558 N. Main St., Prineville, OR 97754 | (541) 447-6205
From vine to fine wine
Prineville vineyard owner Robert Sowers wins his first award for his homemade wine, ‘Something White’
Robert Sowers stands with the equipment that he uses to make his award-winning wine.
November 05, 2012
Three years ago, the Central Oregonian published an article about a Prineville man who was raising a vineyard for the purpose of making his own wine.
The story has now come full circle and Robert Sowers has now realized that dream, complete with a second place award for his “Something White” wine.
“It was a small competition. It was for amateur wine makers at Faith, Hope, and Charity Vineyards. I tried my best to complete a wine, so I could have one to take over there. We finished it basically on the eleventh hour the night before of getting it bottled and labeled, and presentable,” Sowers said with a chuckle.
He didn’t really know what to expect and certainly didn’t expect to take home an award.
“I was just hoping someone would like it. To me it’s about the first wine I’ve made that is actually palatable.” His college-age daughter, Ashley, nodded her agreement with that statement.
According to Sowers there were nine people entered in the competition with 12 wines total — five whites and seven reds. He entered two white wines. One was unmodified and the other was amended just to give it a little more aroma and flavor.
“They lined up all the bottles and there were three judges and their scorecards. For some reason they put all the wines together. They didn’t separate the whites from the reds, but judged them as a whole to see who made a good wine. They judged people’s wine-making skills as well as just the wines themselves,” he explained.
After the judges took their samples, guests were also allowed to try a little out of each bottle. One of those guests told Sowers that his was her favorite.
“I was competing against several vinifera varietals, Seras, Cabernéts, and Malbecs.
Sowers was the only estate wine in the competition. He explained that estate wines are made from grapes raised by the winemaker. The other wines were made from either grapes or juice purchased somewhere other than Central Oregon, or was a kit wine which only requires yeast to be added.
One of the kit wines won third place.
“I raised the grapes here, and processed it myself, and made it into wine,” Sowers said.
He eagerly watched the judges for their decisions.
“At first they went right for one of the reds, vinifera varietals. I think it was a cabernet and awarded it first prize. Then, when they said there was only one white that won an award and it got second place and it was mine, I was surprised,” he said.
Sowers is a member of the Winegrowers Association of Central Oregon (WACO). He credits this organization for a lot of what he has learned about growing grapes and making wine.
Kerry Damon of Ranch at the Canyons in Terrebonne is the president of WACO and sometimes puts on classes that have been very relevant to Sowers learning process.
“For the most part, we’re all learning together, even Kerry with 20 years of prior experience in California vineyards,” he said.
Central Oregon has not been known for its wine making, because there are so many challenges, especially with freezing temperatures and short growing season.
Because of these challenges, Sowers is careful about his choices of grapes. His winning wine was made from an American Hybrid grape, because he said they have the hardiness to withstand the winters and also withstand a lot of the inherent diseases that are in the United States.
“As far as I know everything in my vineyard is clean. I haven’t seen any signs or symptoms of disease,” he said.
“This year was a horrible year for even our hybrids. We had frost at the crucial time of bud swell and bud break — warm days, cold nights,” said Sowers.
He explained that the temperature dropped to 20 degrees and frosted his primary buds. When the temperature drops that low, frost protection, which is irrigation or sprinkler system, doesn’t really offer the needed protection.
“Ice will form on the canes or the leaves. As long as the ice is kept wet, there’s enough latent energy that creates a barrier on the inside of the ice and the outside of the ice that keeps it above freezing. As long as that ice doesn’t dry or solidify it will protect that plant,” he explained
Because of Central Oregon’s typical cold nights, they sometimes have to apply protection in the spring to protect buds and leaves and also in the fall to protect maturing grapes.
Sowers, like most growers in Central Oregon, is still learning.
Mylen Bohle with the Oregon State University Extension Service, who attends all the association’s meetings, has been responsible for a good deal of help with education for the group.
“He’s been very helpful in supporting our organization and has lined up several people from Oregon State (University) to help the association out. They had Patty Skinkus come in. She’s an Oregon State viticulturist. She came in and gave a couple of lectures the last few years,” he said.
Sowers hopes to take some online classes with Southern Oregon State University, as well.
Along with more education, he has some other goals set for himself this upcoming grape-growing season.
“I have a couple (three to be exact) of goals this spring. One is to get my frost protection up first and get the final top wire installed, because the rest of my plants should be mature this year. Then, netting. I lost all my reds to birds in less than 24 hours. I was a day late and a dollar short on my reds this year.”
Although Sowers is not permitted to sell his wine to the public, he, his family, and friends enjoy the fruit of his efforts.
For more information on WACO go to www.centraloregonwine.com.