Gilles de Domingo, winemaker at Cooper Mountain Vineyards, holds two cow horns, which are part of an important Biodynamic preparation. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser
Antica Terra winemaker Maggie Harrison leads one of Oregon’s SLOW wineries in the Willamette Valley. ##Photo by Kathryn Elsesser

Slow and Steady

Oregon wineries win over Italian organization focused on good, clean, fair wine

By Sophia McDonald

While many modern Americans remain mired in a quest to increase efficiency and boost productivity, Brad Ford believes there’s nothing wrong with slowing down. The winemaker at Dallas’ Illahe Vineyards uses draft horses to bring up grapes from the vineyard at harvest time. He’s increased organic grape plantings by 150% in the past year and began using only native fermentation for Pinot Noir in 2016. He even makes a wine — appropriately dubbed the 1899 Pinot Noir — using only the principles or equipment available to winemakers in the 18th century. For example, a bicycle powers the wine pump and destemmer, so Ford doesn’t have to use electricity. All bottles are hand-corked, and the wine is delivered to the distributor via stagecoach and canoe.

It’s not that Ford won’t use additives in his vineyard when necessary, or climb aboard a piece of farm equipment come harvest time, or age in stainless steel when a wine calls for it. “We’re not dogmatic about any of these processes, which, to be honest, I think is somewhat important,” he says. “You need to be a little bit flexible and look at what science has to offer. But when these natural processes work, they work very well, and it’s always really enjoyable what we get. It’s just like having patience in general in life. When you’re slow and you don’t have an immediate duty right in front of you, your imagination begins to expand. You get to think about what you’re doing instead of just doing it. It’s really important to have quiet time, time to think, time to experience the process.”

Brad Ford, of Illahe Vineyards, on his pedal-powered wine pump. ##Photo provided

For him, slowing down yields a superior wine and gives the consumer a more satisfying experience. And when people do the same — take time to sip a wine slowly, contemplatively, perhaps alongside good food and good friends, confident the beverage in their hand was produced with loving care by a thoughtful and principled winemaker — something already rife with meaning and community becomes even more so. 

These ideas are the embodiment of Slow Wine, a subset of the Slow Food movement. Although the international NGO is best known as a gastronomic organization, it is also the publisher of the Slow Wine Guide, which connects people to winemakers who abide by its principles. In 2019, Oregon became the second U.S. state to be included in the guide. The 2020 version, which will be released this spring, will profile even more wineries throughout the state.  

Slow Food is an activist movement founded in Italy in 1986. Its goal was to push back against the increasing “speed” of food and preserve the natural environment, people and cultural traditions involved in making quality, nurturing foods.

As part of that mission, the organization created a number of publications, including compendia of traditional cheeses and salumi. In the late 1980s, it began printing a guide to Italian wine in partnership with the publisher Gambero Rosso. That partnership ended in 2009, and the Slow Wine Guide took its place in 2010. At first, the new book stuck to Italian wineries. California was added in 2016, with Oregon coming on board three years later.


Analemma | Antica Terra
Antiquum Farm | Ayres
Beckham Estate | Belle Pente
Bergström | Bethel Heights
Bow & Arrow | Brick House
Brooks | Cooper Mountain
Cristom | Crowley
Domaine Drouhin | Nicolas-Jay
Dominio Wines | Elk Cove
Eyrie | Goodfellow
Grochau | Hiyu
Idiot’s Grace | Illahe
J. Christopher | J.K. Carriere
Johan | Kelley Fox Wines
Lingua Franca | Lumos
Maysara | Montinore Estate
Omero | Quady North
Ransom | Roots
Sokol Blosser | Soter
Suzor Wines | Troon
Upper Five | Viento
Walter Scott | Winderlea

Antica Terra, along with Illahe, was one of the first 50 Oregon wineries to be included in the guide. Winemaker Maggie Harrison sums up Slow Wine this way: “Slow Wine is an idea that follows from a long tradition of doing things in the most beautiful way with a real connection to both the product, the place and the person.” She’s followed a similar ethos in her time as a winemaker. She rejects any boundaries to her craft, refusing to commit to low-alcohol wines or zero sulfur or always putting the same grapes in a certain blend. “All we do is look at every opportunity in every moment and say, ‘What is the most beautiful thing we can do right now?’ And then — this is the important part — we actually do it. Though we don’t know where we’re headed, we end up with the most beautiful version of what was possible in those fields in this bottle in our hands.”

“The overarching concept of Slow Wine is that we try to celebrate and feature wineries that have a connection to the land,” says Dr. Jeremy Parzen, coordinating editor for the California and Oregon sections of the guide and a senior editor for the California chapter. “It doesn’t mean you own your vineyards, but you make wines that are expressive of their place and expressive of the grape varieties… You’re never going to find a super yeasted Malbec or a banana candy Glera in the Slow Wine Guide.”

The next criteria Slow Wine considers is sustainability. Parzen stresses that wineries don’t have to be certified organic or Biodynamic, although many of them are. “But you do have to be conscious of your carbon footprint and the impact your winery has on the earth and the human condition.”

The state’s generally strong commitment to sustainability makes it a natural fit for the Slow Wine guide, says Jade Helm, this year’s senior editor for Oregon. “About 47 percent of our vineyards are some level of certified sustainable, more than any other state in the United States.” As climate change continues to advance, that question of sustainability in vineyards has taken on a more urgent tone in recent years.

“For me, Slow Wine is opening up the conversation about how winegrowers and winemakers can help mitigate climate change,” says Barbara Gross with Cooper Mountain Vineyards. “We certainly have literal skin the game. The more conversations we have, the more people are educated about these nuances in the way we grow and produce wines.” That helps them make more informed purchasing decisions. 

Slow Wine editors also examine the price-to-value ratio of wines and look for places that represent legacy traditions of winemaking. New wineries are considered every year; the 2020 guide will have about 70 Oregon companies, as compared to 50 last year. Helm also emphasizes that the guide is not limited to the Willamette Valley. Several places in the Columbia River Gorge were included last year, and she’s made a conscious effort to add Southern Oregon growers and winemakers, too.

There are plenty of books about wine, and an equal number of travel tomes, but Parzen says there aren’t other publications that combine the two in quite the same way the Slow Wine Guide does. “We really felt there was a niche in the marketplace for a guide like this. There are no scores, just tasting notes and recommendations. We don’t claim the guide is comprehensive or exhaustive, but I do believe the Slow Wine Guide represents the only guide for a wine drinker like me who wants quality, wants expressiveness and wants self-awareness of the wine’s sustainability.

“In Oregon, the response to the Slow Wine Guide was just fantastic,” he continues. “Everybody knew exactly what it was and everybody was excited to be part of it. Oregon is really American’s Slow Food and Slow Wine state.” 

A print copy of the 2020 Slow Wine guide will be available to attendees at the annual Slow Wine tour, which will come to Portland next spring. For the first time, a free ebook will also be offered. People who can’t wait to imbibe in the guide’s goodness can view individual entries from 2019 on


Slow Food encourages enthusiasts to set up local chapters in their community to bring people together and support local farmers and producers. In Oregon, there are currently chapters in Portland, Corvallis and the Wallowas.

The Portland chapter is looking to set up a Slow Wine network for people interested in natural wine and organic producers. “Ideally there will be regularly scheduled events, maybe at rotating partner wine bars or farms, where people have the opportunity to taste small-scale, unique winemakers in the Portland area and learn a lot more about what goes into the growing of grapes,” says board chair Madi Taylor. “It’s sort of redirecting the wine narrative in a lot of ways and bringing labor, land and social justice to the forefront of those conversations.”

Simon Lowry, co-owner of the wine bar Sardine Head, is assisting with the Slow Wine effort. He is working with AirBnB’s Social Impact experiences program, which encourages hosts to partner with nonprofits to create opportunities for people to learn about local and global causes, to host natural wine-tasting and appreciation events in Portland.

Portland’s next scheduled event is Celebrate Great (Local) Grains, which will take place on Sept. 14 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Spiesschaert Farms in Forest Grove. Attendees can learn about different types of grains, watch baking demonstrations, try fresh bread and take horse-drawn wagon rides through the farm.

Over in northeastern Oregon, Slow Food Wallowas will host its annual Pig-nic food festival on Oct. 19, 1 to 4 p.m. This family-friendly event at Barking Mad Farm in Enterprise will feature a producer grant award presentation, homemade snacks from area food producers, heritage pig petting, local microbrews and live music.

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