Outside the Winery w/ Winemaker, Cheney Vidrine

First things first. Keep your distance, wash your hands, and wear your mask. Please and thanks. That being said, for those who love the outdoors, (like most of us here at UWCo), there are still plenty of ways to get outside and recreate responsibly. Join us as we follow one of our winemakers, Cheney Vidrine, to do just that. We explore the activities that many Oregonians know and love. From going vert at Smith Rock, to cooling off in the rapids of the Deschutes River. Then, letting gravity take us home, mountain biking from Timberline Lodge to Government Camp. Get ready, it’s going to be a wild ride.

6:30 am. Saturday morning. Terrebonne, OR. The parking lot at the trailhead of Smith Rock State Park looks something like an REI yard sale. Climbers slowly unloading all kinds of devices for ascending the 30 million-year-old volcanic Tuff formations. Counting each glimmering piece of gear with precise selection. Through the morning light, a familiar face (after he removes his mask) makes an appearance. Our very own Cheney Vidrine. As he makes his way past the cars greeting folks left and right, I wave a hand. We exchange greetings and go over the plan for the next few days. Listing off activities such as river rafting and downhill mountain biking as calmly as someone would explain a walk through a park. It is obvious Cheney is in his element.

Back home, Cheney is one of our talented winemakers overseeing the daily ins and outs that are required to create our delicious wines. Here in the central Oregon outback, Cheney is one of the many outdoor enthusiasts. What better place to take all that enthusiasm than to the birthplace of U.S. sport climbing, Smith Rock? We walked down the trail and crossed over the Crooked River Bridge. Just a hop, skip, and a jump, and we were at our first stop; The Morning Glory Wall. As I watched with a confused look on my face at the knot tying and climbing doodad organizing, I asked Cheney how he got into climbing. He said “Climbing was 2007. I was trying to get into whitewater rafting, but couldn’t afford it. My grad school roommate took me climbing. I was hooked. It was my only sport for a decade.”

As I watched Cheney and his rock scaling comrades go up and down the old lava wall, I was mesmerized. It was a beautiful way to start the morning. As the sun snuck over the edge of the peaks, the temperatures slowly but surely began to creep up. Luckily, we had a few (low alcohol) Riesling Radler’s and Strawberry Coolers to bring the internal temps down. The temps climbed higher and faster than anyone rigged up, so we decided it was time to pack up and head to the water.

An hour and 20-minute drive took us to the town of Maupin, Oregon. It was time to inflate the rafts, dish out the life vests, and sink the drag bag (the best way to keep those wine cans cold). We met up with some more of Cheney’s outdoor rec squad. After introductions were made and vessels were chosen, we launched. The cold Deschutes waters have never felt better than on this hot July day. After making sure my life jacket would probably keep me afloat, I figured it was time to ask Raft Captain Cheney some more adventure life questions. “So, when did you get this raft?” I asked, as I dangled one leg over the side and attempted my smoothest paddle. Cheney looked up, smiled, and said “I started rafting/whitewater kayaking in 2018. That’s when I essentially won the lottery: The Grand Canyon permit lottery.” For those that are unfamiliar, this is an incredibly lucky permit to draw. Cheney definitely has some good sportsman’s karma. With an even bigger smile and chuckle, he continues. “I didn’t think I would pick up a permit for years. I immediately bought a boat and forced my river friends to show me their ways.” We continued down the winding river with the sun to our backs and Cheney having us paddle “right side forward” or “left side back.” Everything was warm, calm, and serene. That all quickly changed once we hit some large rapids and a few folks, (including myself), went flying out of the raft. Laughing and swimming back to the yellow point of safety, we continued on our way. I looked back at the end of the boat just in time to catch a can of wine tossed over from our fearless captain. Not a bad way to cool down. After some hours of floating, paddling, bailing, and boat trading, we made it to the end of our river trip. We aired down the rafts and piled into Cheney and his girlfriend’s Anaïs’ Sprinter to take us back to our vehicles. It was time to make camp, and more importantly, make dinner.

Day two. After a beautiful night spent under the Milky Way with Cheney and Co., we packed the rigs to head to our third adventure. Mountain biking down Mt. Hood. We took the back road through Tygh Valley and headed to Timberline Lodge. Once there, we found some parking for all the adventure mobiles. Cheney and Anaïs have a sprinter that they travel to all their adventures in, but it’s more like an REI on wheels. Complete with a kitchen, sink, and mini garage under the sleeping quarters. While assembling his mountain bike and dawning more protection gear than I saw in the last Batman flick, I hovered nearby. My curiosity must have been written on my face. Cheney leans over and says “Mountain Biking started in 2017. After years of many of my friends nagging me to buy a bike. I fought it because I didn’t want to climb less or hurt myself. I’m glad I finally gave in. It is the best!” It was time get off this mountain. Sophie, their trusty dog, joined in for the mountain run. We raced down the road to meet up with the two-wheeled human batteries at the halfway point. There were a few fun jumps that were hit with significant speed. There’s a saying in the mountain biking community; “the slower you go, the more likely it is you’ll crash.” Apparently, that is the truth because they were flying.

After all that adventure, the squad met up at the Government Camp Dairy Queen for some cold treats. It was a weekend for the books to say the least. Gravity was tested in a number of different forms. We flowed with and fell into some of the most beautiful waters the state has to offer. Whether you’re cracking cans under the Milky Way or sipping cold wine coolers from a raft, Oregon is one hell of a state. Remember to stay safe out there. Abide by the rules and respect your fellow humans. We’re all in this together. Let’s try to see as much beauty as we can. Until next time.

#pinkiesdown

Photo credit: Austin White @austingwhite  austinwhitephotography.com

A Perfect Summer Cocktail: The Fruity Sparkling Frozé

Well, It took long enough, but it seems that Portland has finally hit its full summertime stride. With temperatures topping off in the 90s for days, we thought it would be the perfect time to introduce you to a simple and delicious frozen cocktail that is not only a cinch to make but employs two fruits that are currently in season right now, peaches and watermelon. 

Fruity Frozé

By combining the sweetness of local peaches and watermelon with our Underwood Rosé Bubbles, you get a refreshing cocktail with a perfect balance of flavors. Add in some ice and just a little vodka and you have a slushy, fruity, bubbly glass of refreshment! Let us introduce you to:
 
The Fruity Frozé
5 oz Underwood Rosé Bubbles
2 oz Vodka (we recommend Tito’s Handmade Vodka)
1 C fresh seedless watermelon
1 Large Peach (pit removed)
1 1/2 C Ice
 
2 more oz of Rosé Bubbles to add to the finished cocktail
 
Fruity Frozé Ingredients
The first step is to set up your blender and chill two glasses. Next, you want to split your peach, remove the pit and chop it into smaller chunks. Then cut and peel your watermelon, measuring out 1 C of fruit.  If you happen to get one of those pesky “seedless” watermelons that still have seeds, remove them before proceeding. Put the fruit into your blender.
 
Fruity Frozé Ingredients
Next, measure your Rosé Bubbles and Vodka and add it to the blender. Feed free to use the vodka you may have at home, but we recommend our good friends from Austin Texas, Tito’s. If you’ve never tried their vodka, its pretty great and goes well in any cocktail. Add the liquid as well as the ice to the blender.
 
Underwood Rosé Bubbles
Blend on a medium to high setting until all the ice is crushed and blended well with the fruit.
 
Fruity Frozé
Carefully pour the Frozé into two glasses, leaving a little room. Top off each drink with an ounce of the Rosé Bubbles for an added effervescence that will last for the whole cocktail. Just make sure to drink it before it melts!
 
Fruity Frozé
We hope you and your loved ones enjoy this cocktail as much as we do. From everyone here at the Union family, we hope you are staying cool on these hot days and still staying safe when entertaining. 
 
Please remember to social distance when being social and keep those #pinkiesdown. Happy Summer!
 
 
*********
 
Photography, Text, and Cocktail by David L. Reamer. (@dlreamer)

Safety and Self Expression: Making your very own Mask

 Joanna
Here at Union the safety and security of our employees is our utmost concern. Although our production facility is operating more or less uninterrupted to make sure everyone out there has access to our wines, there are real and dedicated people showing up and working every day making that happen. We have to make sure these fine and friendly folks overseeing the process stay safe and remain healthy.
 
As COVID safety becomes an excepted part of our daily lives, people have begun to use the necessity of wearing a mask as a personal expression of their style and interests. We support that 100%, which is why when our Enologist (don’t worry, an explanation will be provided forthwith) came to us and said she was making stylish and comfortable homemade masks, we asked if she wouldn’t mind sewing a few for her fellow employees who might need a little joie de vivre in their facial covering.  
 
She was more than happy to contribute.
 
Joanna
Please meet our Enologist (and mask maker,) Joanna Engel. For the uninitiated, an enologist is basically a wine scientist. Most of her days are spent testing the acidity, sulfur, sugar levels, and overall taste of each wine throughout the fermentation process. Joanna first worked with Union as an intern back in 2018 but has traveled the world from California to New Zealand working wine harvests. Since then, she has happily settled in Oregon and taken up a full-time position at Union, not only as the Enologist but as their Safety Supervisor as well, which in these trying times really requires some forethought and strategy. Currently, Joanna is working on how to safely execute Union’s grape harvest, which is coming up very soon.
 
On top of all this responsibility, she somehow found the time to sew about 40 new masks for her fellow employees!
 
So, without further ado, let’s talk about… 
 
Mask Pattern
 You can find the full pattern for free HERE. Joanna is a self-taught seamstress and she found this pattern when searching around the internet. The reason she liked it was because unlike the cloth masks that cover your entire lower face, these are sculpted to just cover the necessary parts, while still providing full protection. Joanna advises that if you get to a point in the pattern that is causing confusion, just look it up on YouTube, where there are hundreds of helpful videos.
 
The other great aspect of this pattern is an inside pocket to add an extra filter if you feel you need it. Just google ‘Carbon Mask Filter’ to find many options. Once you have sewn the mask, Joanna recommends a simple standard elastic, secured with crimping beads. She leaves the elastic a little long and the beads uncrimped, allowing the wearer to custom fit the length of the elastic to their face and then crimp the beads themselves.
 
Crimp the beads
Now that you’ve got the skinny on how you can do this yourself, let’s take a quick look at the Union packaging facility, and all of these beautiful masks not only in use but modeled expertly by our staff.
 
First up, Alexandra Scharpnick. Her official title is Customer Experience and Hospitality Specialist. Since there hasn’t been as much socializing lately, Alexandra has stepped up to the role of overseeing shipping. She’s also the unofficial “mama bear” of the packaging facility, making sure everyone is safe and has snacks to keep up their energy.
 
Alexandra
Alexandra
Next up is Meredith McGough, head Production Winemaker. Meredith oversees the packaging facility and keeps all the many moving parts running smoothly.
 
Meredith
Meredith
Chris Miller oversees all the maintenance at the packaging facility. He wears many hats, and now he’s got a double scoop mask to match.
 
Chris
Chris
And finally, we have our Warehouse Support Specialist, Jenna Morris. A more recent hire, Jenna has quickly ingratiated herself as a full-fledged member of the Union family.
 
Jenna
Jenna
So in conclusion, we just want to say thanks again to Joanna:  Enologist, Safety Specialist, and mask-maker extraordinaire. She truly represents the heart and soul of the Union Family…and we’re definitely not kitten around.
 
Joanna
Photography and Text by David L. Reamer. (@dlreamer)
 
Masks by Joanna Engel.  @jo_will_run_for_wine

A Van Build-Out with Brooke Weeber

Brooke Weeber Van Build

In January of 2020, I embarked on a project bigger than anything I could’ve imagined; a van build-out. And, as I started to design the layout of my new 2019 Ford Transit van and glanced at the ever-growing to-do list, I realized what a mammoth of a project this was. I might’ve bitten off more than I could chew.

You see, in my life up until that point, I’d largely avoided building projects. Table saws and drill bits just weren’t a part of my vocabulary. Even when I owned a house for 5 years in a SE Portland neighborhood, I delegated responsibilities and shied away from trying complicated things myself. My initial instinct was to hire experts who could get the job done correctly and efficiently, having little faith in myself to do so. However, once I realized how much experts charge for a van build-out, I had to change my tune. I discovered that my only logical option was to buckle down and attempt the job myself.

Brooke Weeber Van Build

Brooke Weeber Van Build

So, I downloaded ebooks, perused blogs, watched youtube tutorials, and talked to friends with experience. I jotted down notes, made lists, and started gathering supplies. After weeks of heavy research, I started in on the most logical first step, the flooring, aka the easiest part of a van build. But easy doesn’t mean free from mistakes. I learned very early on in this process that I would make one blunder after another, but that I couldn’t let them deter me from pressing forward. So when I realized I had unknowingly installed the cedar ceiling incorrectly, causing it to split and break, I tried my best to take it in stride, knowing full well that I would need to rip it out and replace the cedar planks with something more durable.

I’m not trying to insinuate that I breezed through the van build process with confidence and determination. I had many tearful moments curled up alone inside the echoey chamber of the unfinished van. I desperately sought out information online to solve, what seemed like, the countless issues I was running into. I made phone calls, sent emails, and met up with folks to solve problems that were blocking my progress. I got extremely frustrated and overwhelmed by wiring diagrams and electrical instructions laid out before me in a language my brain wasn’t built to understand. I lumbered through this process feeling like a toddler just learning to walk, gazing around for affirmations to build confidence and keep me motivated. But, at every turn there was a new skill to learn, whether it was hooking up a plumbing system, wiring light dimmers, cutting giant holes in the van for a fan and a window, or connecting my auxiliary batteries to the alternator so they would charge while I drive. It was a heap of new information and I was overloaded with decision fatigue.

Brooke Weeber Van Build

Brooke Weeber Van Build

Author and public speaker, Brené Brown, describes these kinds of experiences as FFTs (effing first times). She continues by saying “When we have no relevant experience or expertise, the vulnerability, uncertainty, and fear of these firsts can be overwhelming. Yet, showing up and pushing ourselves past the awkward, learner stage is how we get braver.” Not only does it make us braver, but each mountain successfully climbed undeniably builds up confidence and strength that we may not have previously possessed. Going into this van build was a real experiment in self-actualization. What I believed I wasn’t skilled enough to do at the beginning of the build was something that I miraculously achieved with grit, determination, and the help and guidance of others.

Brooke Weeber Van Build

Underwood Wine Van Build

Brooke Weeber Van Build

I truly couldn’t have completed this project without my father’s assistance building the bed and cabinetry. His years of woodworking experience were imperative in the completion of my van build and he was the perfect person to bounce all my build ideas off of. Without him, the countless van builders who had showered the internet with helpful tips, and the support and cheerleading of my community, I’m not sure I could have made it through this behemoth. I owe so much to every single person who believed in me. And even though they can’t all take a ride with me in my new home on wheels, they will always be there with me in spirit.

Brooke Weeber Van Build

Resources:

Far Our Ride
Gnomad Home
Explorist Life

Words and Photography by Brooke Weeber.

Our Winemaker at Home: JP Caldcleugh

Our Winemaker at home

For the uninitiated, JP Caldcleugh is the Director of Winemaking here at Union. What that means, basically, is that although it is a huge team effort preparing, perfecting and producing our wines, if you have recently enjoyed a can or bottle of Union, you at least in some way have JP to thank for it.

JP is the best sort of amalgam, making him a perfect fit for the Union family: a totally laid back dude (he was born and raised in New Orleans so that kind of comes with the territory) while imbued with just enough wine-geekiness to make sure he takes his job and responsibilities extremely seriously so as to create the product that we have all come to love over the past few years.

Having honed his skills working with winemakers in California, Australia and New Zealand, we were lucky enough to join JP at the top of his game. Aside from the impressive bio, we wanted to share the real JP—the man behind the man, if you will, and of course that story wouldn’t be complete without including the woman behind the man as well: his wife and traveling companion, Mandy. The two originally met at LSU (Mandy being a native of the Lafayette area) and have been together ever since. Mandy is not personally involved in the winemaking process, but she does spend several days a week out at the Amity Vineyards, cultivating an amazingly verdant and diverse garden of flowers, fruits, vegetables, and herbs, which she shares with all the Union employees.

Amity Vineyards

Amity Vineyards

For our interview, we asked JP to make a traditional dish, so he chose a chicken and andouille gumbo. We will get to that all in good time, but first, we wanted to learn a little more about JP’s interests when he isn’t busy at the winery. JP, like most people, is working a little less these days (though not very much less) so he has had a little more time to devote to his personal interests.

Our Winemaker at Home

So JP, what are you listening to these days?

JP: We’ve always got something going on the turntable when we are at home. These days we have been listening to The Comet is Coming, Quantic, J.J. Cale, and of course Miles Davis. Always Miles Davis.

How about Podcasts. Any standouts?

JP: Well, this one is an old tried and true podcast, but for us, you can never go wrong with Josh and Chuck from Stuff You Should Know. One of the most recent episodes, all about hummingbirds, was pretty great. (You can check that out right here.)

Our Winemaker at Home

I couldn’t help notice the guitar in the corner, a classical strung with steel strings…very bold. Learning any new songs presently?

JP: Actually, I have been working on Queen Bee by Taj Mahal.

Our winemaker at home

How ’bout literature? Reading any good books?

JP: I am currently reading Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker and also very slowly making my way through The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carré.

Sounds like you have many irons in many fires. Gotta say that’s not surprising at all. But now I think it’s time we got to that Gumbo. Wanna give us a general ingredient list and then a simple How To?

Our winemaker at home

JP: Absolutely. There are lots of substitutions that can take place in a dish like this but here is how I prefer it:

JP’s Chicken & Andouille Gumbo

2 lbs bone-in chicken thighs
1 lb smoked andouille or other cajun sausage
3 stalks celery, diced
1 white onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
7 C chicken broth
1 1/2 C white rice
1 C butter or other high heat fat (such as avocado oil)
1 C all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Cayenne
Garlic Powder
3 stalks green onion, diced, for garnish

*Cook rice and set aside
*Heavily sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, cayenne, and garlic powder. Sear on both sides and continue to turn in the pan on medium heat until chicken is cooked through. Set aside until ready to shred.

Our winemaker at home

*Remove the chicken and heat the remaining butter in the same cast iron until just bubbling. Add the flour, lower the heat, and stir continuously, whisking until the roux becomes a deep chocolatey brown.

Our winemaker at home

Our winemaker at home

*Add the diced vegetables and cook until just softened, about 5 minutes.

Our winemaker at home

*Meanwhile, bring your stock to a boil. Slowly add the roux/vegetable mix and simmer for 45 minutes.

Our winemaker at home

*De-bone and shred the chicken. Add chicken meat and sausage to the gumbo. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
*Put a heaping pile of rice in a shallow bowl, ladle gumbo over the rice and garnish with the green onions.
*Enjoy with a Riesling or White Burgundy.

Our winemaker at home

Speaking of wine pairings, I feel we would be remiss if we didn’t talk about what you like to drink on your evenings off.

JP: I obviously drink and enjoy all sorts of different wines, but the bottle we are having tonight is one of my favorite styles. I absolutely love the chardonnay grapes grown in Burgundy. For my money, it’s the best Chardonnay in the world. How do I put this…there is just a tension of flavor that you don’t get anywhere else. Today we are drinking this specific Puligny-Montrachet. It’s definitely one of my favorites.

Our winemaker at home

Well, speaking for JP, Mandy, and the whole Union Family, we hope you are staying safe out there, practicing your social distancing, and washing those hands!

Our winemaker at home

’Til next time, stay safe, Bon Appétit and keep those #pinkiesdown.

Photography & Text by David L. Reamer. (@dlreamer)
Recipe by JP Caldcleugh (@jcaldc1)