Hiyu Wine Farm
The Wild Side of Permaculture
Location: Hood River Valley, North Oregon, USA
Owner & winemaker: Nate Ready, China Tresemer & co.
Vineyard area: 22 acres (out of the 30+8 of the farm total) estate-owned + 16.5 acres in long-term lease + a small amount of purchased fruit
Vineyard management: practicing organics and regenerative agriculture, dry-farmed, minimal pruning. Agroforestry and cider experiments
Soils: sandy loam on basalt on Hiyu’s own plots, poorer sandy soils in the Columbia Valley
Main varieties: highly variegated field blends; Pinot Noir
Annual production (approx.): 2,000 – 6,000 cases of wine, 300 cases of cider
Winemaking: manual harvest into small baskets, whole cluster macerations, slow fermentation with indigenous yeasts only. Aged in old neutral oak barrels of various sizes. No fining or filtration, 5ppm sulfur at bottling.
- Hiyu is a true mixed farm with pigs, cows, chickens, ducks and geese living among the vines during different parts of the year and helping to control the vegetation. Nate calls their vineyard management, which has been deeply influenced by Masanobu Fukuoka, “the wild side of permaculture”
- The property is divided into half-acre blocks, each planted to a field blend from a different place or moment in the genetic history of the grapevine, with up to 150 different varieties and clones in total
- Part of the estate’s land is being moved into “food forests”, and there’s also a small market garden; their produce is served in the on-premise wine tavern alongside their wines
- The name “Hiyu” comes from Chinook Jargon, where it denotes “abundance”, “plenty” or “big party”
- Nate used to work as a sommelier in various fine establishments, including the lauded Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Napa Valley
- China Tresemer, the estate’s co-founder and agriculturalist, is also a talented illustrator who creates all the labels.
Piglets frolic among the vines, cows graze on a neighboring pasture, the snow-covered summit of Mt. Hood floats in the distance; Hiyu Wine Farm surely delivers one of the most bucolic and Alpine sights to be found in the US. No wonder that Nate Ready, the estate’s co-founder, likens this area to the climate of European mountainous regions like Savoie, Valais or Val d’Aosta. Despite its rather low altitude, the proximity of the mountain can keep the vineyards covered in snow as late as May; on the other hand, this part of North Oregon also offers an unusual influence of the nearby deserts, causing the character of the vintages to swing from cool and acid-driven to warm and generous, depending on which natural forces prevail.
“When we began to look for a place to farm, more than 10 years ago, there wasn’t as much diversity in American wine terroirs as there is now; Oregon was kind of the place to be for the wine we wanted to do,” Nate recalls. “It wasn’t a very premeditated decision, though. It was actually rather spontaneous; we simply felt good here when visiting,” he describes how he and his business partner China Tressemer ended up buying the first 7 acres of vineyards, garden, and pasture of what’s now Hiyu Wine Farm.
Ready, a former somm for high-end California restaurants (including the French Laundry, Thomas Keller’s Napa Valley iconic restaurant) was drawn to winemaking and farming by his need to discover and live closer to the origins of food and wine. He completed multiple apprenticeships in various California, Oregon and Italian wineries, citing his stay with Maggie Harrison of Antica Terra winery as his seminal one. Back at Hiyu, they spent the first four vintages working without any mechanization, getting to know the estate little by little. China Tresemer – a former culinary tours manager who also happens to be a talented illustrator and makes all the estate’s graceful watercolor labels – gradually developed their hands-off farming system inspired by biodynamic / regenerative agriculture icons like Leroy, Humbrecht, Joly, Deiss or Fukuoka.
“We are very much on the ‘wild side of permaculture’,” Nate laughs, explaining that besides one winter pruning and some under-vine scythe work, their vines are pretty much left to their own devices. There’s no tilling and the vegetation is controlled only by the farm’s pigs, geese, chickens and other animals that live among them at various times of the year. Some of these practices wouldn’t be allowed if the farm was certified, which is one of the reasons why Hiyu pursues neither organic nor biodynamic certification; the reality is that their farming methods go way beyond the requirements, with 85% fewer sprays used than a typical organic or biodynamic vineyard. There’s also no sulfur used in the vineyards, and diseases are fought with natural compounds like cinnamon oil or mixed herbal teas.
Parts of the land are also moved into “food forests “ – fruit trees, bushes and other perennial plants planted in the wilder forest area in order to produce food. “It’s like creating a space for foraging, with food that tastes really different than from a garden, which is brilliant for our tavern. The forest has more floors, so I like how you can use the space more in 3D than just 2D,” Nate asserts; it’s also a more sustainable and resilient, although of course less productive agricultural method than classical field plantations.
Another intriguingly wild feature of Hiyu (btw the name comes from Chinook Jargon and means plenty, abundance, or big party of people, referring to the convivial power of food and wine) is the way their vineyards are planted: little by little, Nate and China have regrafted the original Pinot Noir and Gris plants onto no less than 80 different varieties and about twice as many clones, changing the estate into a field blend wonderland. The property is now divided into half-acre blocks, each planted to a different field blend inspired by a place or a moment in the genetic history of the grapevine, harvested and vinified separately. “I’m curious about all the grapes and their diversity,” Nate chuckles; no wonder that Hiyu releases about 40 different cuvées a year in several ranges. Hiyu wines come from the farm itself, while Tzum (to mark or locate in Chinook Jargon, a fitting name for single-vineyard wines) are made as “meditations on a particular place” and named after the several plots that Nate and his team lease nearby, such as Moon Hill Farm or Scorched Earth in the Columbia Gorge, where Eiru or Fionn come from.
Cellar-wise, simplicity reigns: when the given plot is harvested – all varieties together – the whole grapes are gently foot-stomped, fed into a big basket press and pressed directly into old neutral oak barrels of different sizes (for the whites). For rosés and reds, the grapes are left alone as whole clusters for up to two weeks, then gently stomped and left on skins for between a couple of days to as long as 70 depending on the wine, and then pressed on an old ratchet press. The wines ferment quite slowly, with indigenous yeasts only; some of them, named “Spring Ephemeral”, are bottled after a couple of months, but many wines (even the ones from the same plot and grapes, further adding to the diversity of Hiyu’s range) receive an elevage that’s much longer, lasting up to 10 years. Once done, the wines are bottled by hand, using gravity and 5ppm of SO2, unfined, unfiltered and ready to reach their lucky few customers. There are usually only 2-3 barrels of each wine, so we’re quite happy to be able to get our hands on a couple of them and share the Hiyu abundance with the East Coast lovers of esoteric wines from special places!
Tzum Moon Hill Farm I, Columbia Gorge White— Back to the top
Nate on this wine: “A two-acre vineyard adjacent to Hiyu–they were once part of the same turn of the century farm and we have cared for the vines alongside ours since 2015. The parcel is planted to heirloom California Wente Farm Chardonnay clone, small clusters clone cuttings taken from Celilo vineyard on Underwood, and smaller amounts of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.”
Grapes: about 80% Chardonnay, the rest is Pinot Gris and Noir
Vineyard: sandy loam on basalt Moon Hill, a plot in a long-term lease right next to Hiyu farm that Nate & team takes care of. Planted in 2010.
Making of: an assemblage of wines from the same plot from 2015 through 2020 vintages. The various vintages were first vinified and aged separately and represent a kaleidoscope of styles and ways of looking at the site – some with extended maceration on the skins, some directly pressed. The wines have been assembled in the spring 2021, in a series of 500-liter puncheons to further age together, with the aim of maintaining a kind of “Solera” system for this plot in the future. Bottled by hand, unfined, unfiltered, 5ppm of SO2 at bottling.
Personality: “Some vintages were very fresh, while others showed more salty and oxidative characters. The resulting wine is very deep, shimmering pink in color, with aromas of salted melon and lavender honey. It is both focused and texturally expansive with subtle and enveloping tannins. I find it very exciting to have wine containing all the moments in time, carrying both the more nutty or deeper styles of older vintages as well as fresh aspects,” Nate says.
Nate on this wine: “This is the third and most ethereal release of Zinfandel from the black sands of Scorched Earth Vineyard. It is also the first in a series of spring releases exploring the line between red wine and rosé. It is rendered in style similar to last year’s version of Solais. It is darker and more concentrated than a typical rosé, paler and more delicate than what most people have in mind when they think of red wine. It is in this ambiguous terrain that I find the most pleasure from drinking these days.” The plot belongs to a couple with Irish origins, so Hiyu gave it the name of a legendary Irish hero – a warrior who became all-wise by eating an enchanted salmon.
Vineyard: Scorched Earth, leased plot farmed by Nate&co since 2016. Fionn comes from a very dry plot with low yields, 1.25 acres of basalt subsoil and very dry, pure volcanic sand decomposed basalt. Planted in late 1990s
Making of: the grapes were hand-harvested, left alone as whole clusters for about 8-9 days, then spent a couple of days on skins, receiving only a few pigeages before being pressed directly to barrels with a manual ratchet press. The wine was aged on the lees in older barrels before being bottled by hand the following spring with a little bit of the wine’s CO2. Unfined, unfiltered, 5ppm of SO2 at bottling.
Personality: in Nate’s own words, “perfectly suited to warmer days and the kind of food that emerges from the verdant spring garden. As the glass fills with hazy pink liquid it tastes of strawberries, grapefruit skin, peppercorn, and sage. The periphery of the wine glows with a subtle meatiness, not unlike the finocchiona salami. This wine would also be an amazing companion for pizza, especially one that included charcuterie.”
Nate on this wine: “Eriu is a one-acre field on the eastern side of the site we farm in the desert on the banks of the Columbia. The soil in this part of the site has a higher percentage of cobble vs. sand than the parcels to the west of it, and all of these factors conspire to produce a more high pitched and ethereal rendition of Grenache than the more dense wines that emerge from Aine’s amphitheater of deep sand.” Just as the Fionn above, it belongs to owners of Irish origin, hence its name after the mother goddess of Ireland.
Vineyard: Scorched Earth – the same site as Fionn, but flatter part with deeper black sand volcanic soil. Planted in the late-nineties.
Making of: the grapes were hand-harvested, left alone as whole clusters for about 8-9 days, then spent a couple of days on skins before being pressed directly to barrels with a manual ratchet press. The wine was aged on the lees for 12 months in older barrels before being bottled by hand. Unfined, unfiltered, 5ppm of SO2 at bottling.
Personality: the scent of rose water, orange peel, sage, and hibiscus. It’s very pale red and as delicate as red wine can be before slipping into the realm of rosé.
Nate on this wine: “A half-acre parcel of Alpine varieties at the top of the hill adjacent to Arco Iris, named after the hawthorns (crataegus in Latin) that surround it. It’s a field blend based on Syrah and includes all of its genetic relations from the foothills of the Alps. It can best be understood as an Italianate version of “old school” Cote Rotie. This parcel is always one of the last to ripen and we usually pick it at the very end of the vintage. I prefer parcels of this nature; ones that need to be picked at the very end of the season after the leaves have fallen. They offer bigger changes in style from vintage to vintage and reflect the year with greater fidelity. This parcel produced an extremely delicate wine in 2017 and 2019 and an absolutely epic one in 2018.”
Grapes: Syrah, Teroldego, Lagrein, Marzemino, Mondeuse, Viognier, Roussane and others; field-blend whose ratio is about 80% red and 20% white grapes
Vineyard: Hiyu original estate, sandy loam. Planted in late 1990s and regrafted by Nate and China in 2015
Making of: the grapes were hand-harvested and co-fermented as whole clusters in neutral oak barrels removed. The grapes spent 21 days on the skins before being pressed directly to barrels with a manual ratchet press. The wine was aged on the lees for 24 months in older barrels before being bottled by hand. Unfined, unfiltered, 5ppm of SO2 at bottling.
Personality: as Nate says, “This is one of the most concentrated wines from the farm from this vintage, reminiscent of drinking a good classical Rhone-Valley wine. While it is possible to drink it now, it really benefits from at least a decade of aging and should evolve positively for far longer than that.”
Nate on this wine: “The May is the original 2.5-acre section of the vineyard that we began farming in 2011. It’s in the far western corner of the property surrounded by the forest full of hawthorn (hence the name, coming from old English mythology). It has the steepest aspect and produces the most intensely perfumed wines from the site. Three vintages of this wine were made by China and Nate before grafting; some were later blended into multi-vintage cuvées, some, as this one, released as single-vintage bottlings. As we started grafting in this part of the vineyard with different varieties in 2016, turning it into four different field blends made from the parcel incl. Crataegus now, this wine is a rare glimpse in our past, bound to disappear.”
Grapes: about 90% Pinot Noir, the rest is Pinot Gris
Vineyard: own-rooted vines planted in the 1990s on sandy loam on basalt, the original 2.5 acre part of Hiyu estate.
Making of: the grapes were hand-harvested and co-fermented as whole clusters in 500-liter puncheons with the heads removed. The wines spent 70 days on the skins before being pressed directly to barrels with a manual ratchet press. The wine was aged on the lees for 24 months in older barrels before being bottled by hand. Unfined, unfiltered, 5ppm of SO2 at bottling.
Personality: richly textured, stunning and layered Pinot Noir.
This project is a collaboration with a nearby certified biodynamic orchard, owned and farmed by the Jacobson family at the base of Mt. Hood. The property lies at 2000 feet, 11 miles from the summit of Mt Hood. It has been a farm since the turn of the century, and the first orchard in the Pacific Northwest to become biodynamic, in 1995. Fun fact: Floréal was one of the spring months in the French Revolution Calendar, named after the Latin word for flower, and a fitting name for a blossoming coop.
Varieties: over 80 different cider varieties but also some heirloom dessert apples that were originally grown on the property (Ashmead Kernel, Wixon Crab, Hudson’s Golden Gem, Ribston and Cox’s Orange Pippin) and quince
Site: Biodynamic, 60-acre orchard, irrigated with glacial water and the soils are loam composed of volcanic glass fragments.
Making of: the apples are aged for a month after picking in order to ripen and concentrate, then milled and macerated for a week, and pressed in a basket press traditionally lined with biodynamic straw (used as a kind of sieve, but it also adds spiciness to the final flavor). The juice is then spontaneously fermented and aged in old barrels, without being topped up. In the next vintage, the fresh fermenting juice from the new crop is added in order to initiate the secondary fermentation in bottles and turn the beverage into a slightly sparkling one. Unsulfured, unfiltered, undisgorged.
Personality: the IV, the fourth release of this cider, is a 2018 cider refermented with 2019 fresh juice. As Nate says: “With each release, new trees begin producing and the selection of apples improves. This cider is the most concentrated to date. It has higher acidity and the texture of the bubbles is extraordinary. It has an almost Selosse-esque, nutty oxidative note that is quite unusual, but is fresh at the same time, so you get the perfect yin-yang balance.”