Oregon natural winemaker, Kelley Fox, is one of the pioneers in the Dundee Hills for creating soulful low intervention organically farmed expressions of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, particularly from the renowned Maresh Farms.
Her spirit is the very antithesis to winemaking for the social media age. We ruminate for a while over the importance of audience—and the necessity (or lack of) for identifying who one is producing wine for. But that’s not why Kelley is a winemaker. She is not here to define her wines in the cellar or, in the same vein, single out who it is she is making wines for. Rather, Kelley is the steward of the vines she rents and farms near her home, and the person who turns their fruit into wine. And as she tells us, earnestly; “someone asked me recently if I call myself a natural wine producer, and truthfully, the answer is that I don’t have a title. My wines are made for anyone in a body; if it’s delicious to them, and alleviates even the smallest bit of human condition.”
It’s not about owning land, or achieving status or winning hearts; Kelley’s place as a winemaker is to bring to life the ‘message or song’ of a place.
People: Kelley Fox
Place: Dundee Hills AVA, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Oregon Coast Range and McMinnville AVA, Oregon
Varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Chardonnay
Vineyards: Maresh Vineyard, Durant Vineyard, Carter Vineyard, Freedom Hill Vineyard, Hyland Vineyard, Weber Vineyard
Farming: Organic & Biodynamic
Did You Know? Although she doesn't own land, Kelley rents give vineyards. The majority of her fruit comes from the Maresh vineyard in Dundee Hills (planted in 1970 and run by the Maresh family—good friends of hers), and the Weber Vineyard, also in Dundee Hills and planted in 1978. It is a magical, wild place. She explains,
“It’s mostly volcanic soils, silt clay. Maresh vineyard is truly a farm; it wasn’t planted to be a vineyard as a monoculture where, you know, Oregon White Oak trees were stripped and all the trees were cleared and you just see rows and rows of vines. No, you see a pruned farm and it still has stands of walnut trees, some 100 years old. And cherry trees—heirloom cherries—and open land and forest that is not farmed at all; a place for the bees.”
“Since 2008, I’ve been doing biodynamic sprays and a lot of hand work in the canopy, like shoot thinning and sometimes leaf removal, and selecting every cluster that I want picked.”
We talk a little about biodynamics – the principles and reasons for working this way. Kelley is quick to point out that she can’t really refer to her wines as biodynamic,, because she doesn’t work with a certified biodynamic vineyard (in the US, Demeter has trademarked the word ‘biodynamic’). But it doesn’t matter, and it certainly doesn’t hinder her desire to work in this way.
“Like so many things, in so many people's lives, these are things that I have been interested in since I was a child. And now it has all converged into one.”
And what led her to it?
“Like I said, I’ve been studying the stars, and rocks, and archetypes and Eastern thought—old ways and the timing and nature and all these things—quite a bit before I was introduced to the term biodynamics by Rudolf Steiner.”
Like many, her first introduction to Steiner was Education Before Freedom – a book she read whilst raising her daughters.
“I guess my moment where I thought: ‘okay, this is something very special’ was with a friend of mine who was doing a tasting, and I thought it was for a blend, I thought it was the same wine and we were just trying variants of it so we could decide on a final blend.”
But rather than a tasting for a blend, it was a tasting of some biodynamic wines.
“One of the wines just had—it felt like electricity went through my nervous system, my hair went up.”
She lights up at the thought of it. We can almost taste it.
“Back then, it was about big wines and no one was talking about wines like this. But in my notes I wrote: ‘this wine is utterly alive!’ and from that point I never turned back; I looked at things differently, and that’s always changing too.”