Life has a funny way of coming full circle. The ebbs and flows of life and where it takes you can be the most wonderful of surprises. Here is my story and the story of how I came to work at Domaine Pouillon, the family winery you all know and love.
My name is Sierra; I grew up in White Salmon, WA, after spending the first 5 years of my life living in various other states. White Salmon, which is in the Columbia River Gorge (same as Domaine Pouillon), drew my family in because that’s where our family was from, at least my dad’s side of the family. The Larsen family settled in White Salmon in the 1890s after immigrating from Norway, upon receiving land from the Homestead Act. The act required that recipients had to “improve” the plot by building a dwelling and cultivating the land. As time progressed and after they completed the large barn structure, they set off to complete their 4-story farmhouse and begin their long lives on the land that was theirs.
For generations, my family has lived in this home, passed down from son to son in the 1900s. I was lucky enough to live there many years myself with my parents and brother when I was a kid. I feel so lucky that back before the internet and cells phones took over, I had a childhood filled with outdoor exploration, riding bikes up and down the long private drive, making leaf forts in the fall, sledding down the hills in the winter, and climbing the cherry trees in the summer in search of a delicious, dark cherry. Overall, “The Farm” as we call it, became known as a cherry orchard, which my grandfather Don ‘Donny Guy’ Larsen ran for many years.
Around the year 2000, my family tore out a lot of the cherry trees that had been there for decades and started to incorporate grapes into the land. They ended up calling it Jewett Creek Vineyard; named for the creek that runs through the property. Even though I moved away for high school, and eventually on to college, and so on, The Farm was and always has been home. I have many fond memories of spending holidays up there, staring out at the beautiful view of Mt. Hood and watching the vines and cherry trees change color during the various seasons.
I met Alexis and Juliet probably around 2010, somewhere in there. At this point, the two of them had started a business relationship with my grandpa Don and my aunt and uncle, who now own and reside at the property. Domaine Pouillon gets their Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris grapes from Larsen Vineyards, as it's now called, as well as Gewurztraminer once upon a time. I remember the first time I drank wine that was produced with my family’s grapes; I was right around the age where I was legal to drink and was also getting excited about the idea of becoming a “wino.” I felt so proud and thrilled to taste something that was grown on the very same property that I grew up on, in a place where my great-great-grandfather had come to and started a family.
One particularly fond memory I have was when I was living in Seattle in 2013 and working at a local grocery store called The Ballard Market. I had just found out that our store started to carry Domaine Pouillon’s Gewurztraminer, which was made with 100% of my family’s grapes. I ran over to the wine department, found the bottle, brought it up to the floral department where I was working, and started snapping pictures. I left a bottle up there as a selling tool as well. I’d say, “If you like wine, I highly recommend this bottle. It comes from this great family-owned winery near where I grew up and the grapes actually come from my family’s vineyard.” I was beaming because even though I knew I had nothing to do with the winemaking or growing process, I was still so proud to show off my family’s stuff, and Alexis & Juliet’s wines.
That was a day not too long before my departure from Seattle and The Ballard Market. In October 2013, I took off on a three-month solo trip to Europe, which was the adventure of a lifetime. A highlight of that trip was sipping wine in the various cities I visited, like Paris and Madrid, but especially all-around Italy. I lost my cell phone halfway through the trip, which I was devastated by at the time, but in the years since I have always been grateful for that. I was very present in each moment, letting myself experience the adventure with all my senses. Florence was amazing, I could have stayed forever, but shortly after I stayed and worked at a winery in Tuscany for over a week called Il Bacio “The Kiss,” and it stole my heart. Waking up to the early morning Tuscan light, pruning while the morning chill and fog wore off, then watching the sky open to reveal golden fields and rows of cypress trees was just such a treat. Of course, I can’t forget returning to the house when I heard, “Mangiare, mangiare,” to enjoy lunches and dinners with the family who owned and operated the place. The food, wine, and conversations were so special, it almost feels like it never really happened. Perhaps I dreamt the whole thing…
I did not realize at the time that one day I would change career paths and come to work at another family winery, but not for another 8 years!
Once I returned to the US, I ended up relocating to Arizona, where I even worked at a wine bar for a time, before eventually moving to SoCal 7 months later. In California, it felt like anything was possible. Any dream of mine could be fulfilled there, even far-off Hollywood dreams from when I was a kid. Ultimately, after a few years spent there, I really started to miss home. It took me traveling the world, moving away to different states and climates to realize in my heart that home for me was and will always be the PNW. California was of course beautiful and thrilling, but after a while, the lack of rain, lush forests, and mountains really got to me. I also missed my friends and my family.
At this time, in 2016, I had a decision to make on whether I was to move back to Seattle, to Portland, or back home to White Salmon. Something drew me back to Seattle, so I followed my heart and returned to the place I had left 3 years prior. A few months after returning, I ended up finding a job working as a floral sales representative. Later that year, I ran into a guy I knew from years and years ago and ended up wonderfully hitting it off. Long story short, after a few years we got engaged and soon thereafter moved to Portland, OR together and was able to transfer with my job. As we were planning our wedding, set for October 2020, we like everyone else in the world had to deal and adjust to life during a pandemic. I admittedly drank lots of wine during this timeframe, coping with the stress of it all, all while trying to plan my dream wedding. Just before getting married, we had been searching for somewhere in the Gorge where we could move to and settle down. Finally, the perfect house popped up, thirty minutes away from where I grew up. Everything felt like it was falling into place, even with the stress of the pandemic.
We got married on October 10th, on my family’s vineyard and orchard, the place I had always dreamed of getting married at. Despite Covid and some rain, it was a beautiful day spent with our closest friends and family. As the months passed, and as I was getting more and more used to being married and having our own home in a small town again, I started to feel like it was time to move on from my job and “The Big City”. I had now worked there for four years, and a lot had changed and happened to me during this time. I just felt like I outgrew it and that bigger, better things were on the horizon. When my aunt told me about the opening at Domaine Pouillon, it felt like something clicked. It was intimidating, sure, to leave a large company with all the bells and whistles for a small, family-owned business, especially during the times of Covid. However, the thing that “sold” me was how they take care of their employees and the general values they stand for. It was hard to not feel like “just a number,” at a corporate job. At Domaine Pouillon, it is literally a family, and everyone has each other’s backs, and everyone here contributes to the overall success of the winery. I could have real lasting change and impact here. Many perks existed, such as it was in the Gorge and not Portland, so I could feel like a part of the community I grew up in again. It was a winery, with a beautiful vineyard and idyllic views from every angle. I left fluorescent lights for natural lighting, mixed in with the sound of nature and the wind.
I think back to years ago when I would see Alexis, Juliet, and the kids in Seattle, when they were up there for business and staying at my aunt’s home, where I also lived in the basement apartment. Sometimes I would even watch the kids for a bit while they had dinner or business to attend to. It’s been a fun experience to see the kids grow and change, especially now that I see them nearly every day.
Serendipity is my favorite word, mainly because it’s so easy to get caught up in the struggles and hardships of life, especially these days, but when we stop and admire the serendipitous moments in our life, then the real magic can happen. As I reflect on my life, it really does feel like a full-circle moment for me to be working here. How serendipitous was it that they had an opening just at the same time I was thinking of working elsewhere?
Domaine Pouillon’s values are Community, Stewardship, and Family. They care for the community that they are a part of, and they give back when possible because they want to make a difference. They treasure the land that they live and work on and that love, and commitment are translated in the amazing wines they produce. Family is very important to them, perhaps above all else. Their family of course, but also the family that is made up of their staff and customers. Since I’ve come to work here, I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. They know that work is important, of course, but also that there is much more to life than working. The balance and the culture that is to be found here are exciting and calming all at the same time. I’m excited for all that is to come.
I’m thankful that Alexis, Juliet, Gigi, JP, and all of the staff here have welcomed me into this Domaine Pouillon family. Cheers to good wine, good people, and a good day’s work.
In the last post, I described the many vineyard tasks in the Spring such as pruning, tying and trellising. As the vines start to grow and the long summer days kick in, Alexis has stressed the importance of the next task at hand: Canopy Managment. This is what I've learned so far:
The canopy of a grapevine is defined as the collective parts of the grapevine's fruit, trunk, shoots, cordons and leaves. So technically, when we covered pruning and tying down canes, that was canopy management too--albeit early stages.
The real guts of the actual managing of the canopy happen once the vine starts to grow--shoots, leaves, suckers, fruit everywhere!
Purpose of canopy mangement
The goal of managing the vineyard canopy is to bring forth the best possible grapes to be grown. During the summer, the grapes undergo a critical growth phase in their life--the build up before harvest in the fall.
Left to their own will, vines will grow all over the place; into the rows, over the trellising wire, hang to the ground, shade the fruit etc.. but there are things one can do to improve the quality of the fruit.
How to effectively manage the canopy
Follow these tips for effective canopy management. Style will differ with every vigneron, but this is what we've observed and learned so far:
- Generate airflow: Airflow through the vine's canopy is key. It will reduce the amount of disease pressure like mildew and bunch rot, requiring less spraying.
- Tucking: this may vary depending on the training and trellising style, but for VSP (vertical shoot positioning), you want the vine's shoots to grow upwards. In order to influence the vine to do so, you'll need to tuck the wild shoots into the trellising wire. This will not only help with airflow, but also allow more sunlight to reach the leaves for photosynthesis.
- Thinning: Too much fruit actually may not be a good thing. Balance is key in the vineyard and the vine's limited energy is stretched too thin by too many clusters on the vine, the end result won't be favorable. So the remedy is to thin (also known as dropping fruit). Another aspect of thinning is to get rid of any suckers and water shoots that didn't bloom any fruit.
- Leafing: Similar to abundant fruit, too many leaves can be a problem as well. Leaves are important to the life of the vine as they receive energy via photosynthesis. However, too much can block airlfow leading to higher disease pressure and provide too much shading to the fruit and
- Exposing the fruiting zone: Grapes need sunlight to ripen. If they are covered in shade by leaves, they're going to have a bad time. Thus, getting rid of the leaves in the fruiting zone will enable the grapes to have more sunlight exposure, help with airflow and also allow for anti-mildew spray to reach the grapes more easily.
- Deer Decoy: If the vineyard is not fenced properly, it may fall under attack from free roaming deer. Deer don't necessarily eat the fruit but they will munch on the leaves. By keeping a few leaves around the fruiting zone, it will allow some margin for the deer to consume their leaves without negatively impacting the plant.
Key takeaways for Canopy Management
Domaine Pouillon stresses balance in the vineyard. Too much thinning and leafing will lead to a malnourished vine. In contrast, a vine that has too many fruit clusters and leaves will have a tough time reaching full ripening and maturation.
There are many choices to make during this critical phase. Choose wisely, and the vine will be set up for success as we barrel toward veraison and harvest.
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