An Oregon black truffle takes center stage during the 2019 Oregon Truffle Festival. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser

Cultivating Truffles

Vineyards join culinary craze for the finicky fungi

By Barbara Barrielle

The luxury of wine and the exoticism of truffles — hard to find, intoxicatingly aromatic and wildly expensive — seems a natural fit. So it’s no surprise Oregon wineries have embraced the cultivation of the treasured fungi.

Sometimes, the truffles find the winery. In this case, Angela Estate in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. General manager Jessica Endsworth explains, “We have naturally occurring truffles in a small patch on our property. We haven’t cultivated them; they found us! We are [also] a household of myco-enthusiasts, so it works.”

Winter whites were found after vineyard manager Mark Gould suspected a patch in a once-logged area where 25- to 30-year-old Douglas fir trees now stand. When Angela Estate started making wine from Abbott Claim Vineyard, which is close to the patch, Endsworth was certain she smelled truffles in the wine. When members of the Oregon Truffle Festival reached out, they confirmed the site contained an active, healthy, natural truffle orchard.

After the discovery, Endsworth and others didn’t pounce on the hidden treasure. She says, “We don’t cultivate them, but we do host a couple of events each year where chefs and guests can come up and truffle hunt.”

At Left Coast Estate, adjacent to a vineyard planted with Wädenswil Pinot Noir, there thrive about 2 acres of filbert trees inoculated with Périgord truffles that were planted between 2008 and 2010. While this orchard is old enough to produce truffles and, as the winery indicates, there have been visual indicators that there is truffle activity, no truffles were found this season.

Will Craigie, Left Coast’s hospitality manager, and his Lagotto Romagnolo truffle dog, Maeva, are the winery’s official truffle hunters. And, at a year old, Maeva has already been training. Craigie explains, “The approach to this point has been intentionally hands off, letting the trees grow and allowing the underground network of mycelium to form and create the appropriate conditions for truffles.”

At one of the many 2019 Oregon Truffle Festival dinners, The Joel Palmer House prepares an elegant scallop dish with a sliver of Oregon black truffle on top. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser

The goal is to raise truffles for use in Left Coast’s culinary program. But, Craigie says, “If we happen to have a bumper crop, I’m sure it won’t be hard to find a home for them.”

Dr. Charles Lefevre’s company, New World Truffieres, is the foremost supplier of inoculated truffle trees, specifically hazelnut and oak, but other trees are available, such as pecans for orchards in the South. Lefevre is the supplier to almost all of the commercially productive truffle orchards in the U.S., including Sonoma County’s Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estates, where they’ve committed 10 acres and 4,000 trees to truffle cultivation, hired a full-time orchard manager and trained a team of Lagotto Romagnolo dogs. Twenty-six pounds of truffles were produced last season, indicating the agricultural venture is not just a whimsical foray but a potential cash crop — with a dash of romance.

“With cultivation of European truffles succeeding in orchards around the world, and the discovery of native truffles in Oregon and elsewhere, the truffle industry is primed to grow into a $30 billion market globally,” Lefevre explains. “The industry is currently worth $1 to $2 billion, with France, Spain and Italy in the lead, but production in other countries is rising rapidly and could soon overtake some of the historical truffle producers.”

Not only has Lefevre made a thriving business banking on truffles, he co-founded an annual celebration — with his wife, Leslie Scott — that attracts visitors from around the world. The Oregon Truffle Festival — the 2020 event is set for late January in Eugene and mid-February in Yamhill County — has been wildly popular with its truffle-hunting dog championship, The Joriad, as well as dinners, lectures, marketplaces and more, all in Willamette Valley wine country.

In Southern Oregon, Bill and Barbara Steele’s Cowhorn Vineyard & Garden, a certified Biodynamic operation that also features the first tasting room certified by the Living Building Challenge, has a prime spot for farming truffles. When the couple bought what was an abandoned farm in 2003, soil analyses for grapes showed that an area tested as pH neutral, which is considered ideal for inoculated trees.

The Steeles planted 20 hazelnut trees and, while they have not produced any truffles yet, a consultant recently explained how truffle trees needed to be watered as shallow-rooted — meaning less water more often instead of infrequent soakings. He also suggested increasing the orchard to 200 trees so the Steeles planted 30 more oak trees and “will tippy toe to the 200 number.”

Willamette Valley Vineyards’ estate in Turner boasts about six acres of Douglas firs where naturally occurring truffles were discovered. In turn, the winery’s truffle venture was expanded to another site, Tualatin Estate, where, eight years ago, they planted inoculated hazelnut trees procured from Lefevre. The winery was concerned the estate patch may be in decline although they had found sizable truffles there.

Willamette Valley Vineyards has been avid supporters of the Oregon Truffle Festival and the propagation of truffles in Oregon. Winery director Christine Clair explains, “In the past, we have hosted The Joriad North American Truffle Dog Championship (during the Festival) and hunted ourselves and have found many large, golf ball-size truffles. We have used them in our winery kitchen.”

But, at this point, that remains the extent of the winery’s truffle success. Clair explains that this year, given the drier winter, they found no truffles but are still positive about the future. I shared with her what Bill Steele had learned about watering.

Knowledge is king in this experimentation called truffles, but the rewards can be sweet — or savory, musky, fragrant and addictive in the case of these wondrous root dwellers.


Oregon Truffle Festival

The festival returns for its 15th year, Jan. 23–26, 2020 in Eugene, and Feb. 14–16 in the Yamhill Valley. Both weekends celebrate the world of Oregon truffles and the culinary bounty of the Willamette Valley. Some of the events include: truffle dog competition; truffle dog training; truffle hunts and workshops; hands-on cooking classes; decadent truffle breakfasts, lunches and dinners; and the Oregon Fresh Truffle Marketplace. See the website,, for specific events and their locations.


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