. The Upper Five Vineyard stays free from mealybugs and curls.

Current version “to try”: Grenache 2020 Upper Five Vineyard ($ 28). I’ve always loved the taste of Grenache from Upper Five, closer to southern France than southern Oregon. Sullivan is particularly excited about this upcoming release as it is made in giant clay pots. “I think the Grenache made in the amphora will become our flagship wine,” said Sullivan.

Biggest failure or success: Sullivan is proud to have significantly reduced the use of fungicides such as elemental sulfur or knotweed extract for late blight control. “Most people here spray six times a year, and this year I sprayed twice,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan attributes the reduction to a lot of hard work of canopy management in the vineyard.

Last book read: “The Critic” by Peter May. “It’s not nerdy, but it’s a fun read about a murder in a vineyard that’s trying to go organic,” Sullivan said.

History: Sullivan, an oceanographer, and Morison, a botanist, began their wine journey by purchasing the top five acres of the historic Bagley pear orchard in Talent, Ore., In 1999. They planted vines of tempranillo, sauvignon blanc and of syrah in 2003. In 2006 they added grenache.

During the first years, they sold their fruit to Caves Grochau. In 2010, they released a tempranillo as their first wine under their own label.

What we don’t know: Sullivan once located a sunken ship laden with gold. He was hired by a couple of treasure hunters he calls “pirates” to track down the SS Islander, which sank in 1900 in 365 feet of water off the coast of Alaska. The steamship is said to have carried 30,000 pounds of gold at the time. “After I found it, they offered me one percent of the treasure or my usual fee of $ 800 a day,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan bore the brunt, which turned out to be a smart move. The treasure hunters have been tied up for years in a maritime court, fighting another company for rights to the wreck. The rival company eventually sold for $ 4 million in gold in 2012. “I hardly got rich off oceanography,” Sullivan said.

The biggest inspiration: Doug Tunnell, the owner / winemaker of Brick house vineyards in Newberg. “We discovered his biodynamic wines at the start of our trip and they inspired us. They are on a different level, ”Sullivan said.

Official currency of the cellar: “Prettier than powerful.” Sullivan assures me that the motto refers to wines.

Or buy: Even though Upper Five’s production is only 700 cases per year, you can find them in several locations around Ashland and Portland. The estate also offers the sale of bottles and the “U5” wine club via their website.

the Ashland Food Cooperative offers a wide selection of Upper Five wines in Ashland, while Have fun and Larks serve them by the glass in their restaurants.

Many Portland retail bottle stores carry Upper Five wines, including Blackbird, Flying Fish Co. and Cellar 503. For dining experiences with Upper Five in the wine country of northern Oregon, head to Newberg to eat at Ruddick / Wood, Social goods and the Newburg bistro.

Outside of Oregon, the only Upper Five location is Natural foods from the good land in Fairfax and Mill Valley, California. or 541-285-8359.

– Michael Alberty writes on wine for The Oregonian / OregonLive. He can be contacted at To learn more about its coverage, visit